Stronger Productivity: Building on What’s Already Good
- 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?
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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