How often does it feel like you’ve spent a bunch of time working, but never got anything done? This probably describes what life is like for the typical knowledge worker in today’s society. As busy as we seem, we’re not always productive.
We destroy our productivity by letting hidden time sucks get in the way of doing our best work. To be more productive, you don’t necessarily have to do more either. In fact, there are many ways that simplifying what you do and reducing the number of things you do in a day can help.
In the spirit of keeping things simple so you can go out there and produce, let’s talk about some of the major time sucks you can eliminate as soon as possible.
I can’t believe how many writers try to edit their articles while they write. I once wrote an article about how to write faster and it included tips like:
These simple tips help writers avoid the massive time suck of task-switching:
“When we complete a tiny task (sending an email, answering a text message, posting a tweet), we are hit with a dollop of dopamine, our reward hormone. Our brains love that dopamine, and so we’re encouraged to keep switching between small mini-tasks that give us instant gratification. This creates a dangerous feedback loop that makes us feel like we’re accomplishing a ton when we’re really not doing much at all.” – Larry Kim
Yes, this seems obvious. But think of just how much you do it throughout a single day? Sometimes you can’t control it because you have a company culture that doesn’t respect focused work and lends to tons of interruptions. Do the best you can. If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, you have control over your time, so staying focused on one task at a time is a no-brainer.
I used to hate washing the dishes. I didn’t have a dishwasher in college so I had to wash them all manually. I’d always let them pile up to the brim of the sink. It would reach a point where I didn’t have any clean dishes left and had to wash them.
I’d stare at those dishes, menacing at me. The thought of doing the dishes caused me anxiety, but I’d always procrastinate on doing them and let them take up bandwidth in my brain. These days if I ever see dishes in the sink I start washing them immediately.
This is a simple anecdote, but it describes a broad range of tasks that drain your mental energy and waste time. Things you spend way too much time thinking about instead of just doing.
There are two different ways to utilize the idea of jumping into tasks that cause anxiety:
Both of these techniques clear up a bunch of mental bandwidth and reduces anxiety.
Most productivity advice sucks because it tells you to do way too many things. You don’t need a color-coded calendar and seventeen productivity apps to be productive. You definitely don’t need to break down every single minute of your day, week, month, and year. Meticulous five-year plans should be thrown out altogether.
Over-planning is a massive time suck because, nine times out of ten, you’re just doing it to run away from whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. Productivity is as simple as finding the things that really move the needle and ignoring or delegating pretty much everything else.
If you’re going to create plans, make them simple. Keep a minimalist calendar with the important items that need to get done throughout a week. When it comes to your days, simple and short to-do lists with a pen and paperwork are just fine.
Imagine if you spent 90 days working on a new business idea and used a series of short checklists with three items per day on them. You’d have a business up and running with products for sale in no time. Compare that to someone who spends 90 days crafting some meticulous business plan that never gets off the ground.
Plan just enough to execute. Then…execute.
Productivity means you produce something. You put something out into the world that it values, whether it’s a product or service for your business, doing the tasks that move the needle in your career, or doing something in your life that produces results.
Thinking isn’t productive.
Planning isn’t productive.
They’re both means to an end for what you’re trying to accomplish. And you’re better off focusing on getting a few key elements right, even if you have to break a few eggs along the way to get the job done.