Productivity is something every successful person chases. I don’t think there is one person who hasn’t wished they had more time. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that productivity is the result of systems and habits, which of course it partially is. Yet, that approach focuses on the process and tends to ignore the purpose. What if the greatest leverage to productivity was creativity?
There are a plethora of tools out there on how to be more productive. I have a personal fascination with this subject and written multiple blog posts considering how to squeeze more time out the 24-hour day. Recently, my thinking has changed from doing more to thinking more. It’s helped be increase productivity.
So, why do less?
I know you are thinking, “Do less? Doesn’t productivity mean to do more in less time?” I say maybe and maybe not. Once you have mastered the foundations of time management and the discipline of plowing through and getting things done, delegated or dropped, there is simply not a ton of leverage found in further optimization. When I hit this stage a few years ago it forced me to rethink what I was doing instead of how I was doing it. I concluded productivity is about the outcome, not effort.
Societies with an industrial mindset equate productivity to the effort. People who put in a ton of useful effort are generally viewed as more productive that folks who spend all day thinking. Of course, there is some truth in this. Nothing will get done until you expend effort. The question is when do you start the doing?
I have learned to only start doing when I am convinced that failure to act would be fatal to the outcome I am seeking to achieve. You can call it the supreme form of procrastination. This doesn’t mean I am doing nothing. It just means I am not executing immediately. The result is going from a 5-10 task to-do list to only completing 1-2 outcomes a day.
Here are some ideas that you can implement today to do less:
1. Schedule Your Outcomes
Block two 1.5 hour slots in your calendar twice a week. Leave it open and unallocated. Think about what you are going to use that slot for a week in advance. Here are some rules:
- Whatever you do in the slot has to take at least 2/3’s of the slot to complete
- You are not allowed to spend it talking, emailing, texting or otherwise communicating with anyone else
- The subject has to be something that either makes your stomach queasy or heart beat faster
- You have to be able to phrase the task in the form of a question. What if we…? How Can I…? Why does…?
2. Analyze Outcomes
Survey of the last month of tasks that you completed. If you use your calendar you should be able to very quickly identify what you spent time on. Categorize them as either “critical,” or a “waste of time” only. Now, ask yourself these questions:
- Critical Items: How could you double the time you spend there? (You might want to use one of your 1.5h slots above to ask this question)
- Waste of Time Items: How could you make this a critical task for someone else, or just design it out of your life?
Implementing these two ideas will inevitably have you doing less if you are disciplined. But doing less isn’t enough, the second part of my method is proactive procrastination.
3. Practice Proactive Procrastination
You must be thinking, “What is the logic behind proactive procrastination?” It’s the idea you procrastinate a task until you absolutely have to get it done. Doing so allows you to maximize the thinking time associated with the task while simultaneously leveraging your creativity. There is rarely only one solution or way of thinking about a problem or challenge, and most folks will agree their first idea is usually not their best one. Why then do we act on the first idea that comes to our head?
There are many reasons but the biggest belief is getting it done is more important than getting it done right. We are all very uncomfortable when there is a task to be done that could be checked off but we don’t do it. It creates a great deal of internal tension which feels bad to most people.
The funny thing is this tension is a massive lever for creativity and creativity leverages productivity output. By procrastinating on the execution part of a task and prolonging the brainstorming component you will end up with richer, more resilient ideas that will be less subject to the law of unintended consequences.
Here are some tips to proactively procrastinate:
- Schedule. Set a deadline and put a reminder in your calendar 24 hours before you begin working on on the task. If it’s a task that needs more than a day to execute, break it up into multiple sub-tasks so that no individual task needs more than 1 day of execution to complete and repeat.
- Think. Build time into your calendar to think about the task. Utilize a whiteboard or notebook and try to stay tactile, not digital. Incorporate colour and post it notes – whatever you need to paint a clear picture of how you want to execute the task.
- Review. Review your thoughts, call a peer then brainstorm new ideas. Small groups are way more effective than individuals usually.
- Record. Record the session using video or audio tools.
- Take Notes. Write in bullet form as much as possible. This is about concepts, not structure.
My experience has been that when you procrastinate the doing and do less, you get far better outcomes and your productivity goes through the roof. Why? Well, you spend less time fixing what you got wrong the first time and more time solving new and truly material problems. It is so counter intuitive but gets in both of these bad habits and you will be shocked how productive you become!