One my key goals in this year of 2016 is to become both uber-efficient and productive; and not just for this year, but also beyond.
My rationale is simple: As outlined in my goals list, there are a lot of big things I want to accomplish over the next twelve months; and if I’m to achieve this (or at the very least, make a major dent in them) I need to be more than just organized – I need to be UBER-organized. Doing so will help me achieve two very important things:
- Find/create timezones to actually commit to working on my goals
- Work efficiently and productively to ensure measurable progress is made in reasonable time.
Whew – It was exhausting just saying that! But with such a lofty ambitions staring me down, my first step was to do the smartest thing anyone in this situation could do: I turned to an expert – an efficiency and productivity expert – for help and advice… and thank goodness I did.
Enter my good friend Mike Vardy, who blogs and podcasts at his site The Productivityist. Basically Mike teaches people who are “productivity-challenged” (er, like me) to work smarter not harder, plus a whole bunch more. Understanding the gravity of my situation and how daunting of a task it had become, you can imagine how thrilled I was when Mike freed up some time one afternoon to meet with me over coffee.
After catching up about holidays, kids and upcoming projects, we got down to business. Mike shared with me some productivity tips, strategies and philosophies that he felt could both help get me back on track and become more focused on the tasks at hand. His advice made great sense, and left me feeling that maybe – just maybe – with a little effort that even a guy like me could get my act together. Hey if I could pull this off, walking on water would be my next big challenge!
Once home I began accessing his website and began scanning the posts and materials Mike recommended – this act alone made me feel like I was both more in control, and heading in the right direction. But as I reviewed various different components of what successful efficiency and productivity looks like I began to notice a pattern, and one I have to admit scared me to some degree.
In fact, some of you may even recognize this nasty, despicable and unforgiving patten: It’s called “Discipline”; and from what I’ve seen, it takes no prisoners.
Ah yes, “Discipline”; and for the record, I’m not talking about the “Wait ’till your father gets home” kind of discipline our moms threatened us with after we busted her favourite lamp – No, I’m talking more of a military style of discipline – you know, the kind that follows the firm rules and regulations of a specific code of conduct laid out before them.
Understanding the fact that I’d be held accountable to a kind of “Productivity Code of Honour”, tiny beads of sweat began to form on my brow while and a shroud of chilliness encompassed me… I was terrified!
You see, I’ve never been in the the forces; but from what I have seen is that 98% of us “non-military types” struggle with the discipline of being efficient, organized and productive; and I’m no exception. This pretty much explains why so many of us civilian types are inefficient, disorganized and counter-productive most of the times!
And just to prove my point, I’ll be transparent enough to admit that while I was typing that last sentence I heard a *ping* and checked my email… Is it any wonder that I can’t get my act together?!
I realized that the #1 reason some of us aren’t as productive as we need to be isn’t because we lack access to productivity systems; Mike handily proved over a nice cafe’ latte that such things are available to us at anytime with a few clicks of a mouse.
No, the real problem comes from our not being disciplined enough to follow such systems when we have them, or worse:
That 99% of the time the constant and overwhelming lack of productivity comes down to the exact same three things: We get distracted by checking eEmail, Facebook, and that infamous last-resort-time-wasting-sparkly-and-shiny-like-a-new-coin-and-I-can’t-look-away thing called the internet – home of the dreaded time-sucking “cat video”… I know that you KNOW what I’m talking about…
Which brings me to one stark conclusion: As a species, we can be pretty pathetic, right?
Yep, the hard fact is that when most of us (me included) hear that familiar email *ping*, or see the little (1) appear in the extra tabs open (above whatever it is we should be working on), or are told “Hey, check out this video” like Pavlov’s dogs we drop everything we are doing – important or not – and give these time-wasters our full attention; and by doing so, we wind up breaking our concentration on the far more important tasks we are actually WORKING on.
Case in point: A few weeks back I was coaching someone who told me that their biggest issue with productivity is that they can’t help themselves from checking Facebook and emails all day; and asked me how to stop… Huh?
And therein lies the problem: Somewhere along the line we’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t ignore these digital distractions, because, well, they might be urgent and/or important – so instead we spend our days interrupting our work flow by checking things that don’t add value to our work, or our lives. When we do this, we cease to be productive; and when we cease to be productive, things slow down and deadlines are missed – And I’m not just talking work deadlines either.
Deadlines like our kid’s soccer matches. Deadlines like getting an important personal project completed on time. Deadlines like getting dinner organized and on the table on time for our family. Deadlines like not picking up flowers for your wife on her birthday, or forgetting to book the restaurant for your anniversary… you get the idea.
And if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we’d admit that 98% of our distractions are not only unimportant, but could easily wait until we are finished whatever project or task it is we are working on. But we don’t; and there in lies the problem.
Without discipline to stay focused on the task at hand most people tend to set themselves up for failure. I mean seriously, unless your pants are on fire and you need that email or Facebook post to tell you how to put out the fire, IT CAN WAIT.
Oh sure, the email may be important, maybe even somewhat urgent; but rarely by things that are both important AND urgent at the same time, which means they can wait an hour or two before you attend to them for the good of the important (and possibly urgent) task you are already working on. Make sense? Of course it does!
So why is it so hard to do? What’s the solution to this problem that seems to affect so many people? How do we become less distracted by these, er, distractions and more productive at the tasks at hand? With Mike’s help, I think I may have found one or two answers to this problem.
URGENT & IMPORTANT or NOT IMPORTANT & NOT URGENT?
One of the reasons I respect Mike so much is that whenever I send him an email, he DOESN’T respond for quite a while; sometimes not even until a day or two later. This act alone proves what a disciplined guy he is, and explains why he IS so productive all the time. He understands that whatever tasks he’s laid out for himself are priority, and doesn’t get distracted by random emails that can wait. No wonder he’s called “The Productivityist”!
His commitment to productivity reminds me of the famous “Urgent-Important” Matrix (above) which demonstrates that unless something is BOTH urgent AND important at the same time, that it can probably wait for attention. And by making these non-important items wait, is what keeps you focused on the task at hand, which in turn is makes you more productive. Try working this way – without distractions – for a couple of hours, and no telling just how much you’ll accomplish!
STRATEGIES + DISCIPLINE = PRODUCTIVITY
Hopefully by now we’ve established that checking emails, posting on Facebook or surfing YouTube for cute kitten videos are – while fun and amusing – totally anti-productive activities, none of which are clearly urgent or important… right?
So understanding this, let’s look at a few strategies that when followed, can definitely help quadruple your productivity. Here we go:
- When working on the computer, dedicate one hour to the task at hand without opening any screens; this includes internet research
- Close (not shrink or minimize) all other screens
- If needed, allow yourself 10 minutes at the top of each hour to check and reply to emails
- Same with Facebook; better still, if you are working on a project, ignore it all together if you can
- Turn off your phone (same distractions, different device) for the hour
- That goes for texting too – ESPECIALLY texting!
- On lunch/dinner clear your head by getting up and walking around without using any technology
- If you can work in an area where nobody can disturb you, then do so
Final Word: Don’t kid yourself – Following these guidelines is far harder to do that it looks, mostly because it’s challenging something (constant checking of our electronics) that has become a habit for most of us. However, it you give this idea a chance, then keep at it over and over again (despite messing up frequently at first like I still do) you will be shocked at not just how much work you do get done, but also at the quality of work you produce, which will make you happy.
Better still, you’ll have time left over to attend your son’s soccer game AND pick up flowers for your wife on the way home… Now that’s what I call a true “Win-Win-Win”, don’t you think?
For more strategies, tips and information on how The Productivityist can help you up your game, contact Mike here. Like me, you’ll be glad you did.