Inspired by the discussions at the productivity workshops I’ve run so far this year, I thought I’d make a list of “Things we do that seem productive, but aren’t”.
1 – Looking at your email first thing in the morning.
This is the equivalent of saying “Hey world – I have a really clear idea of what I want to get done today. But before I start working on my priorities, have you got anything else you’d like me to focus on instead?” No matter how much planning you do and no matter how well-intentioned, checking your email inbox before anything else is likely to derail your focus and lead to anxiety or frustration.
Instead, delay opening that email application until after you’ve reviewed your priorities for the day and even until after you’ve made some progress on at least one of them.
2 – Writing your to-do list over and over.
So it’s Tuesday. And you still have incomplete tasks from Monday in your lovely leather notebook. What do you do? You spent time writing them down again on a page marked “Tuesday”. And so on through the week. You’re not re-establishing focus, you’re simply practicing your handwriting in an expensive notebook. If you recognise this unproductive habit in yourself, consider two questions: why are you failing to achieve all you want on a given day – is it because you’re being too ambitious or are you letting others’ priorities get in the way.
Secondly, might it be time for an online solution or task list application, which will avoid the need to writing things down more than once? There are plenty of them to choose from!
3 – Trying to remember important tasks instead of writing them down.
Research has demonstrated that when we try to remember to do something important, we’re setting ourselves up for a state of goal attainment. Our brains will continue in that vein until the goal is achieved. So while we try to remember to “pack my passport”, some or our attention will continue to be directed to that goal while we attempt to complete other things. A simple method of short-circuiting this is to write down the task (or type it into your to-do list app of choice). This “fools” your brain into thinking the goal has at least been partially achieved and allows you to give more attention to other, more important tasks.
As David Allen pointed out – your brain is best used for creating, not remembering long lists.
4 – Focusing on urgent tasks at the expense of important tasks:
If you find yourself working very hard on lots of urgent tasks in any working day, you may end that day with a sense of achievement and accomplishment. You may look back and see how you’ve ticked lots of boxes next to items marked ‘urgent’. However, placing urgency ahead of importance means that you can be in a constant state of fire-fighting, while most important activities are ignored or continually rescheduled. What typically gets deprioritised in the face of ‘urgency’? Things like strategic planning, your own training and development, thinking time and the development of team functioning.
If you fail to plan and develop yourself, these non-urgent activities will become urgent in time. Best to ensure you address them regularly, alongside the tasks that others are jumping up and down about.