Productivity is as much about removing as it is adding. Earlier this year I hired a virtual assistant. The first month was great. The second month was a chore. I felt like I was coming up with busy work solely to fill her time. It wasn’t a good use of her efforts or mine. There are many things you do each day. Some things are mandatory. Others you do because you feel like you should.
Ultimately, productivity is a tool. When used properly, it frees up your time and thus allows you to focus on pursuits that add meaning to your life. It’s not about being faster but about what being faster opens the door for you to do. There are five things I actively avoid to be productive each day. Five things that allow me to do more of what I enjoy and less of what I don’t. They might just do that for you as well.
My job relied heavily on email. Outlook was open all day. As soon as I’d respond to one message, three more would come in. This drove me insane. I felt like I could never catch up. And because my day was absorbed in the inbox, I felt like I spent more of my time messaging than actually working. Today, I don’t do that. I may check email throughout the day, but I generally only respond at one time. Normally in the afternoon. When I’m writing an article, I can just focus on that. When I’m emailing, I can just be emailing. I no longer feel the pull of doing five things at once.
Full disclosure: I run my own business now as opposed to working for someone else. My policy is my own. However, even if you work for someone else, you can still apply this lesson. If emails flood in while you’re drafting something, put your laptop on airplane mode. That way you can compose the email without getting distracted. Another option is to set specific periods throughout the day where you will respond. Say, 10 AM and 3 PM.
To be productive, I avoid responding to communications as they come in.
Don’t tweet at me
I’m not on social media. The apps aren’t deleted from my phone. Well, actually, yes they are. But more than that, my accounts are actually deleted. I can’t log back into anything because there’s nothing for me to log back in to. Getting to this point required gradual steps, but it was the right move for two reasons. First, I would spend chunks of my time scrolling through their platforms. Wasted time. Second, fulfillment drained out of me being there.
I would have loved to be psyched to see friends from middle school sailing in Tahiti. I would have loved to be thrilled for my old coworker who just bought a big house. But I wasn’t. It just made my life more unsatisfying. Deleting my accounts has given me more time and more fulfillment. I’m no longer comparing my yard against theirs. I can just be grateful for the yard I have.
To be productive, I avoid all social media.
The one thing
At the start of my blog, I wore many hats. I did many things. I did many things while wearing many hats. Things like designing my website, writing articles, figuring out how to get people to see those articles, and so on and so forth. With time, I’ve learned what is important and what isn’t. For instance, just like with me personally, my business isn’t on social media either. I found it superfluous for the path I wanted to walk.
In everything you do, there are core competencies and there are up and extras. Your ability to differentiate between the two is key to being productive. For example, at present, 90% of my day is spent writing articles. Writing has the greatest return on investment of my time. Therefore that’s what I spend my energy working on. I’ve removed or tabled nearly everything else.
You may feel like everything’s crucial, but if you reflect on it, you’ll likely find that one thing is more important than the rest. Try to get to the point where you can just do that one thing. Slowly remove everything else.
To be productive, I avoid tasks that take me away from my core competency.
What’s that sound?
I was so irritated. As soon as I put my phone in the drawer, I could hear it vibrating. I had just received another text. A text I was now drawn to. It was all I’d think about until it was handled. I was a slave to the text. In fact, I remember at one point telling my girlfriend (now wife) to stop texting me while at my internship. The vibrations were driving me crazy.
I eventually learned that I could turn the vibrations off. And, still further, notifications entirely. Today my phone is a black brick. The screen doesn’t light up unprompted. Unless I click on the texting app, I don’t know if anyone has sent me anything. It’s great. When I’m focusing on something, I can just focus on it. When I’m ready to chat with someone, I have the ability to do so. On my schedule. If you work for someone else, you can still apply a form of this strategy. As I suggested earlier, have set times that you check and respond to communications. For instance, 10 AM and 3 PM.
To be productive, I avoid having my phone make any sounds or other distractions.
See you in a month
During the workweek, my priority is writing. I know roughly how long an article takes to write, edit, and publish. And, it being my main focus, all else comes second. Particularly meetings. I never schedule more than one meeting in a day. If I did, it would take away from my core competency.
If you work for someone else, you can still follow a similar form of this strategy, though to a lesser degree. It all goes back to your core competency. Start to be aware of what things you spend time on that don’t directly impact your main priority. For those things within your control, try to pare them down.
To be productive, I avoid scheduling more than one meeting in a day.
Moving forward productively
Productivity is a tool to help you build a more fulfilling life. The more time you free up, the more time you have for meaningful pursuits. With that in mind, recall the five things I avoid to be ridiculously productive:
- Responding to communications as they come in.
- Social media.
- Tasks that take me away from my core competency.
- Having my phone make any sounds or other distractions.
- Scheduling more than one meeting in a day.