Productivity is a personal decision to just act that is consciously made and actively engaged every single day.
Being productive is hard. Sometimes there truly are not enough hours in the day. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of to-dos in life. It’s easy to become paralyzed by indecision into even more inaction. Whether called procrastination, dawdle, postpone, or drag one’s feet, they all boil down to an inability to decide “what” to do. Productivity is a personal decision to take action, engage in activities, to be active rather than passive.
Many years ago, a colleague was fired from his well-paying job at a New York advertising agency. He worked on one of their largest and most important client accounts. As he was clearing out his office desk, he kept shaking his head and mumbling something over and over. Now my desk wasn’t close enough to hear what he was saying, but my friend’s desk was. She later told me he was tearfully repeating, “I just couldn’t get it all done.” He considered himself a failure.
Productivity as a Way of Life
That terrible moment stuck with me. It came to frame the way that I approach productivity as a way of life. Often, I am confronted with a household or garden task that can seem formidable. Something as low energy demanding as loading the dishwasher can glue me to the couch like a forever stamp. I usually find myself in such situations late in the day. When the little things that didn’t get done get your attention and beg you to act. It’s usually near midnight and I’m dead-tired from the day. But these kinds of things nag at me.
I might be obsessive-compulsive on some level because something drives me onward. But the end game is always the real enticer. I desperately want to wake up to a clean kitchen or a tidy living room. It’s at those times when I most don’t want to do something that I self-negotiate.
“I make a grand bargain with myself.”
I never ask myself to DO IT ALL. Just make a good faith effort which will put a “dent” in the project. Just a dent. At home, I call it the Rule of 10.
The goal is to do 10 things to beat the task down. I alone can choose whether those tasks are big or small. I don’t judge myself if I don’t get to all ten. I count as I go along and strongly encourage multitasking when possible.
So at midnight, I reluctantly put the salt and pepper shakers back onto the spice rack. Because they’re small, I can pick up both shakers simultaneously (multitasking). Number 1 completed. And on it goes.
If so inclined, 10 tasks might morph into a spotlessly clean kitchen at 12:30 am. Or there just might be 10 less items of clutter on the kitchen counter at 7:20 am. And that’s okay. Whatever I do, I take pride that something got accomplished. No matter how small.
Productivity in Business: Rule of 5
The Rule of 10 is a motivator for productivity in my daily life. In business, there is the Rule of 5.
Five things daily to tackle in a business day. Establishing 10 as my daily goal is too ambitious and frankly unrealistic. Business tasks demand more than the simple lift bottle, place in spice rack act. Business tasks require genuine time and due diligence for the sake of quality output.
I identify 5 business tasks that I commit to paper as I languish for a whole 5 minutes over a 2nd cup of morning coffee.
As in my personal life, the goal is to “tackle”, not necessarily “accomplish” a task. Just put a dent in the work. That’s my objective. That long list of to-dos can overwhelm, consume, or paralyze you into doing nothing at all, if you don’t approach it with the right frame of mind.
It’s called, “The List”. Making a list is central to overall productivity. By seeing tasks in writing, I can prioritize them, note critical due dates, and scribble “don’t forgets” with asterisks in the margins. The List never really ends. It gets added to and subtracted from as tasks are completed during my workweek. It gets regenerated on Monday with unfinished tasks from last week added to the top.
Sometimes of my list of 5, I am only able to tackle one. Not accomplish it. Not complete it. Just put in that precious dent. Do something. Act. Be productive.
The most important task might be the last thing that gets added to The list. A last-minute project surfaces or a due date gets moved up. Completing that one task may well take up all my day and several days afterward depending on the magnitude of the project. Something like an RFP response is weeks’ worth of work. Work thatkeeps me hunkered down through lunch and breaks, and fully top of mind on a late commute home.
A Due Date often determines what task gets tackled on any given day with urgency. Like professional procrastinators, I really do seem to do some of my best work under duress. But developing my daily 5 usually has me fully engaged in lesser work tasks, even as I ruminate on a large project consciously or unconsciously. I call these mental musings “productive procrastination”.
Those brain-drain projects ultimately percolate to the top of my to-do heap. They’re the ones that have me ordering takeout at 9:45pm, half-heartedly consumed while staring at a blue screen, with stacks of papers on the floor, and an overflowing trashcan. Just me and the janitor Henry. Both getting paid to be there late.
Wisdom of Productiveness
In business, the Rule of 5 has proven for me to be a trusted formula for getting things done with a minimum amount of stress and missed deadlines or poor presentations.
It once took me 5 months to formulate just the right introduction to a book I’d written that was almost 400 pages. The finished introduction was less than 200 words. But they were the right 200 words. Perfection can sometimes take time to come to percolate.
An individual’s productivity just like a factory’s must be actively managed. It must be consciously engaged. My business colleague who lost his job didn’t understand that. Wish I’d been able to share that wisdom with him back then. But it took many years for me to realize how important productivity is to deliver a quality end product, meet deadlines, and generally be productive.