Why You’re Not As Productive As You Want to Be (and What to Do About It)
If you're struggling right now with time management and are looking for a simpler, more effective system, I've got one for you. I'll talk about various different parts of the system this week, but let's start with fixing what's broken first. I'm convinced there are two major reasons why people don't create and follow systems that work:
Problem #1: Most people have no idea how they're spending their time.It's the same thing with a diet. A ton of people track their diets. Why? Because you're a lot more likely to intake fewer calories and eat less crap if you're tracking exactly what you're eating. Well, the same is true for tracking how you spend your time—except pretty much nobody does it. And everyone really should—at least quarterly. We all have a sense of how and why we're being unproductive (i.e. too much time on social media, on email, getting ready in the morning, browsing the web, in meetings, etc.). But, I promise you, unless you're already super productive (in which case, I don't know why you're still reading this), you will be shocked by how much time you're actually wasting on stuff that isn't really important. So, here's the first thing I want you to do:
Solution #1: For the next 7 days, assess how you're spending your time.Here's the sheet I use to keep track of my schedule. I like this one below (mostly because it's colorful), but you can search and find a ton of others. If you do want to use this one, you can find the original PDF here. Print out 7 copies—one for each day.
- I don't really use the "I must do" or "I must contact" sections on the left-hand side, but feel free to use them if they're helpful to you.
- I turn the "Notes" section into a "Triggers" section.
So, what are "triggers"?Triggers are basically anything that causes you to switch from doing something productive (and single-tasking), to doing something less productive or off-task. Examples: If I'm editing an article and a thought pops into my head that I need to look for a new iPad cover, that thought bubble is a trigger for me. If I'm batch-tasking my emails and a colleague leans over to start a conversation, that colleague is a trigger, too. Triggers can range from a thought to a phone call, or an email to a link in an article you're reading. As you record your days for one week, get in the habit of recognizing your triggers, and be as specific as possible when you record what they are. Understanding what they are will help you figure out how to temper or eradicate them later. As you record your week, here are a few good tools for keeping you focused and energized:
- Pomodoro Technique. This helps you work in bursts of 25 minutes, with a mandatory 5 minute break. You can adjust the timeframes, but this technique is essentially supposed to help you sustain your energy all day.
- Rescue Time. Everyone from Neil Patel to Tim Ferriss raves about this, but the really useful version costs money. If you're willing to invest, it's a great tool.
- Task Timer. This is a Chrome plug-in. I use it to help me determine how long it's really taking me to do batch tasks and my most impact-critical tasks.
Problem #2: We don't take enough time to assess results and figure out how to do more of what's working.Obviously, if we're not even taking time to track how we're spending our time, we're certainly not maximizing the learnings we could get from analyzing our results and figuring out what's driving them. So that's the next thing I want you to do:
Solution #2: Assess your schedule for the week.Once you've got an entire week's worth of data on how you spent your time, put your tasks into different activity buckets. Examples:
- Social media
- Checking work email
- Checking personal email
- Writing blogs
- Strategic planning
- Sales calls
- Relaxation time
- Web browsing
- News reading
- Getting ready for work
- Preparing meals