There are so many productivity tips on the Internet that, if each one was turned into a coin, it would fill up Scrooge McDuck’s Duck Tales vault. And yet why aren’t more people more productive? Why hasn’t the world turned into a utopia of uber-productive, overachieving individuals?
I read the same tips that you do (probably more), and I’ve also tried the same ones you have (again, probably more). Now, I can’t speak for why you’re still a chronic underachiever, but I know why I am.
A lot of the tips just don’t work.
They don’t work for me, that is (so don’t burn me at the stake just yet). I’m going to share a few of the productivity tips I tried, as well as my thoughts on why they didn’t work. If you have a different analysis, please share it in the comments. I’ll have a bonus for you at the end.
Tip #1: Establish a Routine
Of all the tips I tried, this was the one that showed the most promise; and so it was the most frustrating when it failed. I saw the logic behind it. If I write at the same time every day, my mind and body would immediately drop into “the zone”, like a golf ball following a rut on the green.
The problem is, I’m kind of flaky. My schedule changes from day to day, even from minute to minute, as things pop up and need my attention. And I have trouble saying “no” to my kid every time she wants to play hide and seek or wants me to read a book. So I haven’t yet been able to nail down a consistent, beneficial routine.
Tip #2: The Pomodoro Method
This tip involves working to an egg timer set to 25 minutes (among other details). It’s supposed to increase your focus without putting you under too much strain. I was thrilled at my productivity the first couple of times I tried it, but when the novelty wore off I couldn’t take the clock seriously anymore. Call it a short attention span, but I often wound up breaking the Pomodoro “wall” and doing something else, whether it was quickly peeking at mail or helping with a chore.
Tip #3: “Distraction-Free Environments”
There is no such thing as a “distraction-free environment.” There’s always a way to divert myself if I don’t feel like working (as the Pomodoro example showed). Turned off the Internet? There’s a newspaper on the dining table. Home alone? Perfect time to watch a movie. God help me for being an obstinate procrastinator when I’m not motivated to work.
Tip #4: Writing Groups
There are plenty of reasons I love writing groups. The social interaction. The camaraderie. The feedback. The regular submission deadlines. That last bit was especially helpful in motivating me to write. Unfortunately, the nature of writing groups means that I had to invest quite a bit of time critiquing other people’s work. Critiquing isn’t just reading someone else’s story. It’s trying to think of something constructive to say, in a way that doesn’t reduce the other author to tears. And with some stories, that’s really hard to do. At one point, doing critiques was taking more time than the actual writing. And so I decided to step back.
Tip #5: Productivity apps/tools
I’ve tried out a ton of productivity apps looking for the “magic bullet” that would solve all my productivity problems. Remember the Milk. Teux Deux. TickTick. Producteev. Trello. Evernote. The list goes on.
And they all follow the same pattern without fail: I pick it up, fill it out with all of my deadlines and notes, and then promptly ignore it. I check back in after a few days, but by then the items are so obsolete that I’d have to waste time updating it. So I shrug and delete it. I love the benefits, but keeping it updated is such a chore that I’d rather go without it.
The Final Word
So there you have it. These aren’t all of the tips I tried, but they’re the ones that stand out the most—the ones that showed the most promise, only to fail miserably.
But the key takeaway of this post isn’t the fact that these tips don’t work. It’s that I’m able to take an impartial look at my own habits (as impartial as I can get, anyway), and gauge how they fare against whatever productivity hacks I throw against them. It’s about knowing myself, knowing what works for other people, and testing them against each other until I find something that sticks.
You can do that, too. If you’re self-aware enough, you can measure the effectiveness of whatever productivity hacks you attempt. And even the failed ones will be a learning experience, which you can use to try to find a better solution to your productivity woes.
See what I did there? Stealth lesson.
Image from Flickr, by amboo who?.