There are literally thousands of articles on the internet about productivity. It’s pretty amazing, though not surprising given our society’s focus on output.
If you know me at all, you know that I am interested in the ebb and flow of natural cycles, including our own. I think that the best “productivity tip” by far is simply getting enough rest and nourishment – honoring the ebb in our cycle so that we are not constantly in go-mode. And so that when we are in go-mode, we have the energy to really rock it out.
And I know about this stuff… I wrote the book on burnout and rest! (Ok fine, so it’s a 30-page self-published e-book, but whatever).
So before we dive into productivity, I want you to first determine whether you simply think you need to be more productive, because that’s what society (or your own mind) is telling you. Check in before you dive into being more productive and make sure that it’s not slowing down and letting some things go that is actually in order.
So You Want to Be More Productive
If you’ve determined that you truly desire to get more focused and more done, then read on to learn:
- 10 Bits of Productivity Wisdom
- The 4 Steps of Productivity
- My 8 Favorite Productivity Tips
The bottom line is that when we think of productivity, we usually think of how to stop ourselves from scrolling through Facebook all the time, or how to make sure we get a task done that we’ve been procrastinating on for two years.
But productivity begins much before that. Productivity starts with the seed of your vision: What exactly do you want to accomplish?
To be productive – in other words, to produce things – you need to know what you want to produce and how many of them you need, so that you know when you’ve actually completed them.
Implementing “productivity tips” in a vacuum devoid of planning is like spinning your wheels toward an unknown destination.
This means the first step is to:
1) Set aside regular time for planning, and then
2) Set clear goals and priorities.
It’s only then that we can move on to the two final steps, which consist of planning and of course all those productivity tips everybody wants...
But before we go deeper to the 4 Steps of Productivity, let’s start with some general productivity philosophy:
10 Bits of Productivity Wisdom:
- Productivity is much more than organizing your time. As I’ve said, it starts with creating the space to tap into the seed of your vision. We’ll go through the four steps of productivity below.
- Put your own oxygen mask on first. So much of productivity is about starting the day off right, caring for ourselves, having boundaries, and getting enough sleep so that we have the mental and physical energy to accomplish what we want… instead of constantly answering to others’ needs before we meet our own.
- There’s always more to do it, so accept it and relax. I remember at my last job when I had the epiphany that my to-do list was never going to get smaller. I would continually add to it until the job or the major project ended (or never, when you think about commitments like health, family, etc). So I (quite scientifically) decided that as long as my to-do list didn’t expand beyond one page, I was doing OK. If it got longer than that, I started cutting things out. Accepting the reality that we do not complete to-do lists for things that are ongoing is huge! Even when you finish a project, there’s a new one. For every task you mark off your list, more are created. It’s the nature of it. Relax.
- Less is more. We live in a world where the conventional wisdom is “more is more,” but in fact the opposite is true. When we focus on the very few things that are important, we get more done… and we feel better! Often when people feel burnt out from their businesses, it’s because they are dispersing their energy into too many areas, which almost always leads to burnout. One of my favorite productivity books is called Essentialism (I blog about it here).
- Find your purpose. Have you ever noticed that when you are truly enjoying what you’re doing, the time passes quickly, you get a TON done, and you don’t even feel tired after? You’re fueled by passion or purpose, and it goes a long way. There are always times we’ll have to do things we don’t like, but the more we can be “on purpose,” the more energy we will have and the less drained we will feel.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’ll be honest: I’m decent at this stuff, but like pretty much everyone, I’m not perfect. I go down internet rabbit holes just as much as the next gal. This is not about being perfect. It’s about being realistic and compassionate toward yourself. It’s really important to know yourself… For me, there is almost nothing I do every single day. It’s just not in my nature. So when I try to push myself to do that, I’m often disappointed. So I’ve stopped putting that kind of pressure on myself.
- You are unique and so is how you work. Everyone’s flow is different. You need to tap into your own rhythms, your own true capacity and abilities, take advantage of the times of day (and weeks, months, year) you work best, work around your life and your commitments. Not to mention that there are millions of ways to do this… use technology, use paper, use a chalkboard. Whatever works for YOU.
- Give the techniques a chance (form habits). A favorite productivity book of mine is Zen to Done because the author acknowledges that this is really all about building habits, and it’s hard to build more than one or two new ones at a time. But, it’s important to try out planning and productivity methods for a while before you bail. They will likely be awkward at first, and you’ll probably have to push yourself to stick with them (you know, that discipline thing). After giving it a fair shot, see what works for you and what doesn't.
- Forget perfection. This might be the best prioritizing advice ever. Stop needing it to be perfect… You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time! What’s the minimum amount you can do that is still good quality and gets the job done? This is known in the start-up world, as the minimum viable product. Put out the beta version, and don’t make perfect the enemy of the good.
- You plan, God laughs. This one is about simply letting go when things get in the way of your plan, because it WILL happen. You can pretty much count on things changing. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan. Planning sends a strong message to the Universe, and helps you know which direction to turn when things don’t go the way you want. Planning doesn’t just happen once. I am constantly going back and changing my plans, triaging my to-do list, and reassessing what is truly the top priority based on the reality of my life and the changing needs of my business.
Here they are:
- Set aside regular time for planning (ideally four times a year)
- Set clear goals and priorities (then break them into smaller parts)
- Create schedules (annual, monthly, weekly, daily)
- Get things done (prioritization and productivity tips)
A Real-Time Lesson in Productivity and Prioritization
I’ve been planning on writing this blog post for a long time, and I’m super excited to get it out there. I’m working off six pages of notes and links I’ve collected about productivity over the years, and frankly, this blog post has taken me quite a while to compile.
I have a priority to get my newsletter and blog post out this Tuesday (because the rest of my week is too busy, and I know I won’t get to it).
But I don't have time to finish the rest before Tuesday morning!
So that means, I will be ending Part 1 of this blog post here, and my next two posts will contain the second half.
The reality is that this is plenty of information for a blog post, and I’m the only one holding myself to this deadline (in other words, no one else is expecting this from me). It’s unrealistic for me to finish the rest of this post now, but it's important that I get something out this week, so I’m simply delaying the rest until the next post.
And it feels great! (I’m sorry if you were hoping for the rest now, but I promise you’ll have it in the next couple weeks).
So stay tuned… I will explain the 4 Steps to Real Productivity in Depth in the next post, along with my 10 favorite productivity tips in the final post.
What are your top three priorities this week? What can you let go of or do later?