Just Seven Things

Exploring why and how we do what we do, and how we can do it better

Seven Simple Rules for Personal Productivity

An interesting shift has again taken place over the last few holiday weeks.

The need for, and value of, the inputs for my self improvement remain fairly suspended. I am still in a consolidation and gestation mode. Simple structures are however re-emerging from my explorations over the previous years. They are moving into position for seemingly one purpose only: to accelerate my productivity and effectiveness.

So, in this absence of striving for improvement and instead just letting things ‘be’, what are the seven simple steps for my own personal effectiveness?

1. Set objectives/ target/ goals. What is your vision of a successful outcome? Obvious (and a bit of a no-brainer considering my focus with Scarlet Monday), but often forgotten or not explicitly articulated. Write it down or say it out loud for maximum effect. Get your left brain to marshall all your other-than-conscious resources.

2. Set some timescales. You need time for 3. and 4. below and then for your first chunk of action towards your goals. Very important, and the place most people set themselves up to fail. Whether you like it or not, there’s a lazy, pleasure seeking, work-shy version of yourself hidden inside you that suddenly appears as soon as you make something/set something too onerous for yourself to do. Don’t scare the lazy you into resistance. Make it a quick first couple of slots. I find myself working best in 30 or 45 minute max. chunks.

3. Brainstorm within your tight timescale all the things you have to do to achieve your target/ goal: Mindmap/ blank sheet of paper/ write a list. Don’t expand or self-correct. Start a flow or dump. Because you’ve programmed your own internal satnav in step 1., the aim of this step is to get the flow going. Your internal resourcefulness will keep working on ideas long after you’ve stopped this step: just make sure you keep something close to hand to take note of these ideas on. Time-bounding this to a 30 minute chunk helpfully stops you getting stale.

4. Lay out a rough plan or sequence of activity. Again, within the timescale you set in 2. above, do a set of rough prioritisations. The main aim of this stage is not to create a sophisticated decision-tree/ sequential programme plan/ chart. It’s to do enough to stop your brain chatter about the other actions you need to take to complete your goal when you’re actually taking an action. It allows you get on with the very next action you undertake in the next step.

5. Start your very next action (VNA). Just start it. I know that all personal productivity advice tends to say this. There’s a reason. You start and something nearly magical happens. Your lazy work-shy fades away. Your normally fairly silent/reticent creative personality comes to the fore and starts to get to work. And continues working until the task is done – even if you’ve reached the end of the time you’ve given the task. Now this may not sound right to you, but believe me. As long as you’ve taken the steps 1-4 above, you’re in a perfect place to make this magic start. If you leap in at this step then you’ll swiftly slide down the slippery non-productive/ procrastination/ resistance route. Why? Because you’re not in the right mindspace/set. You’ve not done all that your logical left brain needs to shut up and allow your right brain to relax into resourceful action. Past this, overall you won’t have been ruthless enough with yourself on the time and step management to stop taking too long in planning and not enough in just doing.

6. Stop at the end of your first action time chunk/ slot. That’s right: stopping is a step in doing more. From my view, avoiding wasting big blocks of time by trying to maintain your energy, focus and passion on one action past 30-45 minutes counteracts any possible inefficiency from picking up, getting up to speed, starting work again and then stopping at the end of the timeslot.

7. Continue the previous VNA/start another VNA in the next time slot suitable.

Repeat 6 and 7 until goal achieved.

With thanks to the simplicity of a set of project action steps in Tracy’s Eat That Frog (see sidebar) for guiding the above.

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3 thoughts on “Seven Simple Rules for Personal Productivity

  1. i really like this plan. step six sounds extra muddled.

    it sounds like your saying “create small windows of productivity by forcing yourself to maintain a task for 35 minutes of so. stop when it is done.”

  2. I’ve been reading a book the last few days (“How to get a PhD”, and I should have read it about two years ago :/) which gives a piece of good advice which could fit into step 6: When you stop working on a task, if possible, DON’T finish up what you were doing (unless you’re actually finished the task).

    That means, if you’re writing, don’t even finish the current sentence – just leave it broken and walk away. This adds a psychological incentive to come back, and IMO also helps to reintroduce you to what you were doing. Similarly, when programming it’s good to get back to your PC, run the unit tests and see one failure, which lets you zoom right back into the context of where you were before pausing the task.

  3. Jim Stallard on said:

    I like this site and will keep reading.

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