Thoughtful Productivity: Four Considerations

The idea of thoughtful consumption has been front and center for me lately. It’s popped up in many things I’ve read, both obviously and more subtly. It’s come up in plenty of discussions — although not in ways you might expect. It’s started to impact how I think about topics that aren’t directly related to consumption.

Productivity is one area where I’ve been able to see more benefits for careful consideration. One of the problems that I see with productivity systems is that it’s very easy to start adding in tasks that aren’t actually necessary: we add in extra steps, do stuff we could delegate and generally focus on plowing through the list in front of us, rather than consider what could come off of the list.

1. Does It Have to Be Done Now?

I’m certainly guilty of unthinking productivity. I have a long enough list that my main focus in any given day is to just start knocking items off — it doesn’t really matter which items as long as I can get to the list. On busy days, I may give a little bit of consideration to whether something really has to be done now but, more often than not, I just push those tasks that aren’t immediately necessary to the next day or the next week.

But if something doesn’t have to be done today, it’s worth considering whether it needs to be done at all. Just like with a more thoughtful approach to consumption, you can often find things that you won’t need — including both purchases and tasks. It’s very easy to add long-term ideas and projects to a task list, but if they turn into something you keep pushing back, it’s probably better to just cross them off.

I’ve had plenty of good ideas I’ve scheduled time to work on, but didn’t actually get around to. I knocked them off my list and moved on. Down the road, the idea came back to me, often at a time where I could afford the time to work on it or I had the resources to better address it.

2. Do You Have to Do It?

I used to send out invoices to my clients by hand: I’d calculate up the totals, manually create the invoice and send out my emails, tracking everything with a combination of memory, reoccurring tasks and a general spreadsheet. Somehow, I missed the memo that good bookkeeping software could take over the whole process, saving me hours. Sure, I was efficient at getting invoices out, but the software I use now is much better.

Every so often, I find similar tasks on my list. There are plenty of things that software, a virtual assistant or some other type of help can do better than I can. There are certainly other considerations than whether I can simply out source something (finances being one), but making sure that the majority of your own efforts go to those tasks that you enjoy and are good at simply makes sense.

It’s not a bad idea from the point of view of thoughtful consumption, either: more efficient approaches to life mean that you aren’t constantly chasing after one thing that will only help you in one are of your life.

3. Is It Really Going to Benefit You to Do It?

I was talking with a lawyer over the weekend who absolutely despises email. His experience is that most people send emails when they want something done — they simply shift the need to do it over to someone else with a one line email. There’s a nugget of truth there. It has become relatively easy for one person to shift work on to another in a variety of ways — you couldn’t ask someone to come plow your field from a hundred miles away, but you can certainly request that a team member in another time zone pick up some slack.

But part of the problem is that we let it happen. When someone asks us to do something, we are more likely to look for ways to say ‘yes,’ than ‘no.’ Part of that problem comes from how often the request comes from someone with money in their hands. During my freelance career, I’ve had many requests to handle projects that fall outside of my expertise, but the money has been enough to get me to take them on anyhow. Such projects always wind up sucking on multiple levels…but they can still get my bills paid.

These days, I turn away work that doesn’t actually fall inside my expertise. Sure, I don’t get the benefits of having completed those projects, but it leaves open time to work on projects that will actually benefit me, from client work to marketing efforts.

4. Is Doing It At All Necessary?

I know plenty of people who spend a lot of time on Facebook, building up their presence in the hopes of landing work through the site. I don’t. It isn’t because I don’t think I can’t get work through Facebook — there are certainly benefits to such an approach — but because it isn’t necessary to how I work. There are only a certain number of hours in any given day and I find it’s better to spend those hours on tasks that actually are necessary for the way I work.

Similarly, I don’t sew my own clothes. I know how, I enjoy it and it’s something I’d like to do. But it’s not necessary. If I want to have any time that isn’t given over to being productive, something’s gotta go.

That’s the bottom line of thoughtful productivity. We have to consider the way we spend our days with as much thought as we give to the question of how we spend our money. There are choices that are better for us as individuals, as a society and otherwise.

Image by Flickr user Karola Riegler

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One Response to “ Thoughtful Productivity: Four Considerations ”

  1. Gabe says:

    I like this post because it sort of gives people a reality check. Sometimes things that don’t have to be done, all of a sudden become priorities. This post will help me sort out my own life better. :)

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