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How Not to Fall Into a Productivity Hole

How Not to Fall Into a Productivity Hole

Ugh … so I’m sitting here again, spending Sunday afternoon trying to sort out my productivity – so I believe – by looking through yet another to-do list, trying to get a grasp on the newest “magic” work management app, and overall wondering why can’t I just get my work done.

For example, it’s hard for me to imagine that a hairdresser goes to work every day wondering how to construct their to-do list in a way that would not make them mad the second they give it a glance. Or a bus driver trying to sort out their routes through a piece of project management software. That just sounds insane.

So why does productivity seem to only be the problem of people whose job is done predominantly on a computer?! I mean, is there something wrong with us? Do we really need five different tools just to handle our to-do lists?

Are we all in a productivity hole of some kind?

We maybe are, unfortunately, but let me tell you exactly what I mean here .

In short, you’re in a productivity hole if you constantly keep spending more and more time on managing your productivity itself and neglecting the things that really need to be done throughout your day – your actual job.

Sounds like you?

Don’t worry though. This is fixable.

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As always, the first step is to understand the problem, take some honest self-reflection time and find out if you’re suffering from it.

Again, the problems usually start once we devote too much of our time to managing our productivity setup (various tools and methods) and because of this we’re procrastinating on the actual work that needs to be done.

Therefore the best starting point is to go through your average day and pay attention to how you’re spending it.

In general, a healthy habit is to start the day off with some form of review – check the tasks you handled the previous day and compile the final list of things you need to do today. But this shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes. After that, you should no longer focus your efforts on micro management and questioning your work.

Let’s emphasize that last part. Questioning our work is a very common problem. Here’s how it plays out. You start the day off by reviewing your plan, picking your tasks and then starting to work. However, after an hour or two you get back to the plan and start questioning whether certain tasks should really be on your list. So you do some tuning up and go back to work. After a couple of hours the story repeats itself.

This is not good. And such a habit really kills your productivity. It’s much more effective to just set the tasks of each day once, and then execute them through the rest of the day, questioning nothing.

Here’s how you can think about this to make it easier. In the morning, you’re the CEO. You make the decisions and plan things out. However, right after that, you go into a worker mode. In that mode, you have no decision making power, you can only handle the work that’s been planned out in the morning.

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Go on, give it a shot, I promise it works like gangbusters.

Simplify your productivity tool usage

We’re often tempted to constantly work on improving our productivity by introducing more and more productivity tools or apps. I mean, there’s something new being released literally every week, and it’s promised to be the magic bullet solution every single time.

So we naturally jump in, begin testing the tool, spend a week playing with it, only to abandon it the next week and start experimenting with something else.

While I am struggling with this just as much as you are, I’m finding that it’s a lot easier to deal with this problem when I remember these wise words:

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” -Voltaire

Here’s how to think about this in relation to what we’re discussing here. If some solution is working just fine for you and it makes you productive, don’t go out of your way to find a replacement.

In my case, for example, using standard paper bills for my to-do lists is king.

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Now, let’s flip this thing on its head and talk about when it is perfectly okay to introduce new solutions…

Don’t do the work you don’t need to be doing

Apart from constantly questioning yourself, going back and forth between working and planning, and experimenting with too many productivity tools, another very popular problem is doing things that you simply don’t need to be doing. Either because they can be skipped altogether or because someone else or something else can handle them much more efficiently than you.

I will give you a couple of examples in just a moment, but what’s important here is not necessarily the specific examples, but the main idea overall – the idea to search for tools and solutions that can make previously time-consuming tasks less time consuming.

So the first example is pitching clients and sending proposals to them. If you’re self-employed or work in a department of your firm that involves client outreach, you will be spending a lot of time micro managing things, going through emails, double checking if you’ve perhaps missed something, and so on.

This is not productive. What you should do instead is focus on the core of the task – the stuff that’s really important. When we’re talking pitching clients, what’s important is finding the right prospective client and offering them something that is likely to help them. Managing the pitch itself is not something that should be on your plate if you want to be productive.

A tool like Bidsketch can help you with this sort of thing and handle the management part completely. It will send your proposal out, track it, and even let you know if the client viewed it. As a result, you will be able to just focus on doing the core of your work.

Moving on to the next example – selling products or services online. Normally, doing this requires a lot of work to handle the tech stuff. If you have a custom online store built, which is how many small companies work, you have to constantly manage it and make sure that every technical detail is working correctly.

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But this is a waste of your valuable time. With a tool like Shopify, you can build a custom store in minutes and then let Shopify handle the heavy lifting, so you can focus on actually selling, rather than on managing sales.

Finally, the last example I have for you is managing your data – the files on your laptop, your desktop, or your mobile, and making sure that everything is safe and backed up. Years ago, this was done through USB pen-drives, but these days we have Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and many more. All these tools have been built to make sure that your files are secure so you don’t need to actively back them up.

The examples are plenty, so what I want you to take out of this is the following process. It is meant to identify the productivity holes in your to-do lists and help you fix them:

  1. Look through the tasks that you’re taking care of, and pick the ones that consume the most of your time.
  2. Name the core (most important) activities as part of those tasks. For example, like I said with pitching clients, the core activity is finding the right clients and offering them the right solution.
  3. List all the side activities that are required to handle those tasks (yet are not the core ones). Again, for pitching clients for example, it’s sending the pitches, proposals, tracking responses, and so on.
  4. Try finding a tool that will optimize those non-core activities for you.

I guarantee that if you do this for just the top three of your most time-consuming tasks, you will see huge improvements in your productivity. And if you combine this with the first technique I shared here – being a CEO in the morning and a worker throughout the rest of the day – you will multiply your results for good.

What do you think about this? Are you in a productivity hole right now that you’d prefer getting out of?

More by this author

Karol Krol

Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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