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A Success Story: Failed Experiments with Productivity

A Success Story: Failed Experiments with Productivity
    In order to succeed, you've got to fail along the way.

    As someone who has spent a lot of time tinkering with productivity – with both the various systems and tools that are available – I’ve come across a lot of successful ones. But I’ve come across a lot of things that just didn’t work, either. I found that these failures seemed to be more plentiful in my early days of studying the art of being productive, and as time progressed my chances of success did as well. It wasn’t often about the system or tool either.

    It was all me.

    When you’re trying to figure out what will work best in boosting your productivity, you rarely know what will work for you at first. You may be a paper person, but using it just isn’t practical to track all you’ve got going. Even a paper prophet like Patrick Rhone (of Minimal Mac fame) spends time in the digital world in order to keep on track. And while you may be excited about what your devices can do to make you a more productive person, there’s a chance that when it comes to actually being productive that a pen and paper are best suited for you. That’s why it’s so difficult to teach someone how to be more productive; there’s more to it than the old “Just Do It” assertion. A number of factors have to be weighed, making it a very subjective thing.

    So if you’ve tried to become more productive through trial and error, you’re not alone. You’re more than not alone. Here are 3 of my own failed experiments with productivity. You may relate to some because you’ve given them a go or you may be inspired to try one of them because maybe your mind can wrap your head around it better than mine could. This isn’t an intervention or a warning; it’s an admission that even those who have lived in the world of productivity have fallen down. The trick is to keep looking for something until you’ve found something that allows you to get back up a whole lot faster and easier.

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    1. Two Systems: Personal and Professional

    Since I didn’t want to bring my work home with me back when I had a 9 to 5 job, I kept a planner at work for work stuff and had a planner that went with me everywhere for personal stuff. Anything that was work-related never went in my personal planner and vice versa. Turns out there would be problems with this strategy.

    By keeping two planners I was unable to be very nimble. I actually handcuffed my productivity rather than let it flourish. Instead of having one place to put stuff, I had two. And I had to decide on them with every action that came my way. I was working smarter…and harder.

    In addition, I had essentially created a separation that really wasn’t there. There was no fluidity between work and personal stuff, and there needs to be. Work is part of life. So are personal matters that need attending. These feed off each other as well – maybe not in a technical sense, but certainly in an emotional one.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 4 months

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    2. Colour-Coded Paper Planner

    This seemed like a good idea at the time. I used to use coloured pens and highlighters that were associated with a legend so I could tell what each task was associated with and how far along they were to completion. Different coloured pens were used for the “context” of the tasks (keeping in mind I had no knowledge of how contexts are defined in most productivity systems at the time) and the different coloured highlighters were used to signify the progress of the tasks.

    One of the biggest problems with this experiment was that I was carrying around a pencil case for the first time since school. I also wound up using one of those multi-coloured pens that you had to flick to change colours. Not exactly the most pleasant writing tool.

    Furthermore, I had to keep tabs on what each aspect of the colour-coding represented. I was either pulling out the legend regularly to make sure I knew what was going on with certain tasks or I inadvertantly would use a wrong colour and throw everything out of whack. Well, at least it felt like everything was out of whack. What it really was: not the best solution for my personal productivity.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 1 year (yes…1 whole year!)

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    3. Things

    When I first dove into using apps for productivity purposes, Things won out over OmniFocus. The price was cheaper and it seemed to have everything I needed. The user interface was simple and elegant, the developers had built a complementary iPhone app and I was able to use it with relative ease and get a whole lot done.

    Until I was away from my Mac for too long with my iPhone. Then “Things” wasnt working out so well. It had no over-the-air sync at the time. That was a problem for me. Others felt the same way.

    So I ditched Things for OmniFocus. Moving stuff over took time, but not nearly as long as reconciling Things between two devices would’ve taken me over the long haul.

    Time spent on this failed experiment: 6 months

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    Fail FTW

    As I was writing this there were several other failed experiments with productivity that came to mind. I’ve made note of them (in the trusted system I use today, which is a combination of different tools I use) and may revisit them in the future so I can share them with you. There’s a lot of material to work with.

    As for what I’m using now…well, that’s another post as well. But I can tell you that through these failed experiments I’ve been able to concoct my own winning productivity formula. It’s been the failures that have led me to my successes, which – when you put them into perspective – could indicate that perhaps they really weren’t failures after all.

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    Mike Vardy

    A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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    Last Updated on March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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