The Productivity Trap – Don’t be ‘Goat Productive’

I am convinced never before in history of mankind have so many people been so obsessed with their self-improvement. Those who are privileged enough to have internet access have the opportunity to learn whatever they want. The information is all there and available to grasp and convert. With all the things we want and can do there is only really one resource we can’t bootstrap, and this is time. So it is no wonder that there are also virtually limitless resources and tools available to help us being more productive. The over-hyped key words are ‘Productivity’ and ‘Time Management’.

Time Management is so great and we love it, because we all love to manage. We now have Sanitary Facility Managers, Front Desk Managers, Office Supply Managers, etc. And of course myriads of Time Managers, and all they manage is their own time…

What!?

 

What happened to doing?

How come we now continuously have the need to manage our 24 hours, every day, at best with as many productivity tools as possible?

How many of those tools do you use? On your computer, tablet, iPhone?

Right now you are probably thinking “What a hypocrite!”

And you are absolutely right. I do give time management advice and I recommend using productivity tools. I even wrote a post about some of the tools I personally use.

But just because there are 50 different brands of toothpaste doesn’t mean you have to use them all at the same time, yak!

Only, use what works for you!

 

Why I am writing this?

Last week I had sent an email to a couple of colleagues and clients notifying them of a good discount for XMind, the Mind mapping tool that was voted the best on Lifehacker.

One exasperated colleague sent me an email back letting me know, that she bought it, but has no idea how on earth she should include this mind mapping thing into her busy schedule.

*Sigh*

But then if if I am honest I’ve been there myself. So obsessed to efficiently use my time, I had at least three different to-do list apps installed, tested all possible methods at the same time and was uber busy managing my tasks, setting up schedules and revising my goals. Only to realize that I was not productive at all. I was as ‘goat productive’.

 

Productivity GoatSo what is up with that goat?

I once had a neighbor who wanted to be smart and bought a goat to take care of his lawn in the back yard (true story). The problem was, goats are not only quite communicative (baaah!) they are also not very picky eaters. Within one week my neighbor didn’t have to worry anymore about some of his bushes, roses, vegetables, and pieces of his laundry.

This goat is a good analogy for a how a measure is ineffective when not directed, and an even better metaphor for us, when we are not focused. We have no effect if we are just busy for the busy sake. The goat is busy the entire day and the result is….? Yup, pardon me, a lot of crap.

I think one problem is that we are often way too focused on how to be productive that we actually forget to focus on what we are doing. Stuff only happens through focused, i.e. effective action. Moronically checking off one task after the other is not the purpose of time/task management.

I think another big disadvantage of using all those tools we have at hand, is that we easily forget. We don’t memorize phone numbers, addresses, names and and all sorts of other information anymore, because we can easily shove it over to some digital storage . Our passive memory (i.e. memory which does not result from an activity) is not very challenged these days.  I think that is one of the reasons why we often struggle to prioritize. Because we give it a red label and store it anywhere, but not in our heads. As a result we don’t have even important information directly available when we need it without checking our devices.

Here are some rules I have been following to regain focus and be more effective in my action mode:

 

  1. Try to memorize as much important information as possible. The digital tools are just safety nets. We should not have to keep checking them all the time to get some piece of information. (And we should really remember your anniversary, but let’s set a reminder – you know – just in case.)
  2. Don’t put things you do every day on your task list. (You’ll remember it)
  3. Don’t put anything that takes less than 5 minutes on your task list if you can do it right now. This is how you get a habit of working efficiently.
  4. Avoid duplication. Don’t use three different tools for the same purpose.
  5. Don’t make ‘working on XYZ’ a task, state what you specifically want to do (e.g. ‘create three year budget for XYZ’, ‘write 500 words about goats’, etc.)
  6. Leave your Computer every 2 hours and e.g. walk around the block to regain focus and awareness. Relax, take a deep breath, everything’s going to be alright.
  7. Rethink goat analogies. That’s just weird, man.

 

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc