A popular misconception about personal productivity is that productive people are effective because they jump from one task to another without losing their stride. Many people have an image of a productivity guru armed with a to-do list that crosses off one task after the other 24/7. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The most productive people achieve what they do because they acknowledge they can’t produce the same output 24 hours a day. They take time out to rest.
Recently, I read a novel where the Protagonist, a high-flying Lawyer for a big firm is able to close a very important deal by working for 2 days without sleep and surviving on a diet of coffee. Such behaviour is destructive. Productivity is about taking control of your schedule so you can have enough time to rest at the end of the day. If you are pulling all-nighters every week and can’t go home at a decent hour because you are always at the office finishing some last minute important task, it is more likely you have failed to prioritise tasks.
For the average person, telling them to follow their passion can be dangerous advice. ‘Passion’ is what gets lots of people started on multiple projects. It is the reason why many aspiring Authors write three chapters of what could possibly be a good story only to stop and start working on another story six months later.
Passion is a good place to start a task but it is not often what you need to finish it. More than passion, what most people need to finish a task is mental toughness (Fortitude, grit). This is because most things worth doing are hard. You won’t always have good days. You will encounter a difficult problem that might require weeks to solve. It is during that time that your passion often reaches its limits.
An email is a to-do list that someone writes on. In the modern workplace, you can’t escape emails. They have become such a huge productivity drain that people attend courses just to learn how to manage their inbox. When you receive an email, it often comes with a task attached to it. Working on an email task immediately is not always the best response. If you choose to prioritise tasks set for you by someone else, as opposed to tasks you have set for yourself, how will you ensure the important tasks get done. Depending on the nature of the email you receive, you have 3 options for dealing with the task that comes along with it:
The average human being gets around 6,200 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of potential ideas each waking cycle. While the human brain is quite good at coming up with fresh thoughts and new ideas, it is not very good at remembering them. To illustrate this, let me give you an example. You are in the middle of an animated conversation with a colleague at lunch. Halfway through making a point, another colleague interrupts. The new arrival asks you for some random bit of information which you dutifully supply. By the time you turn to your gossip partner, you have already forgotten the point you were making and with it the chance to share an amusing anecdote. Does it sound familiar?
A short while back, at an event, I had a conversation with a friend who wanted to learn how to use Spreadsheet software. He could do basic things using a spreadsheet but had come to realise just how versatile the skillset could be. However, he mentioned not having enough time to learn. I asked him a few questions about how best he learnt. Did he prefer classroom settings, one-on-one learning, self-taught or online classes? Knowing this would help him figure out how to create time to improve his spreadsheet skills. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the conversation as we had to move on to other activities.
Where is your to-do list for the day? As I type this post, I can take a quick glance at mine on my favourite note-taking app, Evernote. On the go, it’s available on my mobile phone. It automatically syncs across my devices so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my to-do list with me wherever I am. That’s because out of all the productivity tools in my box, the to-do list has proven a life saver.
The Latin expression “Carpe Diem”, often translated into English as seize the day is first attested by the ancient Roman Poet, Horace. The idea behind the expression is that since the future is uncertain, it is best to prepare for every situation by taking action when you can instead of leaving it up to chance. In other words, do what you can now to make the future better.
Last week, I wrote about the misconceptions a lot of people have about time management and how it is best viewed not as a single skill but a number of related skills that help you create effective systems for achieving your goals. As you build that system, there are 3 things to keep in mind:
Time is limited
A day in Nigeria lasts 24 hours. So does a day in China, Brazil or Lithuania. Within those 24 hours, you have a few peak productivity hours (or office hours) during which you want to get things done. You must learn how to estimate how long a task will take and the best time to get it done during the day. It is unlikely that you can fit three two-hour long high focus tasks into an 8 hour work day. You must learn to pace yourself or risk burnout. Time management is NOT spending five sleepless nights trying to beat the deadline for your latest project.
One of the most important concepts in personal productivity is time management. Time management is a core skill that once mastered enables you to get more done in a week than most people do in a month while still having time to rest. Despite its importance in personal productivity, time management is a concept that is often misunderstood by many people. This is because the term time management, despite its popularity, is a misnomer. You can own a wristwatch but you can’t manage time. Even if you do nothing, the second hand of your watch will keep moving. Nobody can stop time.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”
Allegedly a Chinese proverb
The sentence that often accompanies procrastination is “I will do it tomorrow.” In this case, tomorrow is not the next day but that mythical destination where all human creativity, effort and productivity resides. If you think really hard you can almost feel it. Infact, you are sure with just a little more time you will be able to reach it. So does everyone else. So far, no one has reached it.