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Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

Too much of today’s personal productivity is stuck in repeating the past
To-do list

A genuine increase in productivity means getting the same, or greater, output with less effort and a smaller use of resources. Yet most personal productivity software still relies on various ways to categorize old-fashioned to-do lists.

That focuses on getting more done by improved organization; it’s working harder for longer (mostly by virtue of avoiding distractions and procrastination), not doing things better or with less effort and input. It’s not increasing genuine productivity. I suspect that, in reality, it’s sometimes even a substitute for doing much at all; spending time instead categorizing and rearranging lists of what is there to be done.

Where is the software that would help people find better ways to do things? To free up time for what matters be eliminating the unnecessary and trivial? The software that would ask tough, meaningful questions about every to-do item, such as:

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  • Do you need to do it now — or ever?
  • Is this something that you could — and should — delegate to someone else?
  • Is there a way to get the same result with less effort and input?
  • Is there a way to get a better outcome? Have you considered fresh options? What ideas could you find to improve, simplify, or — best of all — eliminate this activity?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions about what to do? Should you allow circumstances to unfold further, so you can see better what needs to be done (if anything)?
  • How can you develop your creativity, so that you can either find better ways to achieve the same, or greater, results, or find ways to stop doing things?

These are all questions it’s easy to forget in the rush to “get things done” — especially when someone is breathing down your neck and time seems to be slipping away. Software that both reminded and challenged you each time you tried to add something to your to-do list might be a boon to anyone caught up in the rat race.

Not doing things may be more productive

The Tao Te Ching suggested, more than 2200 years ago, that by doing nothing, everything would be done. What I suspect the author meant was that, if you think about things long enough and carefully enough, a great deal of your present activity can be removed altogether; if you’re patient, still more will resolve itself without any input from you; and whatever is left, you can do in half the time and with a quarter of the effort. Everything that matters gets done. The rest is irrelevant.

By following that advice, you can eliminate so much clutter — plus those actions only done because you’ve always done them that way — that you will fly through what is left. That’s true focus, not the false kind that comes from putting items into an ordered list and starting from the top. You may be working on item 1, but all the others are still there, preying on your mind and tempting you into swerving aside to deal with them too.

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What about something that actually limited your to-do list to no more than, say, six items? Something that would force you to prioritize and drop something, before you could add any more? It’s easy to build up a to-do list of almost infinite length, then feel stressed by all the things still waiting to be done.

Realistically, the chances of getting to item 27 on your list — now or ever — are so small as not to be worth considering. Software could not only help you to set sensible priorities, it could recall just how long something had sat at number 3 or 4 and tell you either to do it now — make it number 1 and get it done — or stop kidding yourself and forget it.

It could also remember how long something had been on the to-do list in any position and kick it off automatically after, say, 5 days. If you haven’t even started on it by then, you aren’t going to today. Push it into a back list of “to do sometime;” and remove altogether if it stays on there for more than two weeks.

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The real keys to increasing productivity are creativity and discipline

I know this sounds brutal, but sometimes it takes “tough love” to bring home the key point: a to-do list should only contain what you are definitely going to do within the next day or so. Everything else should go somewhere else, or it will simply clog up your list and convince you that you’re so weighed down with unfinished tasks that you don’t have time to do anything — except, of course, continually polish and re-categorize your natty software to-do list!

Productivity should be about creativity — finding new and better ways to do what me must with less effort — and discipline — to ignore anything that isn’t truly important.

For example, if your to-do list and calendar are full of meetings, you can probably double or triple your productivity instantly by taking these simple steps:

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  • Cut out all the time wasted in meetings you’re only attending as an observer. If you haven’t got anything on the agenda that is vital to you, don’t go.
  • Refuse to stay in any meeting for more than one hour. What can’t be accomplished in that time probably doesn’t need to be done.
  • If you are in charge, eliminate all the time wasted by people “updating” the group. If anyone needs to know, ask for a summary beforehand by e-mail. In a meeting, it’s wasted time.
  • Only hold meetings at all if there is genuinely no other way. About a third of meetings take place because people are too lazy to handle what needs to be done more efficiently. The other two-thirds take place to allow people to spread the blame and protect their butts.

Until you stop focusing on the mundane — organizing lists — and start considering genuine productivity — improving the ways you do essential things and dropping all the rest — you’ll stay stuck at about the place you’re in today.

Until now, nearly all software advances linked to personal productivity have been based on automating what people once did by hand. That process has reached the point of diminishing returns. The real innovations will only come when we start using software to let us do what was either impossible, or unimagined, before we had it.

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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