Chasing Productivity (Part 1)
There are books and quotes online galore about productivity. There are coaches and mentors, journals and planners, not just about getting things done, but getting more done. Being more productive, being able to achieve more. There are so very many systems out there that are dedicated to helping you get more done. The Pomodoro Technique, The KanBan System, and The Getting Things Done method, the list goes on and on and on. And every time we learn of a new one, we feel like we have to try it in order to try to get more done; because let's face it, there is always more to be done.
Like most people, I too have gone down these rabbit holes. I've always lived a busy life. Growing up, my parents enrolled me in everything they could think of. I've taken art classes, piano lessons, Chinese classes, swimming lessons, martial arts classes, Japanese classes, academic prep classes, heck, they even signed me up for gymnastics (I think I lasted all of one class)! I continued on with this busy life throughout high school and university, so I've somewhat become acclimated to spreading myself way too thinly and trying/wanting to do more still. My problem was, that despite my busy lifestyle, I refused to give up my social life; instead, choosing to sacrifice sleep. And I suffered for this.
My last year of university, I was the president of our collegiate chapter of the American Marketing Association where I also co-chaired a student run marketing agency. I had a girlfriend who complained that we didn't spend enough time together, I was overloading my course load, and job hunting for what I would do after graduation. And again, I refused to give up my social life. There would be weeks at a time where I would only sleep about 10 hours a week.
By the time I was 25, it all caught up to me. A bad car accident (someone crashed into me), a high stress job, and a bad breakup, culminated into a Fibromyalgia diagnosis by my family doctor. Since then, I have been hunting for a better way. Now, about 20 years later, I can finally say, I still haven't found it.
What I have done, is learned a lot; mostly by trial end error. I still try to do too much. What I've learned isn't really so much about productivity, but priority and efficiency. I've learned that the system that works best for me is the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) method.
Delegating: Anywhere you can, try to find someone else to do things to free up your time. Hire an assistant, build a team, use contractors. Prioritise which items are more effectively done by you versus what tasks/projects are more effectively done by someone else.
Speed Read: Learn to speed read. I taught myself to speed read as a kid. It wasn't because I wanted to be more productive, I was just eager to see how the story progressed. I can't keep it up as long as I used to, maybe about 10-15 minutes at a time, but it certainly does help.
Be Present: Set aside time for you to be laser focused at any given task. Being focused will mean that you can get that specific task done more quickly.
Work quickly: A side benefit from learning the piano as a kid is that you'll end up typing more quickly than your peers. And you'll be amazed at how much more efficiently you will work if you learn to use some of the shortcuts some of your most frequently used apps/programs.
There will always be tasks that need to be done. Which ones are the ones that need your attention right at this moment? I know that it often feels like multiple things that require your immediate attention. It is seldom the case.
Buy Yourself Time
Where ever you can, buy yourself time. Do you have a podcast? A blog? A Youtube channel? Bank entries before you launch, and bank more anytime you have some extra time. Are you using a content calendar for social media? Bank entries. You can always shift them down if you decide there's something topical that you want to address. When it comes to clients, you'll find that quite often, what they're looking for is knowing what to expect. Often times, all you really need to do is to send them an email to inform them of what to expect.
Everyone will have things that work for them. Everyone's methods will be different. Here are a few things that have helped me:
I've learned that I can be super focused for about 35-40 minutes at a time. They also say that sitting is the new smoking. So, borrowing from the Pomodoro Technique, I set a timer for 30 minutes each session. After which, I get up for 5-15 minutes to go to the washroom, do some stretching, or maybe go for a quick walk. All to get my mind off of what I need to be focused on and not diving down into another task. And then, another 30 minute work session.
Working with a team and dealing with clients, means that there are a lot of distractions. My phone is almost always on silent. The only time it lights up, is if someone calls. But 90% of the time, people reach me by email. While I do read my email several times a day, I usually only respond to emails in the mornings or just before end of day (for urgent stuff). My team uses Slack for team communication, and I will read these during my breaks from focused work.
I keep 2 lists. One is my list of things to do for today. The other is something I call a repository list. It's essentially a brain dump. If my team/clients need something from me urgently, then it goes on my to-do list for today. Otherwise, it goes into the repository list. I check the repository list every morning to see what needs to be done today or what can stay in the repository. To keep my 'to-do' list flexible, I only put about 75-80% of what I think I can accomplish that day. This does 3 things.
Sense of accomplishment - If you overwhelm yourself with your to-do list and never check them all off, you'll always feel behind. This way, at the end of the day when I leave the office, I feel good about myself
Managing Fibromyalgia for me is a lot about managing stress. Keeping my list manageable helps with me not stressing out about getting everything done now.
It leaves room for things that might come up. If a team member or a client needs something done, there is usually time for me to do something about it.
I generally block off 4 hours of no distractions every day so that I can get work done. I also block off Fridays as a lieu day. If there are any remaining things that I haven't been able to do during the week, I'll do on Friday. I also try to keep lighter work (like writing these blogs) to Fridays. Of course, this doesn't always work if a team member or client needs me, but again, blocking these times off also means I have the flexibility to book someone in quickly if I absolutely need to.
I'm usually up between 6-6:30AM. So I try to get to bed by 10PM. And while this isn't always the case, it usually still means that I can get a good 7 hours of sleep. The pandemic has really helped me to stay on track with this as there are no dinners with friends and family, or drinks with the boys or what-have-you.
Accepting and understanding that I have Fibromyalgia has also helped me realise my limitations. This affliction means that there are some days that I won't be very productive. Heck, there are days where I can barely function, and quite honestly, those days, I might only put one thing on my list of things to do. But the big thing for me for this has been, not to feel guilty that I've had a low productivity day, or sometimes a completely unproductive day.