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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?

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How to Fight Information Overload

How to Fight Information Overload

Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

What you need to do is focus on these 4 steps:

  1. Set your goals.
  2. Decide whether you really need the information.
  3. Consume only the minimal effective dose.
  4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming too much information.

But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

The Nature of the Problem

The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

When we see some half-baked blog post we don’t even consider reading it, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it. We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

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No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control. Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it. But first…

Why information overload is bad

It stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here. When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work, or enjoy your passion.

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So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with your goals.

1. Set your goals

If you don’t have your goals put in place you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

2. What to do when facing new information

Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans then skip it. You don’t need it.

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If it does then it’s time for another question. Will you be able to put this information into action immediately? Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks? Or is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away? If the information is not actionable in a day or two (!) then skip it. (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant. Self-control comes handy too … it’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future then SKIP IT.

3. Minimal Effective Dose

There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour Body,Tim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs. Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life. Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

4. Don’t procrastinate by consuming more information

Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

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Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

In Closing

As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance. I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over. I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

Feel free to shoot me a comment below and share your own story of fighting information overload. What are you doing to keep it from sabotaging your life?

(Photo credit: Businessman with a Lot of Discarded Paper via Shutterstock)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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