Four Simple –But Not Easy– Steps to Mastering Productivity
People are quickly getting back into the swing of things as the summer fades into sweet, yet soon distant memories. Days are growing shorter, school is back in session, and the pace of life seems to pick up like a fast-flowing river.
Before you know it, you’ll get swept up in the no-time, washed-down cultural stream called “crazy busy.” Crazy busy has an energy all its own – a buzz and pull that everyone seems to feel – especially at this time of year. Busyness in our culture has reached epidemic proportions and I believe it is costing us dearly.
One of the chief causes of stress in our society results from people not doing what is important to them or what they value. Too often people feel as though they are simply running a rat race on a hamster wheel. They run and run, but they never feel like they accomplish anything. They are crazy busy, but not productive.
The characteristics of being busy can be described as disorganized, chaotic, distressed, reactionary, scattered, and often anxious. Conversely, learning to embrace the principles of meaningful productivity lead one to be centered, ordered, clear, accomplished, optimized, and at ease. Two people can be doing the exact same job function, but if one is busy and the other is productive, there will be drastically different outcomes in both what is produced and experienced.
I teach a wide variety of approaches to shifting from busy to productive. Here are four principles and practices that can help you move from being crazy busy to being meaningfully productive in your everyday life.
#1: Practice the “Productivity Cycle.” Plan, prepare, debrief, and repeat. Yes, I know this may seem like four principles in one, but I teach these together so that people begin thinking of this productivity cycle as if it is a single step. First, you plan your tasks for the week and then prepare for the following day in advance. After that day is complete, you debrief to see what is left to be accomplished and what new tasks have emerged. And finally, you repeat the process again.
It takes practice, but soon, you will get into the habit of using these principles so that you begin each week and each day with your goals declared, your tasks scheduled, and your thoughts clear regarding your objectives.
#2: Align your actions with you goals. Far too often people end up doing busywork because it is so easy and mindless. The real work of moving toward your goals is challenging and requires that you be mentally focused. It is all too common that people avoid the mental work in lieu of mindless work.
The key is to move from mindless busyness toward meaningful productivity. So start your day by determining what it is that will move you forward and give you a sense of feeling productive. Then schedule those things into your day so you know when you are doing to complete these tasks. Your sense of accomplishment will increase and you will be motivated to do more.
#3: Manage yourself, not your time. One hundred percent of the people who have taken my productivity courses and trainings admit to all kinds of self-defeating, non-productive activities. They lose hours surfing the web, engaging in mindless social media, playing video games, watching television or online videos, reading and responding to emails, and so on. You have to manage yourself in order to move into meaningful productivity. You can relax and celebrate after accomplishing a major task, but it’s important to plan your time accordingly and stick to the plan.
#4: Toss your “to-do” list. This comes as a total shock to most people, but to-do lists do not support your productivity. This is because none of the items on your list are grounded in time nor do you have a sense of how long it actually takes to get any of them done. Thus, you write down fifteen items, accomplish five, and feel like you’ve done something wrong. Lists set you up for failure while scheduling your life and following your schedule sets you up for meaningful productivity.
When you first begin planning your time this way, I strongly recommend determining how long you estimate an item will take, and then double it. Once you start tackling things in time, you will likely see that this is the appropriate amount of time to schedule.
Implementing these four principles will set you well on your way to a life of meaningful productivity. And you can say goodbye to crazy busy!