Productivity Doesn’t Happen By Itself
There are three things that have to happen in order to define our work and be maximally productive about it. And these three things don’t happen by themselves. We have to train ourselves to do all three, and until we establish them as automatic, habitual behaviors, we have to exert a conscious redirection of our focus to get them done.
We have to:
(1) Make decisions about what we are going to do with our “stuff” and the next actions required to do it (what would “doing” look like?) “Stuff” is un-actionable until we’ve decided the outcome and the next step to move toward that result. Things on lists and in stacks and in email generally repel instead of attract us to get involved, until we decide what exactly our intention is about them and whether the next step is a call, draft a response, buy nails, set a meeting with someone to discuss it…, etc.
(2) Put those outcomes and actions down in written form, if we don’t do them in the moment we think of them. Even if we decide what we need to do about something, if it’s filed in our “psychic RAM” we run serious risk of losing sight of the option and (worse) we create instant failure and unnecessary stress. That part of our psyche seems to have no sense of past and future, and it acts as if we should be doing everything it’s holding on to all at once.
(3) Look at the reminders (when we can effectively use them and move on them). Even if you have decided the next step is a phone call you need to make, and even if you have written that down somewhere, if you don’t look at the reminder when you are at a phone and have discretionary time, you risk missing an opportunity to move something forward when it might be the best thing to do, given all the variables. When you are in a certain context, you need to reflect on all the things that could be done in those contexts, to be the most efficient. And you need to know what it’s OK not to be doing, even if you could do it there. If you don’t, something in your core knows that you’re not optimally handling your agreements with yourself.
These three behaviors combined are a master skill set for knowledge work. Yet virtually everyone I encounter could significantly improve the consistency with which he or she does these three critical productivity activities.
We were not taught these practices growing up. The workaday world of our parents did not require these critical behaviors of knowledge work. People just showed up, and did what obviously needed doing—they could see it in front of them. Few people work in that kind of world any more. These days, just showing up and expecting to work on what’s visibly been put in front of them, is hoping for a retro world that doesn’t exist, and is likely to be experiencing mounting stress that is not going to get any better.
“The ancestor of every action is a thought.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.”
-Jean de La Bruysre
Always when I speak to people about productivity it seems to me that it comes down to behaviors – are your current set of behaviors useful or a hinderance to achieving what you want. I think these three habits are quite useful and would in the end help a lot of people to have a more productive life.