The Productivity Trap

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Last year I recommended a book by David Allen called, Getting Things Done. Personally, this book helped transform my workflow.  This did not happen by just reading the book alone, the book was an introduction to connecting with others who used the same system and provided support in using these techniques. It helped me transform two specific areas that really made my life more manageable.  First, it developed a workflow system for me where I could capture all my responsibilities including e-mail, paperwork, phone calls, projects, thoughts, among others and put them into “Next Actions.”  To be honest, it became a bit more stressing at first because it was overwhelming to change my thinking about productivity.  Secondly, it convinced me that multi-tasking was actually hurting rather than helping.  Multi-tasking is reactive where next actions are purposeful and thought out.  That concept took a little while to grasp.  So whether you are interested in using this system for your job, at home, paying your bills, managing your personal life or all of the above, this system is worth a good look.

Getting things Done is different.  Skeptical in the beginning, David Allen’s system just did not make sense to me.  My mistake was that I greatly underestimated his work. Hearing that David Allen was teaching employees how to use this system at Google, it re-energized me. I gave it time, practice and I let go of a self-taught method that never made my work habits better.  If you are not improving and continue to be overwhelmed year after year, then you might want to look at doing something different because what you are doing is not working.  That self-evaluation action will be transforming in itself.

My rationale was simple; if I was able to be more productive in my paperwork, e-mails, phone calls and other ancillary busy work, then more time could be spent on making progress.  Studying David Allen’s system, collaborating with people on blogs and discussion forums, and making sure I was using these concepts correctly was a priority.  Surprisingly, this productivity movement, not just David Allen’s work, was pervasive around the world and many people were starting to evaluate and discuss their personal work habits.  You are not alone if you are looking for purpose, organization and efficiency in your work or personal life.

Starting a job or changing careers is overwhelming, not immediately, but as you quickly become aware of all your responsibilities and what you want to accomplish, the wave hits you.  Now, mindful of all your responsibilities, stress becomes a factor because you are either not able to keep up with the workload or you are not making the progress you envisioned.  It is true, “what you don’t know, you don’t worry about.”

You have a choice to consider give your circumstances. Keep doing what you are doing and be stressed and frustrated or figure out a better way to manage yourself.  I blamed everything except for myself; it was up to me to find a better way. I just didn’t know what systems existed for self management. Frustrated by my ability to make progress, I searched blogs and websites about productivity and found a discussion about the methods of David Allen. My purpose was to find a way to make myself better, more efficient, more productive. For the past three and a half years I have been practicing David Allen’s concepts for personal productivity.  To be successful you must practice consistently, it is a daily challenge.  If you begin and then fall back into your old habits, expect to continue to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. This practice is not any different from using the options for working out to get in shape or losing weight, it is something we need to do consistently for it to work and once we stop, we are back where we started.

Transforming my work habits first started when a system was in place to “capture information.” Second, was learning how to form next actions, not lists, to get all the material I captured done. It changed my thinking; it made me uncomfortable, but it took those thoughts about what needed to be done out of my head and put them in an action format. It confronts procrastination which is nothing more than a fear.

David Allen’s concepts helped me define and develop a workflow. Next actions where substituted for lists and that was a significant improvement. My former self taught method was to create a list everyday and continue to add items to the list of things to do that never had a purpose, and they became longer and longer lists. Defining next actions produces motivation, self-evaluation and dealing with your personal struggles of putting things off. This takes practice, it is not something that comes easy to us.

My strength was organizing files, responding promptly to e-mails and phone calls, thinking that I was being productive, but all I was being productive at was being organized. This didn’t help me get the time needed to reach my goals. Time was the goal, to be functioning at the 5,000ft level doing the important creative work.  I craved progress, implementation, new initiatives. That is what matters! Nothing great has come out of work that is done by just putting random “things” in the right places at the right time.

Lastly, and this is very important, we need to be prepared for our lives to be interrupted with those unexpected events not scheduled in our calendar at a specific time.  We will handle crisis situations better if we have captured our responsibilities. When a crisis arises in the moment, and we are incessantly thinking of our to do list, we are going to be angry, frustrated and reactive when we get interuppted. On the other hand, if we have a system then these unexpected crisis’s will not stress us out, they will be part of our workflow and we know we have captured our responsibilites. We simply change modes, and then get back to our next actions.

Next actions have an “unthinking” character to them.  They are actions that are constantly challenging us to define the next step to get it done. We define and Do.  The “doing” will be easier if we put it into an action.  This method has technique, requires practice and is hard work.

The “Productivity Trap” is simply a fear, a resistance, or an ego, trapping us from trying something different that may actually make our life more productive. Think about this. Are you paying your bills on-line? How long did it take you before you did this? How many people told you about this before you took the action to do it? How long were you trapped in the old system? Were you afraid to change? Could you imagine going back to writing out 15 checks per month and recording them in your ledger; writing out each address and return address; licking the envelopes; stamping and then mailing them rather than just pressing one key on your computer? Actually, you don’t have to press any keys, the program can be set automatically to pay your bills each month.  Now, isn’t that a better system!


2 thoughts on “The Productivity Trap

    Sue Good said:
    October 9, 2010 at 2:02 am

    I am going to buy the book this weekend! Tired of the to-do-list that keeps getting longer! Thanks for the recommendation!

    Rob said:
    November 17, 2010 at 6:09 am

    Thanks for the info I will most definitely look in to this method.
    Rob McDonough

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