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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Look through the tasks that you’re taking care of, and pick the ones that consume the most of your time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?