When it comes to boosting productivity in your work and life, there are the usual suspects. Yes, better managing your calendar and eliminating distractions is important. And, of course, we could talk forever about the methods and systems that might help the cause. But what about the less obvious realizations?
In my search for a few tried-and-true productivity insights that normally elude us, I found unexpected ones for your consideration.
1. Don't Make Your System Too Productive
In my research for my book, Making Ideas Happen, I documented the organization habits of remarkably productive people. I was surprised by the number of rituals and seemingly monotonous routines I observed. Some folks would manually rewrite their to-do list every day. Others insisted on keeping an analog schedule and project list despite the digital utilities at their disposal. Many admired (and extremely effective) leaders use an analog approach to productivity as a way to stay accountable and feel connected to their decisions around how they spend their energy. The thinking is that a task left undone SHOULD be a burden. The manual labor involved with productivity is valuable. Repetitive rituals will make you pause. If you make your system for productivity too productive, you will become anesthetized to your responsibilities.
2. Don't Fill Every Void With Action
When you awake, your first impulse may be to turn on the television or check the news. When you're in the shower, if you had the option to, you'd switch on the "shower media center" to tune into Twitter or a videocast. When you're commuting, you're likely to take the time to make phone calls or check voicemail (or read and check email if you're not driving). We're always seeking to economize and fill every void with some sort of action. Doing so makes us feel productive. However, by doing this, we are stripping away the forced moments of unencumbered thought in our day. The "open space" that is responsible for deep thinking and problem solving is gradually disappearing. Our constant stimulation is penetrating the few moments of clarity we have left. Being forced to disconnect will soon be a luxury obstacle of the past. In the modern era, we must force ourselves to have a window of non-stimulation every day.
3. Don’t Always Prioritize Urgent Items
Your natural tendency is to do everything urgent first. Even when you delegate operational responsibilities to someone else, you may still find yourself hoarding urgent items as they arise. When you care so deeply about a project, you prefer to resolve things yourself. Say an email arrives from a client with a routine problem: Even though the responsibility may lie with someone else on your team, you might think, “Oh, this is really a quick fix; I’ll just take care of it.” And gradually your energy will start to shift away from long-term pursuits. Hoarding urgent items is one of the most damaging tendencies I’ve noticed in creative professionals that have encountered early success. When you are in the position to do so, challenge yourself to delegate urgent items to others. Impose a sense of discipline for yourself and recognize that if you handled urgent items all day, you'd likely never get to the important stuff.
Ultimately, you must audit your productivity on a regular basis. You should question the obvious assumptions you make in your process and measure your output. Productivity should ultimately help you make an impact in what matters most to you.
This article is based on research by Behance CEO Scott Belsky, whose new book, Making Ideas Happen, is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think tank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.