Productivity Day by Day

doeverythingbetterI have a confession. I am a productivity junkie. Ever since I can remember I have been making to-do lists and finding tangible satisfaction in putting a checkmark in the checkbox or physically scratching through items on my list. I have even been known to put something I just completed on my list so I can experience the euphoria of striking it from said list. Maybe it was partly the college prep school culture growing up or just how I am wired, but regardless it’s always been hard to tame the voice that says do more and sometimes… just do everything better.


Feeling Productive

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks down big life changes into the power of cues, routines, and rewards, the combination of which he refers to as the habit loop. Duhigg’s collection of stories and research got me thinking more intentionally about my daily workflow, especially on the days when I have no less to do in actuality, yet it emotionally feels like less. It might feel this way because I have the freedom (or curse) of being able to walk to the kitchen and get a snack or have a non-traditional work environment for a day, like today as I sit on my back porch working only in the company of my canine colleagues. Since these days are often bookended with several days of 16+hr work and ceaseless travel, it is all the more important to use my “less hectic” work days to get stuff done and build in margin to recharge before the next sprint. But I needed to change my perception of these days and understand their value and necessity in the bigger picture.


The second obstacle relating to my productivity obsession is the very omnipresence of it. Some people say I just can’t turn off my mind or my brain is firing on all cylinders or something about a hamster. Whatever your analogy I feel that too—a lot. Striking at any moment, my very desire for productivity can actually impede productivity, challenging my efforts to be present in a mindful, reflective moment or breaking the flow of an otherwise successful focus block.

Should Have Had a V8 (the duh moment)…

to-dosThen I stumbled upon a habit so simple I felt ridiculous for not already maintaining it. One of the suggestions in Managing Your Day To Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind, by a collection of the 99U team, was to create one master to-do list. Anytime your mind swirls with all the big and all the seemingly insignificant to-dos they go on the list.  I think the key for me here was no matter how insignificant—if it was taking up space in my brain it went on the list. Suddenly I could release my mind to think about what really mattered in that moment which was probably not the fact I needed to get more heart worm treatment for my doggies, although at some point that is quite important (just look at that face).

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Color-Coded was Overrated

I refuse to show you all the categories because you will realize how insane this was...

I refuse to show you all the categories because you will realize how insane this was…

Maybe everyone else already does this one big list thing, but in my misguided attempts at organizational efficiency I had multiple, color-coded todo lists that correlated with my color-coded calendar categories. Ten to be exact. Each was categorized to represent a distinct role or responsibility I held and all the associated tasks and events that would ebb and flow as a result. Sounds lovely I know, but my brain didn’t actually think in these nice little boxes, instead my thoughts were much more reminiscent of spaghetti than waffles (supporting what Jeffrey and I learned in our group study earlier of Men are Like Waffles & Women are Like Spaghetti). Ok so step 1…I moved all these crazy lists into 1 master list. Now what?

In another section of Managing Your Day To Day, Mark McGuinness suggests limiting your daily to-do list to a 3”x3” Post-it commenting, “If you can’t fit everything on a list that size, how will you do it all in one day?” This was the second epiphany I needed to click. I always put way too much on a daily list, but now I realize part of that was solved by new habit number one—by putting any stray todo on the master list my mind was freed to focus and get things done. I am still working on creating the habit loop for this, but I try to take a little bit of time each morning to look over my master todo list and pull a couple must do items onto my smaller sticky note for the day. My sticky note is not a 3 by 3 yet (for the record more like a 5 by 7) but I know I still have work to do.


Enjoy the Flow

 When I get to the end of my Today List I can decide do I tackle a couple more from the Master List, work on something in my To Learn list (ok so I still have one extra list), or do something that might be exactly what my future productive self needs…nothing and let my brain and my soul reset before I tackle the to-dos of tomorrow.

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