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Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

Why It’s Necessary to Learn the Rules Before You Break Them
Breaking the Rules
    Breaking the Rules by Before the Coffee

    Productivity is often seen as a rigid fun-free word that many people shy away from. Some say it’s the antithesis of creativity; maybe it’s because of this that so many creative types have chaotic tendencies.

    For others, productivity is necessary in order for creativity to thrive.

    I’m part of the latter group, productivity has been my savior. It has been the gap between stress and calm, the link between dreams and action and the catalyst that helped convert mediocre to successful.

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    Do we have to follow the rules?

    Learning to be more productive can be a chore — it can be daunting to try and adopt a new way of working. Stepping outside your comfort zone is never fun. But why do productivity systems have to be so restrictive and have so many rules attached to them?

    Many people ask me, “Can I not just pick and choose parts of different systems to suit my own life and way of thinking?” The answer is, “Yes, you can.” But to be able to choose the bits to use and the parts to leave behind, it is necessary to first learn the rules before you go breaking them.

    Getting Things Done

    Most people interested in productivity or reading this blog will be familiar with GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done system). GTD is a productivity system with a lot of detail and many rules. It is a system that works; it has been tried and tested by millions of worldwide users. When I started teaching GTD, I had no intention of using it myself. The detail was not for me; I thought I knew how to get things done! I believed the system would be great for people who liked detail and organization — I didn’t.

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    As I learned more and more, it started to rein me in. I saw the advantages first hand and for every block or barrier I came up against, GTD appeared to have the answer. For about two years I used the system religiously. I did my weekly reviews and my life got better by the day. After a while I started to try out different productivity apps and systems, and finally I adjusted my life and my work around a couple of systems and apps which work for me. I created habits and routines that work.

    I now have my own system, but GTD helped me to get to a different level of success in my life. I believe that without it, I would never have achieved all the things I have achieved over the last couple of years.

    Toss Productivity Out

    Some time ago, Leo Baubauta of Zen Habits wrote an article entitled “Toss Productivity Out”, advocating that there was no longer a need for rules, for setting goals, or for productivity systems. His approach can work — but I believe it depends on where you are in your life, what you have achieved and what you want to achieve.

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    If your life is chaotic, it is going to need some control, new habits and routines.

    I agree with Leo that we should all try and live more in the flow and not be totally dependent on structures, routines and systems. But there are stages one must go through for life to work effortlessly.

    Productivity is the stepping stone, a facilitator of achievement, a creator of space and time. Just like diets and eating programs such as Weight Watchers and Unislim (or training programs in the gym), you don’t necessarily have to follow them for life but they enable you to create positive habits which will the driving force for your success.

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    So go on and create the positive habit of productivity. And then toss it out, break the rules, have some fun, and live in the flow.

    More by this author

    Ciara Conlon

    Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2019

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Why Do I Procrastinate? 5 Root Causes And How To Tackle Them

    Procrastination is something many people can relate to and I, myself, have been there and done that. Yes, I write all about productivity now, but when I first started out on my career path, I would often put off work I didn’t want to do. And most of the time I didn’t even realize I was doing it.

    So what changed?

    I thought to myself, “why do I procrastinate?” And I started to read a lot of books on productivity, learning a great deal and shifting my mind to the reasons why people procrastinate.

    My understanding brought me a new perspective on how to put an end to the action of procrastination.

    Procrastination slows your goals and dreams way down. It can create stress and feelings of frustration. It rears its ugly head on a regular basis for a lot of people. This is particularly apparent at work with day-to-day projects and tasks.

    But, why do people self-sabotage in this way? Essentially, there are 5 reasons behind procrastination. See if you can identify with any of these in your own work life.

    1. The Perfectionist’s Fear

    Procrastination is sometimes a subconscious fear of failure.

    If you put off a task enough, then you can’t face up to the potential (and usually imagined) negative results. If you’re a stickler for minor details, the stress of getting things ‘just right’ may be too much and cause you to delay continuing the task.

    Either way, fear is at the root cause and can sabotage your desire to move forward.

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    How to Tackle It?

    Try visualizing the completion of your task in a positive way.

    For example, you have a presentation that your boss wants you to conduct for a potential client. Visualize yourself standing in the meeting room confident, meeting the eyes of the client and seeing them light up as you explain the concept simply and concisely.

    Imagine your boss telling you how great you did and you were the best person for the job. Think about how it would feel to you and focus on this as you move forward with the task.

    2. A Dreamer’s Lack of Action

    This is a person who is highly creative and has many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition.

    The main reason for this is because there’s usually no structure or goal setting involved once the idea has been created. This aimless approach ends up manifesting as a lack of decision-making and significant delays on a project.

    How to Tackle It?

    Write down a timeline of what you want to achieve and by when. Ideally, do this daily to keep yourself on track and accountable for progression. Creative minds tend to jump from one idea to the next, so cultivating focus is essential.

    If you’re designing and creating a new product at work, set out a task list for the week ahead with the steps you want to focus on each day. Doing this ahead of time will stop your mind from wandering across to different ideas.

    Learn about how to plan your time and take actions from some of the successful people: 8 Ways Highly Successful People Plan Their Time

    3. An Overwhelmed Avoider

    This is one of the most common reasons for procrastination; the sheer overwhelm of a daunting task.

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    The complexity of a task can cause the brain to lose motivation and avoid doing it altogether choosing instead to stay in its comfort zone.

    The search then starts for a more enjoyable task and the harder tasks are put off. This can cause stress and dread when the task inevitably comes up to be completed.

    How to Tackle It?

    Break the challenge down into smaller tasks and tackle each one individually.

    For example, if you have a project that has technical elements to it that you know you’ll find challenging, list each step you need to take in order to complete these difficult elements. Think of ways you can resolve potential hurdles. Perhaps you have a coworker that may have time to help or even consider that the solution may be easier than you initially think. Put each task in order of most daunting to least daunting. Ideally, try to deal with the more challenging parts of each task in the morning so that momentum is created as the tasks get easier through the day.

    A reward system will also help you stay motivated so, once completed, you can enjoy your treat of choice.

    If you want to know how to better handle your feelings and stay motivated, take a look at my other article: Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

    4. The Busy Bee Who Lacks Prioritization

    Either you have too many tasks or don’t truly acknowledge the differing importance of each task. The result? Getting nothing done.

    Time is spent switching constantly from one task to another or spending too much time deciding what to do.

    How to Tackle It?

    It’s all about priorities and choosing important tasks over urgent ones.

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    Make sure to question the value and purpose of each task and make a list in order of importance.

    For example, throughout your work day, you can waste a lot of time dealing with ‘urgent’ emails from colleagues but, you need to ask yourself if these are more important than working on a task that will affect, say, several office projects at once.

    Help yourself to prioritize and set a goal of working through your list over the next few hours reassessing the situation once the time is up.

    In my other article, I talk about an effective way to prioritze and achieve more in less time: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    5. The One with Shiny Object Syndrome (Distraction-Prone)

    This is another common cause for procrastination; just simple distraction.

    Our brains aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time and it looks for something else. So throw in a bunch of colleagues equally looking for distractions or checking your phone mindlessly, and you’ve got a recipe for ultimate procrastination.

    However, this type of procrastination may not always be an unconscious decision to sabotage and put off work. It’s simply a result of your work setup or types of coworkers you have. Only you know the answer to that.

    How to Tackle It?

    Be mindful of your workspace and potential distractions. Schedule a specific time to converse with your coworkers, put headphones on to minimize listening to what’s going on around you, and switch your phone off.

    Aim to do this for 20-30 minutes at a time and then take a break. This will be a much more efficient way of working and getting what you need done. This is also why scheduling down time is so important for productivity.

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    Whether this type of procrastination is self-sabotage or being a victim of a distracting environment, either way you can take control.

    If you need a little more guidance on how to stay focus, this guide can help you: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Bottom Line

    I’m going to be bold and assume you identified with at least one of these procrastination pitfalls.

    You could be trapped in the endless cycle of procrastination like I was, that is, until I decided to find out my why behind putting off tasks and projects. It was only then that I could implement strategies and move forward in a positive and productive way.

    I killed the procrastination monster and so can you. I now complete my tasks more efficiently and completely killed that feeling of stress and falling behind with work that procrastination brings.

    I know it’s not easy to stop procrastinating right away, so I also have this complete guide to help you stop it once and for all: Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Featured photo credit: Luke Chesser via unsplash.com

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