Stronger Productivity: Building on What’s Already Good

Often, when we take a look at our productivity, we start by looking at what’s bad.

  • We keep a time log and highlight all the areas where we waste time
  • We look for bad habits, like procrastination or a tendency to get distracted
  • We berate ourselves for the things which we haven’t accomplished
  • We notice all the tasks on our to-do lists which we haven’t yet done

…and so on.

It might seem like the obvious way to do things. After all, if we’re going to boost our productivity, surely we need to fix everything that’s not currently working?

So we buy a new planner, or a new book, and try to fold ourselves into someone else’s system. Inevitably, it doesn’t quite work. We end up spending a lot of time trying to become more productive … without spending any extra good-quality time on what really matters.

Here’s a novel approach. Give it a try before you dismiss it out of hand. Instead of trying to boost your productivity by looking for things to fix, why not start with what’s already working?

Recent Achievements

A great place to start is with the things you have achieved recently. Grab a bit of paper and jot them down. They don’t need to be anything big:

  • Finally made a start on that report
  • Answered the email I’d been putting off
  • Tidied up my desk
  • Wrote another section of my ebook
  • Practised the guitar every day
  • Took the weekend off and felt really refreshed

It’s so easy to focus on all our regrets – jobs left undone, tasks postponed, things which went wrong. The truth is, there’s lots of great stuff too; we’re just not so good at seeing it.

To keep myself focused on what’s going well, I keep an achievements list every month. I write down anything significant that I did and which was important to me. Even when I feel like I’ve had a bad month, I’m surprised by how much I can find to put on that list.

When Do You Concentrate Well?

On a day to day level, one of the best ways to improve your productivity is to look at the occasions when you’re already really productive. Once you’ve figured out common factors, it’s much easier to set up circumstances to help you stay motivated and energised.

You might think about the times of day when you’re most productive. Don’t let anyone tell you when you “should” be productive. I’m definitely a morning person, and I have a total slump around 4pm – but I know plenty of fellow writers who can’t string a sentence together before noon.

(Charlie Gilkey has a great productivity heatmap which can help you think this one through.)

You’ll definitely find that your mood makes a huge difference to your productivity. If you’re feeling stressed out, overworked or unhappy, it’s going to be really hard to concentrate. If you’re enthusiastic, well-rested and cheerful, it’s a lot easier. Yes, I know that’s obvious – but I’ll bet you often push yourself to work when you’re really not in the mood (and you end up feeling even worse).

Finally, your work environment matters – perhaps more than you realise. There are some places where I find it next to impossible to work: trains, for instance. Other places, like libraries, I can sit down and work really easily. Don’t tell yourself that because you work online, you should be able to work “anywhere” … it might be physically possible, but your mind and body may rebel.

So what’s working for you? When and where are you most able to focus? Can you rejig your day to make sure you get more of that?

What Are You Already Good At?

You might have some habits which aren’t helping you to be productive. But you’ve definitely got plenty of good habits and qualities too, which you can build on.

Maybe you don’t recognise these. Maybe you think that because these particular skills come naturally to you, they’re not important. They are: lots of people lack the skills and talents which make you unique.
Perhaps you’ve got a natural way with words, and you write easily and fluently.

Or you’re great at customer communication – you can diffuse tricky situations easily, and you find it really easy to build up new relationships.

You might be great at teaching others, breaking down complex topics into step-by-step instructions.

You could be someone who is easily and happily organised, keeping track of cash flow automatically.

All of those are skills which it’s easy to take for granted if you possess them. But once you’ve recognised where you are really productive, you can build on that.

  • Look for ways to spend more time in the areas where you’re already strong
  • Partner up with someone with complementary skills
  • Develop a new service or product which plays to your best strengths – instead of constantly trying to do what you think you “should” be doing
  • Figure out ways to apply lessons learned in one area to help you grow faster in another.

What’s already working for you? How can you do more of that?

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Image by Flickr user zachvs

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4 Responses to “ Stronger Productivity: Building on What’s Already Good ”

  1. JB King says:

    What works for me is to know myself. What are my strengths? What are ways that seem to work for me, that may not work for others? How well do I know what talents, gifts and abilities I was given at birth? Those questions aren’t necessarily simple to answer, but they do hold keys to making things better for me.

    For example, “Strengths Finder 2.0″ has an assessment tool that can be useful to see what kinds of activities suit me. My strengths came out to be a rather odd mix of things: Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Intellection and Strategic. It has taken me a few months but I have a much better handle on these things now than I did in the beginning. The Learner theme doesn’t mean I’ll always be a student in some physical school somewhere, but that I like to acquire knowledge, gaining competence, and sharing what I know. This fits me well as last week I had an absolute blast helping a couple of people learn how to play Euchre, a card game usually involving 4 players. The theme also fits well with my job as a Web Developer, so I stay on top of technology and see what is going on in the world. The other themes have similar elaborations I could give if one wants to see them.

    Myers-Briggs is another way to do some self-assessment. I usually end up being either INTJ or INFJ, depending on which is guiding me at the moment my head or my heart. If the latter, then I’m more likely an INFJ but it is worth noting that in being as sensitive as I am, I can flip to an INTJ if I feel threatened or hurt as I just don’t like to suffer and will draw on other aspects of myself to defend and protect my precious heart. How to get around this is something I’ll be working on but it may take decades to get past the current hurdles I have in my life around this.

    • Ali says:

      I definitely agree that knowing yourself is crucial. I’m not too bothered myself about having a specific label for my personality, though I know Myers-Briggs etc can be helpful for others.

      I think it’s also worth noting that a weakness is just the flip side of a strength (and vice versa!) I have a tendency to get over stressed sometimes, but on the plus side, this goes along with my ability to focus and work hard when necessary.

  2. Eoin Meegan says:

    Here’s a productivity idea. It’s a to-do list with a difference. Make a list of the important things you’re going to do on any given day

    [tip. do it the night before as you go to bed so it's ready for you when you get up].

    Don’t be afraid to make the list quite long. Check it in the morning. Pick what you feel most drawn towards and start with that. Then at the end of the day check the list again, now see what you didn’t do. Ask yourself why? Be honest with the answer. And don’t beat yourself up for not doing it. It may be simply that the list was too long to get around to everything. That’s fine.

    Now, (this is important) prioritize this task by moving it to the top of tomorrows’s to-do list. Then, if at the end of the this day you find you still haven’t done it (no, still don’t beat yourself up!!) ask yourself what’s going on. Is it something you’re resisting (like writing?) If so it’s time to decide if you still want to go ahead with it, or if it’s something that you wish to drop.

    By the way it’s okay not to do stuff!! just so long as you get really clear on what you’re not going to do. In fact it makes room for you to do those other things that you’re drawn to, those more creative things. Try it. This technique really works. And good luck!

    • Ali says:

      Great tip. I definitely find myself putting off certain tasks day after day, and the reason is often associated with fear of some sort. (I’ve been meaning to write a Copyblogger guest post for aaages and I keep not getting round to it, mostly because Copyblogger are so awesome that I find it quite intimidating guest posting there!)

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