It’s completely like climbing the hill in the picture above. Getting our most important things done seems insurmountable and impossible at times to do with all the competing priorities that are in front of us from work, friends/family, and loved ones. More products, more speed, more stress and we’re trying to fit it all into 13-18 hours a day that we are awake. That’s if you can somehow manage to be completely distraction free, which in itself is a whole other post. Getting a handle on it is bliss. Where do we start?
Let’s start by changing the thinking around what true productivity is. Completing a crap ton of tasks that we list out every day it is not, sorry. In fact, it’s a terrible way to think about productivity. Working more isn’t the answer. Jack Nevison, the founder of New Leaf Project Management actually discovered with his studies into work place productivity that workers who clocked more than 55 hours per week are actually incredibly less productive then those that work less than 50 hours per week. Mental fatigue brought on by working more and cramming more into our waking hours is not a measure of effective productivity.
We need to find a schedule for luxury and rejuvenation. We don’t accomplish 20 percent more things because we increase 20 percent of our time working. Time is not fixed, nor is our energy through those added hours. We cannot skimp on our luxury time. This where we find our best creative moments and best ideas, which begs the question why would we knowing that, not prioritize it? If it reinvigorates our tired breaking and energizes our bodies, shouldn’t we make sure that gets scheduled over everything else? My worst weeks of productivity matched that of what Jack Nevison found. They were my worst when I worked more than 50+ hours.
What’s unnecessary on our giant task lists we make for ourselves? Like a bonsai manicures wasted growth, we need to prune and shape out the unnecessary things on our lists that really serve only as extra. The One Thing by Gary Keller spends an entire book on this very subject. What’s the one thing you could do, such that anything else is unnecessary or not needed? Getting to the one thing is powerful and has helped me eliminate many extra things, because honestly they fit under the one thing. Another way to eliminate extra tasks or unnecessary ones is by filtering them through passions or values you hold close. If it doesn’t fit in either of those two spaces, why do it? Maybe you can delegate the ones that don’t belong or defer them?
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to a 1,000 things.”
– Steve Jobs
We can become overworked and overcommitted because we just suck at saying NO. What I’ve learned the most about productivity masters is their incredible ability to say no to the unnecessary tasks or no to their coworkers/clients/friends/families. Time though is a zero-sum game. You can’t add extra hours to the day and you only get 24 each day. Every yes, has a possible no behind it. You need to pause before you just say YES to everything, listen to that no underneath. Take it through the filters above. Be strict with yourself and say no to what doesn’t fit.
Love some rituals built into my day. There are small routines that I do with out failure everyday. I know exactly how much time these rituals take up and they get the priority usually over everything else. Now that I can see what I have left, I can add the other things that are competing for my time I have left. I can say no easier when I need to and yes when I need to. They give me complete clarity for my day ahead and what’s behind me. They take virtually no willpower at all to create because they are routines. I don’t have to use brainpower to bring them to life.
The Big 3. I have each week determined three of the biggest tasks to get done that week. Then daily I break them down into chunks through out the week into a daily big three. These daily big three are the ones that I have to get done if I want to finish my week feeling great. Anything outside of the three are a huge bonus. The big three use the most of my willpower, typically the most complex as well. A blank digital or analog journal is where I will typically write out these big three. I have a really gained sense of purpose mapping my weeks and days out this way around the three.
There’s a new economy out there. It’s called the distraction economy. If we’re not self-aware enough about it, it will eat us alive with notifications, endless web surfing, and reading/scrolling endlessly on our FB/Twitter feeds. These things are always competing for our attention. They keep us away from our deep work around the big three mentioned above if we let them. I set a simple shortcut up with Siri to solve this called Quiet Time. Basically, when I am in the presence of doing deep work around one of the three biggies I bring up Siri and say “quiet time” and she mutes all my notifications by putting it in Do Not Disturb mode. Most every OS out there has this kind of feature. You might have to initiate it manually if you don’t have a digital assistant like I do, but it helps.
Being a superhero in productivity is less about saving minutes here or there under the couch cushions so you can take on more work. We have to be able to improve our decision making filters on what we want to say yes/no to, plan our biggest most valued tasks first, and ensure the distraction economy cannot cash in our attention. Maybe to start you create a not-to-do list with everything you don’t want to get in your way. Work to improve your self-awareness around what is most important.
Hope this helps you do the best work of your life. Our “take on everything” mindset has to change if we want to find the freedom to do our most beloved things.