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.

An Interview With David Allen

Discovering Getting Things Done by David Allen ten years ago was a huge professional turning point for me. GTD provided a way to structure work that allowed me to achieve more than I had thought possible. In fact one of the best training tools I ever purchased was a ten CD recording of a GTD Live seminar which I listened to a dozen times. Over the years I have frequently returned to David Allen’s ideas and still find a clarity of thought this is always inspiring.

If it has been a while since you read Getting Things Done, or maybe have yet to open it, I highly recommend this interview with David Allen on Medium. He covers a lot of the basics of the GTD philosophy and how to apply it. For example:

These are the 2 elements of productivity:

  1. What am I trying to accomplish?
  2. How do I allocate resources, attention, and activity to make that happen?

They’re not automatic decisions. No email will tell you outcomes or actions. No thought you wake up with tells you that. You actually have to sit down and think and use your cognitive muscle. Put yourself through this thought process.

Later on in the interview he discusses priorities and clears up misconceptions around how they are set.

You’re making priority decisions every moment. Now you are talking to me, that is your priority. And that’s the best thing you can be doing right now. Otherwise, your head would be totally somewhere else.

If you’re always thinking about priorities … I’m not saying to not set priorities, but don’t try to oversimplify that and give yourself some formula that determines your purpose, your core values, your vision in where you’re going. The goals you need to accomplish, the things you need to manage and maintain to make sure you’re healthy.

Read the full interview to learn more.

Second Brain Myths

Forte Labs signature course, Building a Second Brain is one of the best ways to get your digital life under control. Through a combination of simple practices it is possible to create a great online resource for all your notes that will enhance your creativity and improve your productivity.

However, there are many misconceptions on what it means to Build a Second Brain. In a recent post on his web site, Tiago Forte explores nine of them. For example, one of the issues he lists is a concern that doing this work will require a major overhaul of a person’s digital life.

Tiago explains:

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A Second Brain is adaptive, like a living organism – messy, organic, and highly adaptable. Just like your first brain, a Second Brain has natural “plasticity,” with many ways of accomplishing any given task. When one part of your system is missing, another part can adapt and evolve to make up for it.

In the 4 steps of my CODE framework – Capture, Organize, Distill, Express – any incremental improvement immediately makes a difference, whether or not the other parts of the system are already in place. You don’t have to wait for each of the pieces to work in perfect harmony to start producing value.

To learn more about the power of Building a Second Brain and to clear up other misconceptions, please read the rest of the article.

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.

Don’t Worry about FOMO! Live the JOMO lifestyle!

Have you ever had the experience of wondering if you are missing something important? Have you ever been concerned that other people are doing something that you need to know? Have you ever had a potential heart attack when you noticed that your phone is in another room and you may have missed a call or text? Welcome to FOMO – the fear of missing out. It drives people to constantly check their messages and social media feeds to see if important things are happening around them. Most often nothing is, but the fear drives people to compulsively worry about it!

The folks who developed Basecamp understand this concern. That is why they propose living your life in a state of JOMO – the joy of missing out. As they describe in their book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy to Work Here, authors Jason Fried and David Hansson share the philosophy of JOMO on pages 70-71.

People should be missing out! Most people should miss out on most things most of the time. That’s what we try to encourage at Basecamp. JOMO! The joy of missing out.

Later on they clarify why it is a part of their company’s culture:

Because there’s absolutely no reason everyone needs to attempt to know everything that’s going on at our company. And especially not in real time! If it’s important, you’ll find out. And most of it isn’t. Most of the day-to-day work inside a company’s walls is mundane. And that’s a beautiful thing. It’s work, it’s not news.

I invite you to give it try. Resolve to focus only on what is truly important in your job and life. Let the Twitter feeds and gossip slide by without a second glance. Give it a week then see if you feel more relaxed and focused. If so, then you are now living the JOMO lifestyle!

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.

Disagreeable Feedback

It is a simple fact that in order to improve in any skill, whether it be management, communication, or computers, feedback is needed. Great feedback happens when it is very specific, given timely, and in a way that is supportive of the recipient. However, we have all experienced feedback that doesn’t work for us. In fact, some feedback may simply be inappropriate or wrong. What is the best way to respond?

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, is one of the leading experts on effective workplace communication. In a post on her blog, 5 Tips for When You Disagree with Feedback, Kim is very straightforward with the notion that you do not have to agree with feedback.

You can and should tell the person that you disagree. If you just say, “Thank you for the feedback” through gritted teeth, you seem Manipulatively Insincere. Better to take the time to explain why you disagree. Once, a CEO to whom I’d offered criticism told me the next day, “I reject that feedback — but I love that you told me what you think! Do you want to hear why I disagree?” Of course I did — and I actually felt better about my coaching of him after that because he’d been so totally open to criticism before that moment that I wondered if he was really hearing it.

Kim Scott

Kim wants to ensure that the person providing the feedback is honored for doing so. That way they understand you appreciated the effort even if you disagreed with their assessment. She then provides five tips on how to deal with feedback. The first is to check your understanding.

Repeat back what you think you heard, and say, “Did I understand correctly?” or “Did I get that right?” This is a good opportunity to show you care about the person, and what they think.

Learn more tips about how to respectful respond to disagreeable feedback on the Radical Candor web site.

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!

Forget about the 5%

As a senior public official for one of the big six Florida Library Systems, I sometimes receive complaints and criticism about my decisions. Even through it is part of the job it is never fun nor easy to endure. Sometimes when my decisions are seen as controversial the feedback can be fierce. Instead of thoughtful communication on their point of view, some people quickly devolve their message into an angry personal attack. For example, someone once accused me of sponsoring terrorism because I issued a statement supporting racial equity which included the words “Black Lives Matter.”

Recently my friend Shola Richards wrote about his own experience facing unjustifiably angry people in his Monday morning newsletter. For someone who has had to endure far more vitriol than I will ever see his perspective on the subject was inspiring.

As a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), it took me a while to get to a place of acceptance when dealing with trolls and haters. After seven years in this game, here is one thing that I know for sure: whether it’s my books, my speeches, my social media content, or the emails that I write to you each Monday, there will always be a percentage of people out there who won’t like me or my content. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them the “5%”.

Later in the newsletter, he shares insight on why it is so important not to give into this toxic group.

The key is remembering that the 5% do not deserve the power to stop us from making the world a kinder and more compassionate place. More importantly, we should focus our energy on the 95% of the people who, at least, are willing to give us a chance to connect in a meaningful way.  Of course, when you get constructive feedback, make sure to listen to it and adjust accordingly whenever appropriate. But the destructive and hateful feedback from the 5%? Yeah, feel free to brush that nonsense aside and keep it moving. As I said in a recent Go Together Movement email–if what you’re doing is not hurting you or anyone else, and it’s bringing you joy, then please keep doing it

To learn more about Shola and to subscribe to his newsletter, please visit his official web site.