Wednesday, June 20, 2012

4 Ways to be Unproductive

Sometimes, I wonder whether I am actively trying to find new ways to be less productive.

I mean, I never ask myself, "How can I be unproductive today?"

On the other hand, when I look at my day in retrospect, I see things that I did and rightly ask myself, "How could I have expected myself to be productive today?" I realize that I really didn't give myself a chance.

Each day presents its different challenges, but I've noticed certain patterns of things I do (or don't do) on those "unproductive days."

Here are four (4) ways I am unproductive:
  1. Respond to everything and plan nothing
  2. Don't have any short-term goals
  3. Work in the wrong place
  4. Plan too many things to do
I might be missing some other ones, but if I corrected nothing but these things, I would be incredibly productive--instead of writing a list like this.

1. Respond to everything and plan nothing

The basic question here is, "Do I want to be busy, or do I want to be successful?"

Many people would SAY that they would rather "be successful," but their ACTIONS indicate that they would rather "be busy."  This is a dangerous trap, because you "feel" like you're being productive--even when you aren't.  You're just more tired at the end of these types of days, but you've done nothing but move in a circle--often really quickly!

There are days where the first thing I do is check my email, and I will check my messages with different services that I have and use (like ODesk or LinkedIn).

Truthfully, this is not a bad thing to do IF you simply are using what you see there in your email and messages to help you understand things that need to be done and by when they need to be done.

However, there is something important to realize here:

Activity does not always equate to productivity.

Many people (including me sometimes) start responding immediately to these emails and messages.

Don't get me wrong.  It's good to be responsive, but it's the "when" that matters.

Not every message is urgent and needs an immediate response.  Just because it is in your inbox does not mean that it should become YOUR urgency.

First, it's amazing how much these things will distract you from what YOU wanted to accomplish during the day.

Second, it's also amazing how many more responses you'll get.  In fact, once a person sees that YOU actually respond, it often leads to something else...MORE emails and messages.  Do you think that these additional emails and messages might need ANOTHER response from you?

There are always phone calls, emails, and messages to return.

By the end of the day, you've spent more time responding to OTHER people's needs, instead of ADDRESSING YOUR OWN NEEDS, which leads me to the next way to be unproductive with your time...

2. Don't have any short-term goals

Most of us have long-term wishes, if not long-term goals.  There are things that we eventually want to have or achieve.

Long term goals are usually pretty easy form, because they just usually appear.  We just "want" something, and we decide that our "goal" is to get it.

Most long-term goals, however, require the completion of many short-term goals.  Short-term goals are nothing more than steps toward reaching our long-term goal.

Long-term Goal Accomplished = Many Short-term Goals Completed

However, many people do not understand that simple concept.

For instance, if you want to save $1 Million dollars, you first need to learn how to save $1.  If you cannot save that first dollar, you will never reach your goal of saving $1 Million.  However, once you learn how to save your first dollar, you can repeat this process enough times, and you will reach your long-term goal of saving $1 Million.

The same thing is true for our other long-term goals.  If we want to write a book, maybe we write one (1) page each day.  After a year, we could have written a 365-page book, but we have to meet that goal of writing that one (1) page each day.

Most of us just "want to write a book" without having any plan about how and when we will create that book.

When we do not have short-term goals, we tend to waste time during our day.  Either we goof around by doing things we are not supposed to be doing, or we are too busy reacting to situations rather than planning for them--and taking actions based on those plans.

Plan for Actions, and Take Actions Based on Those Plans

Right now, I'm lecturing myself as much as I might be lecturing you.  In fact, I'm actually yelling a little louder at myself than I am at you.

3. Work in the wrong place

This is what made me think to write this post.

Yesterday, I wasted the better part of the day.  I didn't plan it that way, but I realized that's exactly what I did.

Overall, I'm pretty much a cheapskate with myself.  I don't like to waste money by using my air conditioning when nobody else is at my home besides me.  I don't want to make other people feel uncomfortable, but I usually can work around most things.

That wasn't the case, yesterday.  The temperature here got to be something like 95 degrees, and it is humid in Michigan.  So that's pretty sweltering.

I tried to be the good soldier, though.  I worked through it.

Actually, I barely "worked" through it.  Mostly, I spent my energy and focus wiping sweat from my face and arms, and I actually wondered why I wasn't productive.

It wasn't until later in the day that I thought to go to the library.  In fact, there is one library near me that has a quiet study room and is close enough to being soundproof that I could make video recordings while I was in there.

It's amazing how much more I accomplished once I was in a room that allowed me to focus on my tasks--not wiping sweat off my brow.

Besides finding places that aren't too hot, we need to find where we are most productive for doing certain types of things.  Maybe we do some types of work better where it is quiet but other types of work are easier to do with people or noise around us.

Find where it is easiest for you to work (and hardest for you to get distracted).

4. Plan too many things to do

I am SOOOO guilty here!

It is GREAT to have lots of goals, and "To Do" lists really can help shape a day to keep us on task.

However, it is easy to pile TOO many things on our "wish plate."

It's never a bad idea to have big dreams, but having unrealistic expectations can really be a downer.
  • We can feel like we're lazy, even when we're not.
  • We can feel deflated and become lazy, because "what's the use, anyway?"
  • We can make promises about meeting deadlines that we have no chance of meeting.
  • People will stop trusting us, because we don't keep our promises about "what we're going to do," at least we don't keep those promises often enough.
Based on my experience, I make this set of suggestions:
  • Create Big Long-term Goals
  • Identify Short-term goals to help you achieve those goals
  • Assume that you only have 1 hour each day to work toward your goals
  • Plan your "To Do" List
    • Include 1 Hour of Short-term Goals (toward Long-term Goals)
    • Include more Tasks than you'll get done in one day
  • Identify your "Have To's" vs. Your "Nice To's"
    • Do you Short-term Goal FIRST (otherwise you won't have time most days)
    • Do your "Have To's"
    • Do your "Nice To's" if there is time remaining (most of the time there is not)
  • Review Your Long-term Goals
    • Ask yourself if you got closer to achieving them
    • Modify Short-term Goals for tomorrow's "To Do" List
Plan plenty of tasks, but keep your expectations realistic.

Make sure your tasks are helping you reach your goals--not just keeping you busy.

Remember: Activity does not always mean Productivity

How are YOU unproductive?  Do you do any of these things?

Better yet, what things do you do to help yourself be MORE productive?

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  1. Another very nice post Chris!

    For some reason, your comment about replying to emails made me think of this amusing....paradox (if that is the correct word)

    I have noticed when I send an email that is truly low priority, and -mark- it as low priority (with the Outlook email client at work), I often get responses quickly - as if people see the non-urgent flag as meaning urgent :)

    I've seen this time and time again.

    To your point about working in the wrong place. I would LOVE to be able to work with people talking around me, or when it's too warm for my tastes. My productivity definitely drops when this occurs. Music is a very different thing. The right type of music especially increases my productivity level. (and has been proven to enhance physical exercise per a recent article).

    All for now - keep up the comments! (when you have all your work done of course :) )

    1. Thanks for swinging by here, Jim.

      As for your paradoxical observation about emails, I'm pretty sure that we often gravitate toward tasks that help us avoid other work that we SHOULD be doing but don't really want to do.

      I know that I am guilty of this more often than I even care to admit to myself.

      Obviously, I cannot get inside the minds of those people who send things to you way more quickly than the non-urgency of the situation requires, but it seems like it could explain this "phenomenon" for a lot of people.

      I also appreciate your comments that I'd prefer to work in places that let me goof around while still completing work efficiently. I don't think I've found THAT special place in the world, yet. Maybe one day!


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