Photo Credit: Lewis Howes, The School of Greatness
Where does the time go? How do I get so tired before the day is done? I just can’t stay focused…too distracted, I guess. You know what I’m talking about. Then there are the reactions of those friends and family. The ones who treat us with kindness tell us sympathetically “You are just so busy”. Then the others, more in our faces, say, “The things you want to do, you do. You just don’t want time with me enough.” I get the logic of those statements, but I’ve been perplexed as to how to improve my life choices, such that I get more accomplished…more of the important things.
Until more recently…when I experienced the convergence of making New Year’s resolutions, having a big birthday, and hearing Chris Bailey talk productivity.
Photo Credit: Unmistakable Creative
Chris Bailey is the age of my children. Although he had job offers, he took the year after graduating university to go deep into a study of productivity. During that year, he wrote about his experiments in his blog – A Life of Productivity. Then, he designed a roadmap of 25 tactics to greater productivity in his book The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy .
You may be tempted to yawn at another book on productivity, but this is clearly one not like the others. I listened to a couple of podcasts on Unmistakable Creative where host Srini Rao talks with Chris Bailey. They pour over what Chris discovered about productivity during that year of experiments. [Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet but plan to. My takeaways are from these podcasts and the other sources linked below. Can’t wait to read his roadmap on productivity.]
As Chris talks with Srini (and we get to listen in – love these podcast opportunities), he talks about what he’s learned from others regarding productivity. His tipping point was reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. Srini also refers to Cal Newport’s writing on deep work (you can listen to him on Unmistakable Creative here and here). They also mentioned Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Chris Bailey’s year of productivity experiments included studying what was already in the literature – a big help to us less-read hopefuls.
Chris defines productivity not as getting more things done but getting more accomplished. The difference is huge. It’s not just the “to-do list” but the view toward the “done list”. “Productivity is time, energy, and attention, and where the three meet in the middle is where you are in being productive. It is achieving what you intend to accomplish. It’s not about doing more things faster, but doing the right things deliberately and with intention.”
Here are the takeaways from my first-look into Chris Bailey’s “life of productivity”.
- Take a step back from your life and ask the questions: What do I care about? What motivates me? When was I most inspired, driven, or felt the most meaning or passion for what I was doing?
- The three commodities we all bring to the table are time, energy, and attention. It’s not just about time management, but also increasing our capacity for work (energy) and focus (attention).
- Start every day with intentionality. Make your to-do lists to manage the minutia of life, but then do something more. Take a step back. Execute what he calls the Rule of 3. At the start of the day, mentally fast-forward to the end of the day and ask: “When the day is done, what three main things do I want to accomplish?” From this you form intentions on what you want to accomplish.
- Being busy, even in ticking off the things on your to-do list, doesn’t mean you’re being productive. This gives an illusion to productivity, but only when you step back do you discover whether you have accomplished what you thought you did in the busy-ness.
- Start small in working toward productivity. Real change takes time and intentionality. “Write down everything in your job and personal life that you’re responsible for. Then ask, if I can only do one of these things every day, which adds value/meaning to my life (I would add or to that of another who matters deeply to me)? Ask again of the remaining tasks. And a third time.”
- We all have limitations and constraints in our life. Bear those in mind as you plan and execute and evaluate. Being hard on ourselves won’t get us to greater productivity. Small, incremental steps toward change should be celebrated.
- Work on one thing at a time. Single-tasking. Working mindfully. “Multi-tasking holds people back from accomplishing more over the course of the day. It stimulates your mind; it’s like being busy. However, it actually makes you less productive, increases your errors, decreases your memory, and takes longer to do everything” [in reality]. “You can only focus on one thing at one time. You then dedicate 100% of your time, energy, and attention to one thing – it will yield the highest productivity.” Counter-intuitive, I know, but I’m beginning to believe the wisdom of this.
- Procrastination involves 7 triggers that cause your mind to resist certain tasks: when they are boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, lacking intrinsic reward, or personal meaning. We put off doing those types of tasks (which often are ones we actually need to attack to be truly productive) and instead while away our time on social media or marathoning Netflix. Chris Bailey gives a way out: “Once you step back from the task, noticing you’re procrastinating, trick the triggers – reward yourself, set time limits, structure it, etc.”
- Mindfulness is continually bringing your attention back to the work that’s in front of you. Chris Bailey uses meditation to build “attentional muscle”. Taking mental breaks (however you do) is important to make attentional space which we need for creativity. Our mind goes back and forth from “the essential executive mode (constantly thinking of something, like when on a smartphone), and the mind-wandering mode (like when you’re in the shower). You often have those brilliant ideas while in the shower.” Make space for building attention and creativity. Take breaks and disconnect a bit from the internet or Netflix (you knew that was coming, right?).
I am so encouraged by the possibilities of building capacity in my time, energy, and attention. Chris gets us started with his 100 Time, Energy, and Attention Hacks to Be More Productive. Remember, he urges us to start small. Change one thing, maybe, in each area. It’s a process but one we can master toward gaining a life of greater meaning and capacity, accomplishing what we have hoped for…not just waiting for the future self to do it. We can be more that person beginning today.
Photo Credit: Amazon.com