The Deceptively Simple Way To Become More Productive
We’ve just finished up our Indigenous Business Australia accelerator program, and this week has been full of brutally honest questions and joyous celebrations.
The questions tend to change at this stage, particularly when it comes to “To-Do Lists”.
At the start it makes sense to create lists, since there is so much to do and you want to convert your newfound inspiration into action.
By the end of the program, the list contains some unpleasant lurkers that won’t go away.
You know the ones I mean, the things that you want to have happened, but never seem to be able to tick off the list.
I’d argue that this comes down to one of two things.
1. You’re in need of smaller chunks and sweeteners
I first discovered this approach in high school.
We had to read a terrible novel, and all I wanted to do was watch TV.
I made a deal with myself; for every 25 pages I read, I could watch an episode of Arrested Development.
Juvenile, but effective; that day I read the last 150 pages and watched six episodes.
We’d like to think that we’re better than that, pretending that we’ll summon up the willpower and discipline to do all of the important things first.
If you’re honest enough to admit that’s not you, then you’ll like this approach.
Henry Ford said “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”.
These are usually out of your comfort zone – if they we in your comfort zone then you’d have done them straight away.
The key is to take the uncomfortable jobs and split them into smaller pieces.
For example, “Redo my website” gets turned into;
· Find three templates I like
· Pick one of those three
· Import some content
· Set up the basic pages
· Add three articles
· Add ten photos
· Update all contact information
This is by no means remarkable, but in a week you’ll have made a big start, achieving more than you would have in one session.
Matt Mullenweg calls this “The One Push-Up Rule” – the idea being that there’s no excuse for not doing one push up in a day.
How can you object to doing one push up?
While you’re there, you’ll probably end up doing more than one, the rule just ensures that you’ll make a start.
My suggestion is to take these unpleasant tasks and split them into smaller chunks that are harder to object to.
These might be as simple as:
· Picking a vendor
· Reading 3 reviews or how-to articles
· Finding 3 examples of versions that you like
· Calling one person
· Emailing one person
· Buying the necessary equipment
· Starting the first 20% of a task
Yes, each day might feel slow or even lazy, but doing one per day quickly adds up.
There’s also another possibility:
2. You’re putting the task off for psychological reasons
This might not be a comfortable topic.
Is there another reason why certain progress isn’t being made?
Something that has nothing to do with time, and more to do with you?
What’s sitting behind the problem?
My guess is some form of fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of embarrassment.
Fear of being judged.
Fear of success.
Productivity hacks won’t help here, this is a battle between competing parts of your mind.
On one hand you want to make progress, on the other you want to avoid pain or ridicule.
The first thing to do here is to name the real issue.
What have you been putting off?
Is this something that doesn’t actually need to be done?
Or is it necessary but represents a risky change?
It might be publishing something that will be criticised.
It might be exposing yourself to scrutiny.
It might be triggering your imposter syndrome.
It might turn a pristine idea into a less-than-perfect reality.
If this is you, I recommend talking to someone you trust, preferably someone in a similar field of work, maybe someone slightly ahead of you.
They’ll probably tell you two things; that the feeling is not uncommon, and that it’s able to be overcome.
This is the deceptively simple system to being more productive.
Ask yourself three questions:
Is there a deeper reason for my procrastination?
If not, how can I split the task into smaller chunks?
How can I space out or sweeten the small chunks so that they’re impossible to postpone?