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The Real Trouble with Productivity

The Real Trouble with Productivity

I have a confession: I cringe at the word productivity. Getting things done. Saying that feels like being against democracy or love or Buddha or something, but I feel that much of what passes for productivity is simply ubercybersonic doingness dressed up in happy faces. Organization, accomplishment, measuring effectiveness–all those tools and systems are cool, but what if our doingness masks a hollow core, or gives us fuel for avoiding the life we say we’d like to be living?

  • Doing more won’t make us happy any more than doing happy will make us more [fill in the blank].
  • Doing more better also won’t make us happy.
  • Until we look at what generates true happiness, we won’t be fulfilled and content no matter how many boxes get checked in a day.

Productivity is bootless without sole.

Aligning with what makes us happy, fulfilled and alive connects us with our being. And what we’re really talking about here is honoring our values, those must-have, absolute qualities of being we crave expressing to be who we truly are. So if your top values are say, creativity, adventure, compassion, fun and service, they must be present somewhere in the holy grail of GTD, your daily life, and connected to your vision. If not, simply put, you’re eventually going to be miserable. And since miserable is a word often paired with work, all this values talk begs the question:

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“But what if I’m in a job where I have to buck up to the company’s demands and get all these things done, or else?”

If we want to be pragmatic about walking the talk of values-to-vision living, or personal mastery, and connect it to getting things done, I can’t help but think of Peter Senge:

Personal mastery is the bedrock for developing [shared visions.] This means not only personal vision, but commitment to the truth and creative tension — the hallmarks of personal mastery…Those who will contribute the most toward realizing a lofty vision will be those who can “hold” this creative tension: remain clear on the vision and continue to inquire into current reality. They will be the ones who believe deeply in their ability to create their future, because that is what they experience personally.

So whether we work for ourselves, or in an organization, getting things done has to be grounded by a continuum of learning infused by vision. According to Senge, “Organizations intent on building shared visions continually encourage members to develop their personal visions. If people don’t have their own vision, all they can do is ‘sign up’ for someone else’s. The result is compliance, never commitment.”

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At The Bamboo Project, Michele Martin challenges us to wake up to learning in her post Do You Set Your Priorities to Add Value or Avoid Pain:

Essentially what I see all too often is that things like paperwork and lengthy meetings of questionable relevance take precedence in most organizations over spending time on learning. It’s like what happens in a lot of marriages, where everything but the couple’s relationship is a priority and then the next thing you know, you’re in divorce court. If you think about it, “avoiding pain” is a pretty negative and short-sighted criterion to use in deciding how we spend our days. It tends to put us into a cycle that creates even more pain because we aren’t focusing on the kinds of activities that build us up (individually or organizationally), but on the things that constrain us. If you believe that you get what you focus on (which I do), then focusing on pain is just a way to keep inviting it back into your life.

So, how do we go about changing the dynamic?

Chris Bailey at Bailey WorkPlay consistently generates the answers to questions like this, and in a comment left at Steve Roesler’s site–All Things Workplace–he asks us to consider who’s really in charge:

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I’m feeling run down by work that increasingly feels like a J-O-B. I’m losing my passion for it. I can actually feel it receding away like the ocean tide. I know what my strengths are and what I love to do…and I feel that I don’t have a chance to utilize these in my work with my organization. Now, does my manager read All Things Workplace?

Probably not, but yeah, he should. In this case, it’s me who needs to take the first step to guide the passion along. More generally, sometimes it’s the employee (or the even manager) who needs to bring her or his own manager to the table for this dialogue. It would be great if all managers got the memo suggesting that they can perpetuate passion. That may not be entirely fair to lay this all at their feet, though. The employee has to be there, too. The employee needs to know what they love, what they want to do, what will connect into their purpose…and they must be willing to share this. And who knows…maybe the employee might lead the manager to a new understanding of how to connect their passion and purpose to the work they do.
And this moves us, as everything inevitably does, to transparency and personal responsibility. Again, Steve Roesler in his post, A Good Place to Use Some Passion:

Managers don’t have easy jobs. They’re trying to pay attention to you and everyone else in their group. Why not get passionate about taking some of the burden from your manager’s shoulders and simply start a conversation about what’s on your mind? If you want a good shot at using your talents where you are now, then take the responsibility for making it happen. Nothing warms a manager’s heart more than seeing someone who is passionate about responsibility.

Yes, I know I veered a bit. How this all ties in for me is that in countless conversations with clients, time and productivity are always issues, but the real breakdown, we discover, is that there has been a lack of resonant underpinning– a values to vision consciousness in the individual and the workplace.

What do you have up your sleeves, Lifehack readers? Dive in. Inquire. Discuss.

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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity

It’s 6:00 am. You have just woken up and are ready to take a shower. After the showering, it’s time to eat breakfast, catch the news by reading the morning paper, and then start your work.

You are feeling wonderful, relaxed, and happy. You have very high expectations for the day and you want to be as productive as possible.

Fast forward to 2 pm the same day. You are working in a rush and you barely had a chance to take a lunch break.

You start to feel a bit stressed and tired because of the busy schedule. Besides, it seems that you have to go back to certain tasks and fix them, because you didn’t have time to focus on them properly.

The day which started so fine has turned into a stressful one. You just jump from one task to another – as quickly as possible – without doing anything properly.

You wish you’d find a reset button, so that you could start your day from all over – with a different strategy.

What you probably experienced was this: you planned your day the night before and you felt you were on top of your tasks.

However, things started to go wrong when you kept adding tasks after each other to your list and finally your task list was many miles long. Your to do list also contained tasks which were pretty much impossible to get done in one day.

The other point which contributed to your hectic and stressful day was not understanding how much time completing a particular task would take and when to execute the task. If you had this information, it would have been easier to figure out the right timing for executing the task.

Finally, there really wasn’t any flexibility in your plans. You forgot to add a buffer between tasks and understand that certain tasks are much larger than what they seem outside.

But you know what – these reasons alone weren’t the main reason for your stress and busyness …

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What People Are Wrong About a To-Do List

Do you really know what you are supposed to do?

How much time did you actually spent on planning your day – was it just 5 minutes while the television set was distracting you?

If so, then this was probably the biggest reason why your day became so stressful.

When you plan your days, you should truly understand the tasks you are about to do – and what it takes to accomplish them. This is necessary especially with important tasks, because you are able to make progress with the tasks that matter the most.

The lack of time spent on planning will also be shown as too many big tasks stuffed to your daily list. If you haven’t broken down the task into smaller pieces, it’s probable that you are not going to get them done during the day. This in turn makes you to beat yourself for not completing your task list.

Finally, don’t treat creating a task list just like some secondary thing that you try to do as quickly as possible. In fact, when you pay more attention to your next day’s task list, the more likely is the list going to be realistic and less stressful for you.

Components of a Good To-Do List

When I talk about a good task list, I consider these characteristics to be part of it:

Balanced

The task list contains both important and less important tasks. Let’s face it: although we all would like to work on just important tasks ( e.g. goal related ones), we have to take care of the less important tasks as well (like running errands, taking care of your household or other everyday stuff).

Enough Flexibility

What happens when you have planned a task, but you are unable to take care of it? Do you have a plan B in place? If not, try to figure out the alternative action you can take in these scenarios.

Time for Transitions

Understand that transition times also eat your time. Make sure that when you plan your task list, this time is also included in your plans. Adding some extra buffer between tasks will make your list more flexible and realistic.

Not Too Many Tasks for One Day

Giving you an exact figure on how many tasks you should have on your daily list is difficult. It depends on your situation. But I’m willing to say that anything between 5-10 tasks should be enough for a day.

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Understand that certain tasks are very quick to take care of, so it’s easier to include more tasks on certain days. Just make sure that there are also important tasks on the list so that you are able to move on with your bigger projects.

Shield of Protection

Build a shield of protection around your task list, so that as few tasks as possible can land to your list and that the number of items on your list won’t increase during the day.

In the first case, try to eliminate the sources for your tasks. This is done by reducing your commitments and limiting the projects you have. The fact is that the more commitments (or projects) you have, the more likely they are going to end up as tasks for your daily list.

In the second case, make your list a closed one. I learned this concept by reading Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management by Mark Forster. In order to create a closed task list, all you have to do is to draw a line under the last task on the list. When you have done this, you are not allowed to add any new tasks to your list during the day. This ensures that the number of tasks is actually decreasing as the day goes on.

How to Create a To-Do List That Boosts Your Productivity

To make a list that you can actually accomplish the next day, do the following:

1. Eliminate the Tasks

Go through your commitments and decide if you really need each one.

For instance, I was an active member of our local computer club in my hometown, but then I realized that I don’t have enough time for that activity anymore. Although I’m still a member of the club, I don’t participate in its activities anymore. This has eliminated the tasks related to that commitment.

2. Take Your Time to Plan the List

Don’t rush creating your task list – spend some time on the planning phase. If required, “isolate yourself” for the planning part by going to a separate room in your home (or even going outside your home). This way, you can actually think the tasks thorough before you enter them onto your list.

Try to spend at least 15 minutes with your list when you plan it.

3. Move Important Tasks to the Beginning

When planning your day, make sure that the important tasks are at the beginning of your list. This ensures that you get those tasks done as quickly as possible.

For instance, as a blogger, I make sure I have the content creation tasks at the beginning of my list. As soon as I wake up, I attack those tasks immediately and they get done before I go to work.

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4. Track the Recurring Tasks

You might have recurring tasks on your list, but do you know how much time they take to accomplish?

If you don’t, make sure you do some time tracking to figure it out. This helps you to plan your day better, as you know how much time a task takes and if there is a certain time slot in your daily schedule, when the task could be executed.

5. Batch Similar Tasks

Look at your list and find out if there are similar tasks that you can batch-process. This way, you can get certain tasks off your list faster and easier.

6. Define the Tasks in More Detail

Don’t just include a task like “build a website” on your list; make sure you have broken the task to smaller pieces. The smaller the tasks are, the easier it is to take accomplish them.

7. Do Some Prep Work in Advance

Make sure that you prepare for certain tasks in advance.

For instance, I write the outlines for my guests post on Sundays, so that it’s easier (and faster) for me to start writing the actual posts when I wake up. With a little bit of prep work, I speed things up and make sure tasks get done when the right day comes.

8. Automate the Maintenance

Naturally, you could use a pen and paper approach to your task list, but try to take advantage of technology too. In fact, try to find a tool that takes care of the maintenance of your task list for you. My preferred tool is Nozbe, but there are other task management applications that you can try too.

9. Know Your Task Types and Your Schedule

Finally, when you plan your day, ask yourself these questions:

What else do I have on the schedule?

This question refers to your personal schedule. For instance, if you are traveling, make sure that your list reflects to this fact. Don’t try to “overstuff” your list with too many tasks, since it’s more likely you get only a fraction of them done.

Is the task a gatekeeper?

This question asks if the task is blocking other tasks to be executed.

Every once in a while, we might have a task, which has to be taken care of first. After you have done that, only then you can take care of the sequential tasks.

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When you focus on creating your task list in a focused manner, you’ll be able to spot the gatekeepers easily.

Do I have icebergs on my list?

This question asks if your task is actually much bigger than what it seems. Sometimes when you start working on a task, you’ll soon realize that it’s much bigger than what you initially thought (compare them to icebergs, where only the tip of the iceberg is above the sea level, but the majority of the ice is below the water).

Once again, when you focus enough on your task list during the creation phase, it’s easier to spot these “icebergs” and split the tasks into smaller, much more manageable chunks.

Is the task distraction-proof?

This final question asks if the task is distraction-proof. Not all the tasks are created equal: some tolerate more distraction, while others require your full attention.

For instance, I can check my Twitter stream or do simple blog maintenance even when I’m around my family. These tasks are distraction-proof and I can take care of them – even if I don’t have my full attention on them.

The Bottom Line

If you still have a hard time of achieving your daily tasks, make sure that you analyze the reasons why this happened. If anything, do not beat yourself up for not finishing your task list.

No one is perfect and we can learn from our mistakes.

It takes a bit practice to create a “smiling” task list. However, once you learn to put all the pieces together, things are going to look much better!

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Featured photo credit: Jacqueline Kelly via unsplash.com

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