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How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity

How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity
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There you are, sitting at your desk and feeling tired: it has been a long week and you’d like to stop working and relax a bit, but at the same time, you know you can’t do this since you have still work to do. In a way you are stuck: no matter how hard you work, you don’t seem to make any noticeable progress, which makes you even more frustrated and tired and you finally feel like giving up the project you have been working on.

You may be thinking that there has to be a better way to do things, rather than banging your head against the wall, and you are absolutely right!

be productive

    Are you taking the right action at the right time?

    There can be many reason behind your frustrations:

    First and foremost, are you sure you are focusing on the right action steps? If this is not the case, then it’s time to stop for a moment, see the bigger picture and redefine the tasks you should be doing right now. Could it be that perhaps you didn’t prepare in advance for the tasks you are doing? This could happen when you are dependent on other people’s input before you can continue your project for instance—if you didn’t see this situation coming, you could be wasting your time because you don’t have any backup plan for these situations.

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    It could also be that you just have too much work to do. Ask yourself whether you are optimizing and automating everything already, or are there processes or tasks that could be eliminated by those two methods. If the answer to the latter part of the question is “yes,” it’s time to take action on improving the processes. The sooner you do this, the sooner your workload will decrease and the less chance there is for unproductivity.

    Finding the source of low productivity

    It’s time to take a closer look at your situation, so that we can see the sources behind unproductive action.

    To do this, it’s time to do some checks.

    The first check is related to your mindset: do you feel that the time is lost if you spend time on planning your tasks? If this is so, then it’s no wonder that you are wasting time on something unproductive.

    Next, check your environment: does it allow you to work in a focused manner? If you are getting easily distracted because of the environment, it’s time to start finding alternative locations for doing the work.

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    Finally, make sure that your project isn’t too big to handle. If you are trying to tackle it all by yourself, it’s no wonder if you are feeling frustrated and tired. Additionally, if you find the tasks are too big in size, then this could be another reason for the stress you are experiencing right now.

    Destroy the unproductive action with a right mindset

    To fix the situation, I suggest developing a mindset that you can start using from this project and onward. This mindset consists of the following six cornerstones:

    • Stop rushing into things by planning them first
    • Know what you are doing and understand the importance of doing so
    • Pick the right location
    • Break the project into smaller pieces
    • Don’t try to handle it all by yourself
    • Review your progress and take corrective action if needed

    If you implement this productive mindset, then there is a much bigger chance of completing tasks in time and finishing your projects sooner than later.

    Get your true productivity back with these 6 steps

    1. Stop rushing. I know that you’d like to take action as soon as possible, but don’t make this mistake! Instead, spend a little time by creating a plan to follow. Know your next action steps, as well as your outcomes and keep them clearly in your head. If you understand what they are, then you are already on a better track of keeping things in control and reducing your workload at the same time.

    2. Know what you are doing. Ask yourself what you are supposed to be doing next and why you should be doing it—when you can answer to these two questions, then you are on the right path. Keep asking these questions all the time. They are a great way to make you aware of what you are doing. They also prevent you from taking the wrong action, if you can’t see the value of the task.

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    3. Pick the right location for your work. It’s of the utmost important to pick the right location for your work. If you can’t work at home, then take your laptop with you and go somewhere else. Go outside (if the weather permits), to a public library or to a coffee shop. You can also rent a co-working space, or if money is not an issue, even a separate office to get your work done.

    4. Break the project into smaller pieces. Take your project and break it into smaller pieces. Focus on one piece at a time and then move on to the next one. For instance, if you are developing a piece of software, one task would be getting the user interface to be more compelling. Then, you could decide on different subsections that specifically create that great user experience, like setting the right fonts or defining the right color theme. When you have finished one area, you can move to the next one (like improving the performance of your application) and so on.

    5. Gather a team. It’s easy to think that only you can do the tasks and that you are irreplaceable: you aren’t! There is always someone who can do the task faster and better than you.

    For instance, when I’m building my blog, I have a virtual team doing various things for me: a designer and a developer for creating new functionality for my blog; a coach for telling me what things to focus on; maintenance guys for keeping my blog updated; and a proofreader for checking my written content before it’s published. Doing these things myself would be just madness and I would have quit blogging a long time ago, if I was still trying to do everything by myself.

    6. Review your progress and analyze. This is perhaps the most common thing that people forget to do: Reviewing progress.

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    You need to do this so that you can avoid mistakes or prevent taking action on things, which are not getting any results. I suggest doing the review at least on a weekly basis, where you reflect what you have done, how it went and what you are doing next. Even if this might feel like just a waste of time, you are wasting much more time when you end up taking unproductive actions later on.

    In conclusion

    As you now know, there are many reasons for taking unproductive actions. When you focus on things like planning, the right environment and breaking the project into smaller pieces, you can cut down your workload a lot and the chances for unproductive action decreases. A little bit of pro-activity can save you from unnecessary work later on.

    Over to you: How do you make sure you are not taking unproductive action?

    Featured photo credit:  Empire state building – new york city via Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Timo Kiander

    Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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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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