helpgrowchange

Why Being Lazy Is Good For Productivity

When it comes to procrastination and laziness, I think I could take home the prize most of the time. If something can be done tomorrow, I’ll postpone my effort until then. Provided a choice between the easy route or the hard – I’d pick the easy one every time.

I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I do the bare minimum required in order to get the job done right. I’ll see through the time necessary in order to ship out an article, finish a project, or even complete a performance review for one of my team members.

But it has to better than last time.

When I read about certain productive people, or watch them speak, it seems like they have it all together. They are like machines, keeping in high gear day in and day out. They have all their ducks in a row, with their products being shipped out, and their tasks being performed pro-actively. I look at my own productivity in comparison and see a limping effort, wandering around aimlessly like a lost puppy.

I am prone to bursts of productivity and stagnant pools of laziness – as I’m sure most of us are. We go through hyper-productive waves where we achieve our maximum potential, but then stand idle as we get bored or unclear on where we want to go next. I don’t believe this is a bad thing.

As long as the next burst of productivity achieves a level higher than the previous one.

For those machine-like people, being the best with their time management and project completion comes naturally to them. They maintain a steady pace of productivity like clockwork, and they churn out tasks like nobody’s business. For the rest of us, however, it’s a daily struggle.

It’s a struggle to maintain the motivation to start, to create, to finish what we started. It takes a huge amount of effort and energy. So much so, that when we get a success or two, we rest, we get bored, we get lazy.

But after a while we realise how lazy we are, and that we need to kick start again. We pick up the pen, we brainstorm more ideas, and we get moving. The passion begins to burn again. More ideas start flowing and action starts to happen. The period of laziness renews our energy to achieve more. Only this time we need to remember what we did the last time, and do better than that.

We must do better otherwise the time we were being lazy was just us being… well, lazy.

It proves nothing, gets us nowhere, and we haven’t really grown.

There is nothing wrong with being lazy. I’m a self-confessed procrastinator and a lazy bastard. The most important thing for me – and what drives me – is that when I do get going again, I go further than I went before.

Now, go. Be lazy. Put off that important task until tomorrow. The world isn’t going to end, it will just be slightly delayed. Just remember to be better than before.

Do What Is Right For You

We go through our lives each day thinking and dreaming about other ‘stuff’. Wondering what it would be like if things were done differently, or why certain things happen to us and not ‘those’ people.

What can we do to change that? How can we go about achieving the same success as those people we’re viewing through the looking glass? We follow our own path, that’s how.

All through my life, I’ve been trying to be someone else. In school I wanted to be like the ‘cool’ kids (I wasn’t). All through my career, I have tried to fit in with what I thought was the right thing to do. Sometimes this felt right, most times not. Which would probably explain why I’ve changed so many jobs.

We all want to be different just like everyone else.

Becoming a leader changed all that. I discovered within myself that it is not about doing the things to please other people. It is not about dressing right, or saying the right things. All that does is make you fit in. You become one of the sheep in the herd. Another person that thinks they’re different, but – really – they’re not.

Being a leader has taught me the value about being yourself. Not being afraid to take risks and the responsibility that comes with the consequences.

In a similar way, you can be your own leader. You decide your own path and take the necessary risks to keep to that path. That means sticking to what is true to you – not your boss, your colleagues, or your friends. Your wife/husband/life partner is a different matter, but that is a whole new post about partnership.

You are the one that controls your life path. The only way it’s going to change is by you stepping up and making that change yourself. It’s not going to come from me, your mom, or your religious entity. It’s all on you.

But you know what? I am confident you can do it. It’s not as big a step as it sounds. There are little things you can do to make your own change. Here are three suggestions:

  1. If you want to be more productive – Say no.
  2. If you want to help with Climate Change – switch off unused lights and appliances.
  3. Try something new – a new food dish, a new hiking trail, or even a new hobby.

What will you be doing next that is right for you?

[Featured image: Danka Peter]

The 3 Worst Pieces of Advice I’ve Received About ‘Focus’

During my journey of learning how to be more productive and efficient, I have come across many websites containing some excellent advice, as well as colleagues having also given excellent tips. There are, however, many times where the advice has simply been awful, quirky, or downright stupid. Here are my top 3 worst pieces of advice I received on focus.

1. Keep a cluttered workspace

’A workspace, cluttered or not, does not affect focus.’

I laughed when I saw that statement. Clutter creates tension, anxiety, and a sense of non-clarity. You might be working on your desktop or laptop, not requiring anything from your actual workspace, but humans have this thing called peripheral vision.

We see our piles of papers strewn across our desk, the post-it notes, the coffee cups (and probably coffee stains too). These all form a picture in your sub-conscious that simply does not conform to applying focus when you need it.

2. Remove all distractions

’Close all other applications (including email), move to a quiet spot, put on noise cancelling headphones.

In today’s world of being constantly up to date and available, it is not feasible to disconnect from everything.It may be possible when you are by yourself at home, but at the office it is a different story. In an open plan work area, with a job that requires you to monitor emails or alerts, it is not conducive to remove all distractions.

We cannot close our email applications. We cannot put on our headphones. We certainly cannot disappear for hours on end to ‘focus’.

I say work with these distractions.

3. Focus for long periods of time

’Knuckle down, sit tight, and go for as long as you can, until you have completed your task.

No, that’s not how it works. The basic understanding is that humans focus best for small periods of time, with small breaks in between. The optimum time for any given period of work being between 90-120 minutes.

You can always try the Pomodoro technique, or the hack job that I work with every day.

My advice: Do what’s right for you

At the end of the day, there are so many techniques and suggestions on how you can work best. So many people promising they have the one-size-fits-all technique that will turn you into a productive ninja – focusing and judo-chopping through your tasks all day and all night.

But the truth is, there is no single solution. We are all different, and in turn, work differently. You have to find what works for you. This will probably be a hybrid of what you have found online, read in books, or seen your colleagues do.

Putting a piecemeal technique together, from experience and research, is how I got to where I am today. My colleagues often comment on how productive I am, but there is no secret to my methods. All I have done is learn from them and integrate it into my way of working.

I have read, watched, learned, and adapted my working style to suit me. This has meant that I can achieve a lot more in any given day. Not superhuman typing, not delegation, or even super speed (as some people might think). Just simple, effective management of my emails, prioritisation, and focus of the tasks demanding my attention.

[image source: Alex Trukhincc0]

Say No To Be More Productive

I like to be busy. Many tasks constantly taking up my time, so that I can immediately move onto the next one as soon as they complete. I am pretty sure you feel the same way too. We love the thrill of being ‘busy’. Being busy shows that we are working. We are doing many things for many hours. This model, however, cannot sustain us for very long. It drives us to stress, tiredness, and finally burnout.

Previously, if someone asked me to perform a task for them, I would try fit it in as best I could. I didn’t like saying no. Over time, I would find myself stretched thin, and not providing quality to the task at hand. I was a ‘Yes Man’, the ‘Go-to Guy’, the person who ‘would do it for you’.

No more. It took me a few years, but I came to the realisation that this simply wasn’t good enough. Yes, it felt good to be the main man who could solve all your problems. All I was doing, though, was hampering my own workload.

No matter how efficient, meticulous, or productive you are, there is always a limit to the amount of work you can perform before the quality takes a dive. It is a slippery slope once this starts to happen. People start losing trust in you. They start doubting the value you have previously provided them. And they will lose respect for you and your work ethic. The very things you have worked so hard to attain by saying ‘yes’ to everything.

Trust and respect are extremely important. Everyone is your client. You are serving them by acting on their requests. In the same breath they are serving you. You want them to come back and request more service, and we all know that a returning client is the best client. By continuing to serve and provide for them, their trust and respect for you will grow, and so too will their loyalty. All these factors combined will get you a long way when something doesn’t go right, or the shit hits the fan. Always try to maintain trust and respect in all your encounters with your clients. (But I have deviated, let’s carry on)

Before letting your quality take a dip, try saying ‘no’ to the next person that asks you to perform something for them. Ok, not ‘no’ outright, but in a way that resets their expectation. Something that I’ve found that works well is; “Sorry Beryl, I’m quite snowed under at the moment, but I could get this to you by Friday?”; or “How urgent is this, Drew, I have some other things I’ve got to finish first, then I can get this to you?”.

By aligning their expectations, you can then slot the new task in to the list you currently work with. You don’t sacrifice the current task you’re on. You won’t lose respect. You’ve set the expectation with the person that asked you for the task. And everyone is a happy family.

It is vital to understand your own workload. It is no use setting the expectation with Beryl that you will have her request done by Friday, when you know full well that you will only be able to finish it next week Wednesday. Doing this is just as bad as saying ‘yes’ all the time.

Be honest with your clients. Although some might get irritated or disappointed, they will all appreciate the honesty in the end. In future dealings, they will know that when you tell them ‘Friday’, it will be Friday. And if you don’t deliver what you promised, there will be a damn good reason for it.

What I’ve told you here, is from my personal experience. And to re-iterate, I believe the main factors are;

  • treat people with respect, and they will return it
  • be honest when setting expectations
  • keep true to your word
  • if you can’t meet those expectations, reset them earlier rather than later
  • and be friendly at all times. Having a bad attitude will reduce the respect people have for you.

Don’t be afraid to say no!

Footnote: If you are looking for some guidance on how to manage your tasks and workload, try using your most used tool during the day – your email application. I explain how to do this in my book, as well as here, and here.

How To Achieve Anything

In order to achieve anything – and feel good about it – we must accomplish ‘stuff’. This can be goals we’ve set, solving big problems, or successfully handling crises. But how do we actually do this? How do we beat our goals, solve those tricky problems, or navigate the storms?

One small step at a time.

Those age-old sayings are not just fairy tales. More and more, I am beginning to realise the wisdom behind them.

“One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”

Whatever your mountain might be, the biggest move towards the summit is by taking that first step. And repeating that step until you reach the top.

Along the way there will be many stumbling blocks, issues, and points of excruciating frustration. How do you get past them? Continue those little steps.

It is amazing how far we get just by continuing to walk. One foot in front of the other. Stepping, walking, climbing. It all needs to be done in order for our goals to be met. Our problems to be solved.

“If there is no wind, row.” Proverb

I used to view my situations as huge, confusing, impenetrable masses. With no possible way to get to the other side. I’d try this, or try that, but by the end of the day, there would be no success. No success brought disappointment. Disappointment brought demotivation.

However, by breaking up these masses into smaller clusters, things became easier. The focus of each cluster being on a specific aspect, I found I could now tackle the situations one piece at a time. As I worked through these clusters, slowly but surely, the main muddled mass of a problem would begin to wear thinner and thinner. And eventually dissipate.

Success! What a fantastic feeling.

“Change your life by changing your mind.” Jeff Goins

Now, how does this apply to you? Simple really. Whenever you are presented with a pressing situation, or want to achieve a massive goal, or some other massive weight you need to get off your chest, why not try break it down into smaller, more manageable, chunks?

These smaller pieces equate to the ‘steps up a mountain’ mentioned earlier. Smaller pieces are ‘easier’ to achieve. And once the first piece is achieved, you will gain the confidence to tackle the next piece, and the next after that.

“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.” Alexander the Great

What you can take away from this today is that no situation is too big for you to tackle and focus on smaller areas that you can achieve. Eventually (and before you least expect it) you will reach the successful outcome you are yearning for.

How To Focus And Churn Through Tasks Faster

You have a million tasks to get through. Many of them high priority, many of them not. Some of them quick and easy, others are most definitely not. You sit and ask yourself “Where the hell do I start?”.

So you pick a task, and start working on it. After a number of minutes, an email comes into your inbox. You have a look at it, and start working on that email. As you’re working on this new email, you have a thought about something else, and open up your browser to investigate further. You carry on like this for a while and before you know it, it’s been a couple of hours, you’ve been busy, but none of the tasks you started have been completed.

Does this sound familiar? It should. Most of us work this way every single day. We work work work, but don’t actually get anywhere. There is a way to work smarter, not harder. A way to start – and complete – tasks like a machine.

And that is by using focus periods to complete tasks.

In it’s simplest form, these focus periods are chunks of time that you set aside to complete a task, or set of tasks, that you have prioritised to be completed. You focus on the task, and only that task. No reading of email, no going off on a tangent when your thoughts wonder. Only. The. Task. At. Hand.

I recently discovered this method through my research for more effective productivity, and came across the Pomodoro Technique as well as a few similar concepts. The Pomodoro Technique is comprised of strict 25 minute sessions (or pomodoros), 5 minute breaks in between, and a 20 minute break every fourth pomodoro. However, in my daily schedule, this simply does not work. In turn, the method I use is a hybrid of the Pomodoro Technique, whereby I’ve adjusted the lengths of the focus periods slightly.

I personally find 25 minutes per focus period is just too short to accomplish any decent tasks. In turn, I use 35 minute chunks. I’m also not as strict on the breaks, as there isn’t a long enough period where I’m at my desk for a given length of time – either through meetings or assisting my team.

In summary, this is how I churn through my tasks. I’ve found a huge increase in my productivity since using this method. And I sure hope you can too.

  1. Specify a task, or tasks, you wish to complete in the focus period.
  2. Start the timer.
  3. Complete the tasks.
  4. Don’t get distracted by thoughts or emails
  5. NO DISTRACTIONS
  6. Have a 5 minute break after the timer has ended.
  7. Repeat as necessary.

TIP: A handy little application that I use for timing the focus periods is Focus Booster.

[image source: Dart by Asif Akbar]

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