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Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

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Productivity Made Simple: How to Keep Your Projects from Killing You

    Some projects can be a real pain in the you know what. Not all of them, of course. But there are some that just keep us awake at night. There can be many reasons of such a situation. Sometimes the tasks that need to be done are simply difficult to perform. Other times it’s the amount of time required that frightens us.

    But sometimes the most frightening thing of them all is that we don’t know what’s going on in a project, and can’t seem to find a way to plan everything out and get a clear picture of what needs to be done.

    In the previous parts of the series we were discussing what to do once everything is perfectly laid out. Once we’re clear about the exact tasks that need to be done, and once we even know when we want to take care of them. But there’s one part missing, and that’s of course the part of planning your projects and selecting your priorities.

    Most projects we decide to execute should be defined and planned according to five main steps. These are:

    1. Setting goals and rules.
    2. Defining your vision for the end result.
    3. Brainstorming.
    4. Organizing.
    5. Selecting next tasks.

    Of course, not every project requires such an elaborate sequence of steps. Some projects are really simple, and defining things like goals or visions would be a complete overkill.

    If you just want to get your car fixed then you don’t need any smart rules to be able to get it done … you probably know what needs to be done without any additional help.

    However, GTD was designed to be able to handle any kind of project, no matter how big or small.

    The steps mentioned above are doing just that. They can be applied to anything. And after you go through all of them you can be sure that your project will be clear and understandable. This, in the end, will improve your chance of executing the project successfully.

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    To explain this whole thing we’ll have to leave our simple examples and take on something a bit more complicated… So imagine that you’re buying a new apartment for you and your family.

    1. Setting goals and rules.

    This is the part where you answer the questions of why and what for.

    For our example the question is: Why do you want a new apartment?

    Some possible answers: you want to live closer to your workplace, you want your kids to live closer to school, you want to have more space for yourself and your family, you want to live in the city center because all the interesting things are happening there, you want a more modern environment, and so on.

    The reasons behind every project are of course different. Furthermore, personal projects are entirely different in nature from business-centered projects. But they still have a lot in common. If, for example, instead of buying a new apartment you’re starting a business then the question remains – why do you want to start a business?

    So no matter what you’re thinking of doing you always need to start with your goals and rules. Goals we have covered (it’s the why). Rules are even easier to grasp.

    Going back to our example; some rules: what is your budget? where do you want to live (what neighborhood)? do you want to get one room for everybody? do you need a garage? and so on.

    Once you have all these things lined up you can go to the next step.

    2. Defining your vision for the end result.

    This is where you’re answering the question of what.

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    Create a complete vision of what you want to get as the end result of the project. The more details the better.

    Your vision reflects the goals and rules you’ve set in the previous step. The goals are the main guidelines on what should and shouldn’t be done inside a given project. So now, you’re using these goals to come up with your vision for the final result of the project.

    A possible vision for our project:

    I want a 4 bedroom apartment in the city center. At least X square meters of space. Large kitchen. It must have a garage. The price should be less than X. Modern furniture.

    This sounds like a good vision. Of course there’s a lot more things we could include here, but for now it’ll do.

    The next step is to take this vision and do some brainstorming around it.

    3. Brainstorming.

    Brainstorming is probably the most creative activity for any project. You’ve been doing it many times, I’m sure. However, brainstorming has very little point when done prior to executing the two previous steps.

    A brainstorming session always has to be created around a strongly defined main idea, so we have some guidance and know where we’re going with it. And this is exactly what defining goals and vision gives us.

    The brainstorming session itself is a very simple thing to do. Essentially, it’s the answer to the question of how.

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    Some people like to set some restrictions, for example, time constraints. This is good if we’re working on a given project at work, and more than one person is doing the brainstorming. But if it’s just you then you can spend as much time as you want. Of course, within reason.

    Start by taking your goals and visions and placing them in a visible place. Then simply let your creative mind loose and write down every idea that comes to mind about the things you might do in the project. And I mean EVERY.

    This is not the time to assess the ideas and erase the bad ones. Not now. This is the time to write everything down, no matter how stupid it sounds at first.

    Our example: call the real estate agency, go to IKEA, hire a contractor, ask around and find out if it’s a good neighborhood or not, choose paint colors, get a full-size Elvis sculpture, get an internet connection, get a bank loan, hire a van, check all the installations (electricity, etc.), and so on. The list for such an example can go on and on, so we’ll just stop here.

    Once you reach a point when you can’t think of anything else it’s probably a good moment to stop brainstorming and go to the next step.

    4. Organizing.

    Yes, this is where you get to select the good ideas and remove the bad ones. Brainstorming should give you a lot of both.

    Why brainstorming and organizing at the same time is not the best choice? Because these activities are opposing to one another. On one hand you have to be creative and invent stuff, but on the other you have to get back to the ground and be reasonable while assessing it. Doing this at the same time simply doesn’t work. That’s why organizing is a separate step.

    The process is simple. Just look at your brainstorming list and remove everything that doesn’t have much to do with your goals and visions, or is simply stupid (like the Elvis sculpture … or is it?).

    Once you spend some time on looking through all those things your brain will automatically start to arrange things according to their priorities and what needs to be done first. You should use this state of mind and quickly shift to the final step.

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    5. Selecting next tasks.

    This is where our old friend – the Next Tasks List – comes back into play.

    At this point selecting the next task for your project should be easy. After the phase of organizing all ideas you should have a nice set of actionable things that are in tune with your goals and visions. Things that are absolutely crucial for implementing the project. Now, simply select your next task for the project.

    Everything you have at this point goes into your Projects List. And the next possible task goes to your Next Tasks List. From that point on you can go back to your usual work (GTD style). This is where everything ties together.

    What’s next?

    Basically, that’s it. All you have to do now is use the system to help you get more organized and execute your projects more effectively. Both in personal life and in business.

    Just to recap, and point you towards the specific parts in this series.

    I admit, there’s a lot to do if you want to have GTD fully implemented in your daily life. But would you rather be running around like a chicken with its head cut off because you don’t have a clue what to do next? Probably not.

    One final encouragement for you: if you think you don’t have time for playing around with such methodologies then suspend your disbelief for a moment and have a little trust because after you implement GTD you will find time for everything.

    Feel free to share how GTD is working for you. I’m curious to know. I, for example, have been using it since 2009 and it truly works like a charm.

    (Photo credit: Productivity or Motivation via Shutterstock)

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    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 October 7, 2021

    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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    Are You Addicted to Productivity?

    “It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

    Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

    “Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

    Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

    Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

    “The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

    This is my mantra:

    I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

    But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

    Addiction to Productivity is Real

    Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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    “A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

    Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

    “It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

    Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

    “A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

    “There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

    “For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

    There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

    Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

    By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

    Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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    Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

    Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

    Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

    The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

    Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

    • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
    • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
    • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
    • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
    • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
    • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
    • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

    The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

    Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

    Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

    1. Set Limits

    Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

    For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

    2. Create a Not-to-Do List

    Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

    3. Be Vulnerable

    By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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    4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

    Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

    Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

    There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

    5. Don’t Be a Copycat

    Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

    That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

    6. Say Yes to Less

    Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

    That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

    Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

    7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

    “In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

    “That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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    • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
    • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
    • Establish realistic goals.
    • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
    • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
    • Hold yourself accountable.
    • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
    • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

    8. Simplify

    Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

    The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

    9. Learn How to Relax

    “Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

    “But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

    “And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

    But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

    • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
    • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
    • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
    • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
    • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
    • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
    • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
    • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
    • Visit a massage therapist.
    • Just breathe.

    “Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

    It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

    Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

    Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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