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How Not to Fall Into a Productivity Hole

How Not to Fall Into a Productivity Hole
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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 July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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