Productivity is one of my favourite topics to read and write about, because everyone can admit to wanting more free time and less hassle in their lives.
It’s a hot topics nowadays, especially since there’s more opportunity than ever to improve in so many areas of life with the resources we now have thanks to technology and the information age.
So you’ve got all the resources you need for all the things you want to do, but a limited amount of time to do them.
Time is the one fixed component we all have to make do with.
You can’t literally buy more hours to add to a 24-hour day the way you can buy more milk when it runs out, or buy gas when your car is running on empty.
You can, however, buy products or services that help free up your time.
You do it all the time when you take your laundry to the dry cleaners, get the Weed Man to beautify your lawn in the spring, order something from Amazon, call tech support about your flakey wireless internet connection, or hire a finance professional to take care of all your boring income tax stuff for you.
You’re constantly making decisions to buy yourself precious time every day (as opposed to wasting it as you try and fail to do everything yourself), but you’re probably not all that conscious of it because it’s become such a normal part of everyday life in capitalist society.
You know, time is money and blah, blah, blah.
I’m going to tell you a secret that nobody really thinks about when they think about how to increase their own productivity or implement better time management skills.
I mean, it’s not really a secret — it’s just one of those things that are so simple and obvious, yet so often overlooked in the chaos and complexity of everything else.
Here it is…
The key to becoming more productive is by doing less.
I know what you’re thinking.
That’s some BULLSHIT.
Being productive is all about self-discipline and focus and motivation and goal-setting!
I hear you.
Like most other people who have lots of interests and goals for themselves, you firmly believe that productivity = getting lots of shit done in the shortest amount of time possible.
You want the superhuman ability to get up at 4am in beast mode for your workout, have all your work projects and meetings and emails and calls done by noon, catch up with friends at lunch, work on your own side business or blog or Pinterest board or whatever for an hour or so, do more work that puts you ahead of schedule, book that plane ticket to that conference you want to attend, get a bunch of errands done straight after work, cook and serve an amazing dinner for your family, go to yoga, grab a decaf latte on your way out, pick up the kids from soccer practice, and still have time to watch the two hour-long Dancing With the Stars Disney night special.
I’m not saying there aren’t people out there already who do this.
Everyone knows at least one Type A person who lives their life like this, and even if they do seem happy on the outside, consumed by their busy chores and responsibilities, you have to wonder deep down how distracted, unhappy, unfulfilled, and stressed out they really are.
Being productive loses its meaning when you’re driving yourself into the ground trying to do too many things at once that either prevent real progress or are of little value to you.
I was really compelled to write about this because I’m making some big changes in my own business, and I’ve always suffered immensely from trying to do too many things all at the same time.
As of quite recently, actually, I decided to begin the process of trying to establish myself as a writer who specializes in entrepreneurial personal development, productivity and wellness.
I enrolled in a business mentorship program and everything, so I’m feeling pretty legit right now.
I sort feel like I’m starting all over again with with my business, and my brain hurts just thinking about all the stuff I need to do.
Yesterday, I got so frustrated with myself at the end of the day because I didn’t get very much done despite feeling like I was busy all day.
And so, I had to get brutally honest with myself to realize where I was failing.
When you’re a freelancer (or anyone who doesn’t get paid the same amount of money whether you work hard or slack off), your entire business is based entirely on how you use your time.
For a while now, I hadn’t been working off of a detailed to-do list, I was flip flopping between tasks, I was letting myself get distracted by all sorts of things, I wasn’t using the Pomodoro technique to stay focused, and I just wasn’t consciously directing my mind and actions in the best way that would produce results.
I was reacting on impulse and letting my emotions influence all of my decisions.
Funny how you can swear you’ll never go back to your old habits, and then all of a sudden you’re back there again without realizing it.
Imagine if you only gave yourself three or four major tasks or projects to focus on for the whole day.
Do you think you could get them done?
Most people would probably say yes.
So why the hell don’t more people do it?
DO YOU WANT THE REAL ANSWER?
I know you do.
People don’t practice enough self-discipline to condition themselves into building better habits, and they don’t want to take responsibility for their time wasted.
They’d rather blame their external circumstances.
It’s one of those stupidly simple rules that we choose to either overcomplicate, or completely ignore all together, because it’s too damn hard and there must be another way.
If you’re one of those people who endlessly complains about lack of time and obsessively wishes for the ability to get more done, I’m here to give you a virtual slap of reality and remind that you really do need to start doing less if you want to be more productive.
You just have to make the decision, and then, you know — freaking do it.
You have to do less to avoid giving attention to time-sucking distractions.
The more stuff you’ve got around you trying to compete for attention from your brain, the more distracted you truly are.
I’m talking about email, TV, social media, video games, the notifications going off on your phone, the mess of papers surrounding your desk, that Top 40 music blaring in the background, people coming to you for help or advice, and even that box of chocolate wafers calling your name from across the room.
When your mind is constantly being pulled away from what you need to do, you not only waste time by giving attention to that distraction, you also make it harder for yourself to get back to what you were doing.
Put yourself in a distraction-free environment.
You have to do less to ensure you’ll make some progress on some things — not all of them — in a reasonable amount of time.
Maybe you don’t have a problem with distraction. (Or you think you don’t.)
Maybe you’re just trying to do a million really important things every day, spending a few minutes here on one thing, a few minutes there on another thing, and never enough time on any of them at all.
If you’re not making any real progress at all, it’s probably because you’re trying to take on way too much, so you’re unable to give enough time and focus and energy to each task or area in order to make a difference and see results.
Don’t try to do so many things that you never see anything happen.
You have to do less because humans suck at multitasking.
I’m going to keep emphasizing this fact in all my blog posts until the cows come home.
That’s right, friend.
You can’t keep trying to do two or more things at once if you want to function at top-level efficiency, even if it seems harmless — like keeping Facebook open in your browser tab or leaving talk radio on in the background while you try to work.
I’m such a firm believer in focusing on one task at a time for maximum productivity that I plan to write an entire blog post in the future on the science of multitasking.
For now, all you need to know is that multitasking splits your brain up as it tries to focus on each activity.
You know when you’re laptop starts heating up and the fan starts going really fast because you have a whole bunch of programs open at the same time?
That’s what’s happening to your brain, kind of.
Weird analogy, I know.
Don’t fry your brain by focusing on multiple activities at once.
You have to do less so you can focus on your biggest priorities.
Remember how I suggested spending your day on just three or four major things?
You need to make that happen, and ideally, they need to be your most important projects that will make the biggest impact on moving you forward.
Break them down into smaller tasks if you need to, but you really shouldn’t be focusing on more than a few each day.
If you try to focus on five or more major projects, you risk getting distracted and spreading yourself too thin.
I know just how hard this can be, especially when you’ve got people counting on you.
In many cases, you may need to let someone know you can’t make it to their social function, ask your boss for an extension on that deadline, or see if a friend or coworker or family member can take something off your hands so you can focus on what’s most important.
Stop putting so much time and energy into other projects (and distractions) when you already know what your most important projects are.
You have to do less to sustain motivation, avoid burnout, and recharge.
Human willpower and motivation has its limits.
Anyone who thinks he can keep going on multiple tasks and projects barely without any breaks or sleep or relaxation will surely suffer the consequences later.
Going on stress leave is becoming more of a common trend these days in the workplace, because people’s minds and bodies start deteriorating as a result of everything they’re expected to handle — not just at work, but combined with their personal lives too.
It’s just too much.
Don’t sacrifice your mental, physical, and emotional health for your to-do list.
This idea of “doing less” is as simple as it gets, but it’s not easy.
I’ve known that this is really the key to getting more done for a long time now, but I still find myself slipping back into distraction, multitasking, trying to spend at least a little time on a million things by the end of the day, and forgetting to take those much needed breaks.
It’s hard, yo.
It all comes down to conscious decision and action.
But everyone is smart enough and capable of doing it.
And when you fall off the wagon every so often, like I just did, don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up about it.
Grab a coffee (or tea), a pen, a piece of paper, and go to a quiet place where you can’t be interrupted so can start thinking about all the things you really don’t need to put on your to-do list.
Photos via Unsplash.com
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