• Eve Arnold

These 4 Things Kill Productivity

Increasing productivity can be quite simple.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

When I think of productivity as a problem or rather the lack of productivity as a problem, the answer is easy.

Do more. Work harder. Try for longer. Just do more. No frogs need eating, you just need to do something.

In simple terms, the answer to increasing your productivity is just to do more, the answer is the very definition of being more productive. It couldn’t be simpler.

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” Picasso

But the answer to most things is simple. If you want to lose weight go exercise, if you want to find a career you love, go try 20 and analyse the stats.

The answers are simple but you’re still here reading this. So maybe the answer lies somewhere between being productive, wanting to be productive and figuring out who you are.

Maybe your issue with productivity is your circumstance.

Scenario #1 You Figure Out Where to Allocate Your Time

“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.”- Leo Babauta

Maybe you fall into the category of not knowing where you should spend your time. Perhaps you have several plates spinning and you find yourself stretched between all of them. You are a constant balancing act, one that is falling further and further out of kilter with every passing moment.

This is a problem not only for productivity but for sustainability. We can only spin so many plates, I’d recommend no more than 3 but preferably 2.

How can you possibly master anything with your mind split 7 different ways.

To get good, really good at practically anything you need time to master the craft, you won’t have much time if you’re trying to master several crafts. And also I think it’s less fun.

There is something quite lovely about putting all your eggs in one basket, it gives attention and focus. It tells your brain, or at least it tells my brain, that I am committed and all in at this thing I’m trying to master, which makes it important.

If you have more than 3 things on your plate, try and get rid of a few. Do you really need to be trying to start a business, cycle 200 miles per week, hold down your day job and attend cooking classes every night?

Try spinning 3 plates and then build yourself up.

Scenario #2 You Don’t Have the Motivation – Productivity

You might actually only have 2 plates. You may be very clear on where you should be spending your time. Your problem isn’t knowing where to allocate time, it’s getting the motivation to spend the time on the things you know you should be.

In short, you can muster up enough motivation to get going.

I think here it’s important to de-spell a myth.

Motivation isn’t the input, it’s the result.

What I mean is that you don’t get motivation out of thin air, you do something and become motivated. People across the globe aren’t bouncing out of bed ready to tackle the world after their 10k run, cold shower and protein shake. They are ready to tackle the world because they’ve done all that stuff (although you don’t need to have cold showers).

Motivation comes from doing.

If you sit and wait for motivation to drop into your lap you’ll be waiting a while. Some days you may feel excited about tackling your project and some days you may not. That makes waiting for motivation far too flippant and unreliable.

You need a process that is more often than not going to work. You need reliability. And that comes in the form of putting action first.

If you are struggling to get motivated and are daunted by the big tasks on your to-do list, go and tackle something small.

Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Wash the pots

  2. Clean the worktops

  3. Organise something

Whilst those tasks are small and not really making a dent in the day, they are enough to get you over the edge of the motivation hurdle. All you need is to get over that first hurdle, then you are off running.

Use small tasks to get you over that first barrier.

Scenario #3 You Don’t See the Results So You Give Up – Productivity

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein

You could summarise and say you are impatient, you give up too easily but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. The reality is, if you are new to the thing you are trying to master and you’ve never quite mastered anything before, you might just not know how long it takes.

Especially when it comes to work and finding a career you love in your early days. You have no idea how long that takes, you’ve never done it before.

It’s not impatience, it’s guessing how long it’ll take, underestimating it entirely and feeling crap about it. That’s not the same as impatience.

You just need some help with understanding how long things take. The time to become a master according to Malcolm Gladwell is 10,000 hours. As popularised by the book Outliers, the magic number to become a master is practicing for around 10,000 hours. 10,000 hours is nearly a year, but it’s unlikely that you’d be able to stay up for a year to master your craft. More likely you’d be able to spend 40 hours a week mastering. At which rate, it’d take you 5 years to complete.

I’m not sure about you but that realisation is quite compelling. In some ways it relieves a lot of pressure. It means that if you haven’t mastered it after 5 months you can be safe with the knowledge that you shouldn’t have yet, you’re only 10% of the way through.

And the reality is it may take much longer, which is also fine. It’s good to have a basis, something to work between.

You shouldn’t be seeing results after 3 months, 10 months, 19 months. You might, if you’re lucky, talented or somewhere between the two. But if you expect to not, then you’ll be chuffed when you do. If you expect to see results you might be disappointed and disheartened.

Scenario #4 You Spend Your Time Thinking, Not Doing

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” Herb Kelleher

According to a study by psychologist Ron Friedman, 72% of people get creative ideas in the shower. And that’s exactly where they’ll stay if you do nothing about them.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that by just analysing a problem we are tackling it. The truth is, you are sort of but also not really at the same time. By purely thinking about something and taking no action, you fool yourself. You convince yourself that you are taking action when you’re not.

You’ll never move the dial on your goals if you take no actionable steps towards them. You have to step in the direction of your goals. You can’t just think about taking a step.

You would, in that case, benefit from creating some rules around your thinking time and doing time. If you find yourself thinking more than doing you need to switch the dynamic.

Tell yourself you are only allowed to think 20% of the time, the rest has to be doing.

I’d read something once that went something along the lines of “create more than you consume” and that’s a rule I try to follow.

The answer to increasing productivity is simply to increase it.

It’s not sexy, it’s not complicated and therefore, sometimes it feels too good to be true. Or too easy. The truth is the work isn’t hard, it’s not technically difficult to send an email, create an ad, build a website, it’s all stuff you can learn.

The hard bit is the consistency.

You have to turn up every day, come rain or shine, you have to try when you don’t want to. You have to put the effort into learning and growing when no one is looking.

When nobody is there to spur you on or tell you are great. That’s the time to graft.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” Oprah Winfrey

Create habits, try hard and remember you don’t need anyone to tell you are doing a good job to know you are.

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