We're always complaining about how little time we have and how overwhelmed we are. We whine about all the interruptions and communication overload. We spend all sorts of time reading books and searching for ways to improve our time management and personal productivity. It's ironic, I know.
Well, get this. Most of your productivity drain is your own doing. You give in to social media distraction because you crave a quick fix for attention. You spend too much time in your inbox because it makes you feel important. You waste ridiculous amounts of time doing things that don't really matter because you choose to do them.
You know what you need to do: Work. Provide for yourself and your loved ones. And you know what matters in life: Having fun. Spending time with family and friends. So do all that. Don't do the other stuff, or at least separate them so you're aware that you've chosen to waste your time.
Here are seven ideas to help you get started:
1. Don't tweet during the day. I don't know about you, but for me, alcohol is off limits until after 5. Why? Because it destroys your productivity. Well, guess what? So does social media. Do your tweeting, blogging, posting, status updating, whatever, after work, like while you're watching the tube.
2. Quit organizing. You know all those different methods for organizing stuff like your emails and files? I've never done any of that. Okay, maybe I do a little, but the absolute minimal amount. I have the biggest email inbox you've ever seen. It goes back years. So what? You need to find something? Use search. PC isn't good enough? Get a Mac.
3. Use hard stops. I had a lunch meeting the other day. At the start, my associate announced that he had a hard stop at 2pm. That drove the meeting. And guess what? We were done at 2. It's called a deadline. Deadlines force discipline. That's why deadlines work. Use them.
4. Don't do more; do less. It's called prioritization. You know, what we all used to do before self help, time management, and personal productivity became big business. Decades ago I learned to classify To Dos as priority A (time critical), B (important), or C (everything else). When your As are done, take on the Bs. After a few years you learn that you never get to the Cs. And you know what? It never matters.
5. Learn to say no and never say maybe. I like getting attention. I like helping people. It's always been a big motivator for me. When I realized that saying no was a bigger disappointment for me than it was for whoever was asking me to do something, it got easier to say. Don't know what to say no to? If it's not a goal, a priority, important, or fun, say no. And never say maybe. That's just being controlling and self-important.
6. Mute your devices. When you're supposed to be working and getting things done, close your email application or mute your PC or Mac so you don't hear the chime. Ignore that tug to respond right away to every request. If you really want to do it right, set aside a small chunk of time the same time every day to email. Also, never answer a call unless you're expecting it or have time for it. Even if it's your boss.
7. Work at home. Most executives spend their days in meetings. Carving out significant chunks of time to get any real work done is a challenge. So I got in the habit of doing presentation and budget work at home. A lot of my strategizing and thinking, too. If you've got young kids running around, though, that can make it tough.
Here's the thing. What used to be our priorities, the things that made our careers successful and fulfilling, our lives meaningful and happy, have somehow become optional.
The long term benefits that come from working, playing, thinking, feeling, exercising, eating right, and sleeping, now take a backseat to the instant gratification of distraction, addiction, self-importance, attention seeking, and minutiae.
To fit all that in, our lives have become overloaded and overwhelming. It doesn't have to be that way. You set the priorities. You make the choices. You have way more control than you realize.