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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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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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