Is Productivity just is a Phase?

When did you decide to seek out personal productivity practices?

Many people do so when they feel overwhelmed by their work. Perhaps they have been given more and bigger projects or received a promotion with lots of responsibility. Others might have changes in their home life, such as a new child, that prevent them from putting in overtime. For these reasons and more they must become more efficient. Either way, personal productivity practices often make a huge impact on our work, but are they an end in themselves or a means to another end?

According to Tiago Forte of Forte Labs, learning personal productivity practices is only one step on a person’s journey. In fact it is an early stage. In a recent post on his web site he states:

I’ve begun to realize that the concept of “personal productivity” is just a season in people’s lives. It is a temporary phase that we each pass through on our way to other things.

Productivity as we know it is largely an entry-level concept. It caters to people just beginning their careers, starting their first professional jobs, or moving to new roles that demand a higher level of personal output.

Why is it attractive to people in an early stage of their professional life? Tiago believes it is due to leverage.

The reason productivity is just a phase is that it is relatively low leverage. “Leverage” refers to the ability to do more with less, such as using a lever to lift a boulder that you’d never be able to lift on your own strength.

You do need to reach a certain level of proficiency in your personal productivity. But once you do, you can go beyond it to greater sources of leverage. And you must, if you want to accomplish more while working less.

What are those other sources of leverage? There are many options.

Learn about these other sources of leverage by reading the rest of his posting.

Shortcuts are the Long Way Round

Let’s face it, work can be hard. Faced with the burden of putting in long hours to perfect a skill many of us search for ways to shorten the time. Some of these approaches are useful. From my own experience learning GTD was a great shortcut to being more productive and it helped clear my head to make better decisions. However, not all shortcuts are created equal. In fact, some are a waste of time.

In an article on his web site titled Focus On Your Skills—Not On Finding Hacks, Darius Foroux shares from his experience how searching for shortcuts to success can never replace building building skill in a discipline.

Look, one thing I can share from personal experience is that building a business or career is HARD. It takes a lot of time and energy to learn new skills so you can provide value

And trust me, I’ve tried to look for shortcuts and hacks over the past ten years. Maybe I’m missing something those geniuses are selling, but I can’t find it. To be sure, I’ve connected with many successful entrepreneurs over time.

I’ve been very lucky with my father, who’s a successful businessman himself. Through him, I met many people who’ve done well for themselves and their communities.

And every single one of them said the same thing. There’s no way around hard work.

He goes on to share what he claims is the least exciting advice in the world.

Keep yourself to a very high standard. Ask yourself: “Am I proud of the work I’m delivering?” 

Whether that’s in your creative or professional work, don’t settle for “meh” work. It doesn’t have to be the best in the world. It just has to be your best. That will do two things for you.

It will help you to improve. And it will help you to value your own work. 

Read the full article on Foroux’s web site.

Have Less to Do

Our society values more. We are constantly pushed in our careers to gain more responsibility. Commercials continually encourage us to buy more stuff. Having more to do than can be ever be done is seen as a sign of success. However, having more is only good up to a point. After that, having more is actually an impediment to happy and productive life.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp, wrote about this in their book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. They set out to make their company the opposite of how most technology companies operate. No 60-80 hour weeks; no endless meetings; no pressure to perform every day. One of their fundamental operating principles is that having less to do is better than more. As they wrote on page 172-3 of their book:

Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said, “There is thing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all!” Bam!

At Basecamp we’ve become ruthless about eliminating either work that doesn’t need to be done or work we don’t want to do.

I have recently appreciated that eliminating extra items from my work life is the best way to become productive. Just as it is easier to juggle one ball instead of ten, having only a few top projects is easier to manage than dozens of low value projects. I often think back to a conversation with Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. When I asked him for advice on being a Library Director, one thing he shared was, “Focus only on what the Director can do.” By that he meant don’t get caught up doing work that other people could perform. Do only the things that are your own responsibility, then delegate or eliminate everything else.

To that end, how can you find ways to purge your workload? After all, the less you have to do, the better you will do what you are doing.

Important vs. Urgent: The Presidential Edition

Have you ever had one of those days where you were busy non-stop, but afterwards you felt like nothing got done? Most of us spend our days in a reactive mode as different people assign us work that is vital for them, but not for you. However, when we are caught in the busy trap it is easy to forget our own priorities. Is there a way to keep your own goals front and center in the face of worldly demands?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this challenge. As the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and then a successful two term President of the United States, Eisenhower had lots of urgent items brought to his desk. The difference for him was to make sure that the urgent never eclipsed the important. To ensure that he accomplished his goals he created a decision matrix now known as the Eisenhower Box. It was based on this line of thinking that he shared in a 1954 speech.

“I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”

The Eisenhower Box (or Matrix) is a simple four square grid. A visual of this box can be found here. Whenever any item came across his desk Eisenhower would decide whether it was important (aka aligned with his primary goals) and/or urgent (aka time constrained). His choice of what to do next was based on the answer to those two questions.

  • Important and Urgent = Do it immediately
  • Important, but not Urgent = Defer it (aka place on calendar)
  • Not Important, but Urgent = Delegate to someone else
  • Not Important nor Urgent = Drop it immediately

For a more detailed explanation of the Eisenhower Box, please review this article at the Todoist web site authored by Laura Scroggs. Then go ahead and put it into practice yourself. After all, if it worked for President chances are it will work for you!

Windows of Opportunity

The game show Jeopardy has been in the news this past year for several reasons, the most tragic of which was the passing of longtime host Alex Trebeck. Another reason was their all-time champion competition which crowed Ken Jennings as the show’s greatest winner. This was due in part to him being fast on the buzzer, having a wide range of knowledge, and good game board strategy. Recently Jennings stood in as the first post-Trebeck host. Despite his skills at the game, he is very humble about the streak of 74 games in a row that made him famous. In a recent article on SI profile, Jennings highlighted an important decision that helped him win that first game during final Jeopardy. The answer to the last question (or is the question to the last answer) was Marion Jones. Jennings only wrote “Who is Jones?” which might not have been enough information for the judges to consider it correct. As he says in the SI profile:

“That’s the moment it all hinges on,” says Jennings of the split-second decision to accept a Marion-free Jones. “It’s comforting to think of the world as a meritocracy, that the right people succeed, but that’s not always true. My whole life hinges on whether or not I put a first name down and whether the judge nods right there. I feel extremely fortunate and I think about it literally every day, because I love what I do.”

One of the great mysteries is why some people achieve enormous success while others doing the same thing get very little. Those who thrive usually credit it to their determination, hard work, intelligence, or skill. A few honest people also point to luck as Jennings does above, but it is also more than that. In 2003, Jeopardy eliminated a rule that forced champions to retire after winning five games. When he went on the show in 2004, this rule change allowed him to go on his record winning streak. Compete two years earlier and he would have finished as another anonymous five time champion. Ken Jennings took advantage of a Window of Opportunity.

In a recent blog post, Tiago Forte wrote about how our opportunities are not unlimited. They come in specific Windows of Opportunity, an idea he learned from Space Adventures founder Eric Anderson. As Tiago writes:

A Window of Opportunity, according to Eric, is “A rare set of circumstances and a brief moment of time in which an otherwise impossible outcome is potentially achievable.”

He then shows how understanding this idea can change the perspective on timing when crafting goals.

Windows of Opportunity is a revolutionary way to think about goal-setting, because it recognizes that there is now one factor that is decisive in your ability to reach your goals: timing. Timing has become even more important than vision, hard work, or planning. That “T” at the end of SMART, which stands for “Time-bound,” is no longer an afterthought tacked on at the end – it is the most important element of your goals.

Read the rest of Tiago’s article on the Forte Labs website.

Basecamp’s Written Approach to Communication

It is a cliché nowadays to say how much people hate meetings. However, very few organizations have found a way to successfully avoid having them on a regular basis. It would seem there is a natural tendency for people to come together in a real or virtual room to discuss issues or advance projects. However, some organizations have tried to eliminate meetings by crafting a different priority straight into their DNA.

Basecamp, a company that produces project management and internal communication software, has decided that the company works best when its employees focus on written communication. According to their Guide to Internal Communication:

You can not not communicate. Not discussing the elephant in the room is communicating. Few things are as important to study, practice, and perfect as clear communication. Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time. Internal communication based on long-form writing, rather than a verbal tradition of meetings, speaking, and chatting, leads to a welcomed reduction in meetings, video conferences, calls, or other real-time opportunities to interrupt and be interrupted.

Basecamp Press Resources

Why do they believe long form writing is the better way? It has to do with an understanding that most communication is asynchronous.

Communication shouldn’t require schedule synchronization. Calendars have nothing to do with communication. Writing, rather than speaking or meeting, is independent of schedule and far more direct.

Read the entire Guide to Internal Communication to learn more about how Basecamp encourages employees to keep each other updated on their projects.

Reflections on How to Read Self-Help

Throughout my life I have been a regular reader of self-help books. Whether they spoke about yoga, leadership, productivity, habits, or grit, I often found fascinating tips and tricks to apply. However, there are times when I feel burned out by self-help material. Sometimes it can feel trite or repetitive to the point of annoyance. In down times it makes me wonder whether one can really change at all.

Recently, I was pointed to a fresh understanding of the value of self-help books in an article on Tom Cleveland’s blog called How to Read Self-Help. In the article, Tom reflects on the paradox of people’s feelings towards these books.

We’re embarrassed by self-help, but we’re also attracted to it. We like reading it, but we’re skeptical that it works. We suspect self-help isn’t useful, but every serious list of business books turns out to be comprised entirely of self-help books.

Photo by Zen Chung on Pexels.com

As he explores it further, Tom comes to the realization that that subject of self-help is more complex than it first appears.

I’m going to argue that it’s both. Some self-help is terrible, individualistic hucksterism that the US has exported around the world. But good self-help also exists, and it provides a high-leverage way to lead a better, more fulfilling life.

He then formulates a theory about the way that self-help works. To find out what it is, read the full article.

Making Successful Resolutions

With 2021 a reality, many people around the world made New Year’s Resolutions. Unfortunately, most of those resolutions fail to make an impact. According to U.S. News, 80% of people give up on them within six weeks. Does this mean resolutions are useless to make? Not necessarily.

In an article from Forbes Magazine, journalist Jennifer Cohen shares reasons why people fail to achieve their resolutions. In those reasons are embedded ways to make them successful. For example:

We Fail To Pick Realistic Goals

According to Statista, the most common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise and eat more healthfully. These are achievable goals, yet so many of us can’t follow through. It’s because we don’t take an approach that’s rooted in reality.

Ask yourself the following question—which goal is more achievable? Losing 100 pounds or cutting refined sugars from your diet? The answer is obvious. If you cut sugar from your diet, you’re more likely to lose weight. 

You should also keep in mind that choosing realistic goals or resolutions and achieving them improves our mindset. Even a small victory is still a victory (like 30 days without sugar) and you end up preparing yourself for a much larger one.

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

Not sure what resolution to make? Then you might benefit on a period of structured reflection. The good folks at Getting Things Done created a simple document to guide a review of the past year and to look ahead at the new one. The PDF handout can be found here.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year!

The Benefits of Gratitude

As 2020 comes to a close I think we all agree that this was a tough year. The stress of the pandemic, the summer of protests, and the Presidential election were unavoidable. However, after enduring these challenges the end of the year offers a time to reflect on our journey. Specifically, it is a good opportunity to take stock of what we are grateful for in our lives.

Gratitude offers a surprising amount of benefits. In an article from Time Magazine published several years ago that still has great merit today, journalist Jamie Ducharme highlighted seven specific benefits of living with gratitude. One of the seven she highlights is that gratitude can ease depression.

Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

(Susan Peirce) Thompson, the cognitive scientist, says experiments have shown that people whole partake in the “three good things” exercise — which, as the name suggests, prompts people to think of three good moments or things that happened that day — see considerable improvements in depression and overall happiness, sometimes in as little as a couple weeks. “If there were a drug that did that, whoever patented that drug would be rich,” Thompson says. “Gratitude is very powerful.”

Read the other six benefits on the Time Magazine web site.

With this last post of the year, I want to say thank you for following these weekly musings on productivity, leadership, and libraries. I wish everyone a Happy New Year full of good health, success, and lots of love.