Raider of lost productivity: three things I learned
35 is the number of productivity and time management books I have read since 2006. It doesn’t include magazine articles, blogs, and other online resources. It has been called “productivity porn,” and I was into it!
What I needed, I thought, was efficiency: if only I could have accomplished more, manage my calendar in a better way, be on top of my emails, I would have been happy at work. I would have continuously avoided feeling like I was running behind and that I was inadequate. On top of that, these techniques had to be useful for my personal life, right? To live a full life, to have more time! How could I not be happy?
It didn’t work. More or less complex systems, perfect in their elegance, just didn’t bring me to that (equally perfect) productivity I was looking for. I tried several (Getting Things Done was the first), including the corresponding apps, email hacks. I loved the planning part (still do, actually) and diligently executed it; the early days went great, I was doing everything and felt so powerful, unstoppable. Then things would start to slide. Procrastination was always there, attracting me, and I would inevitably find myself NOT doing what my perfect time management system was telling me I should do. Therefore, NOT achieving perfect productivity.
9 are the months I spend not working. I resigned from the company I had been working for and dedicated myself to figuring out what I wanted to do professionally. I started writing with pen and paper instead of computer and iPad, doodled, read some more productivity books, but also self-help; I explored what I was interested in and what engaged me and made me feel alive. I became a certified coach, which lead me to explore in more depth what I wanted to do.
I procrastinated little in those months, but then again, I had precious little to do that was pressing enough to warrant that kind of anxiety that leads to delay doing it. I mostly searched for goals that would interest me and motivate me. What I needed, I thought, was effectiveness: choose what to work on and go all in, have meaningful goals that I decide myself, not imposed by others. For those goals, all productivity systems I had previously learned must work, right? Because that was what I wanted!
After some time, I noticed that productivity was not low, but not yet working as I was expecting: being a locomotive that flies to its destination, advancing station after station, task after task, to reach the landmarks that I had set as my objectives. From techniques, I had moved onto tactics, but it was not yet enough to feel that I was advancing and that I was living a full life. By then, I had realized that the constant search for productivity was one of my main excuse to read more, plan, and NOT do. Searching how to overcome procrastination was my first cause of procrastination. Groaning out loud.
75 are the minutes of the Milan-Paris flight where I had an insight: my procrastination happened because I was trying to mimic the martial (and rigid) efficiency that I had always assumed was needed; I was looking for perfection; that kind of intransigence lead to immobility. I was not procrastinating because I didn’t want to do those tasks, not even because I was afraid, but because I thought I had to do them in the same way I had done them before, which had at some point lead me to become cynical and be close to burn-out. That was not me, and I didn’t want to be like that. Somewhere inside me, a rebellion was occurring: I did not want to get things done in a way that was not aligned to who I was. When I realized this, I started building my own way.
DESIGN YOUR TIME
The result of this journey is Design Your Time, a program that goes through a similar journey, but the other way around and hopefully avoiding the failures. We start from who we are, our values, what is essential for us. Then, we decide where we want to go, our goals, and our priorities. Finally, we use the most relevant productivity techniques to get there in the most effective way. The program aims at leading participants to develop their approach to productivity, one that is personal, sustainable, and continually evolving.
Another number, the perfect number:
3 are the main tips on productivity that I would like to share now:
ONE – Give yourself the possibility of not being perfect. Perfection does not exist, and a list of accomplished tasks does not necessarily make you happy, as the productivity myth would like you to believe. Observe how the expectation of perfection acts as an elastic cord that keeps you anchored to where you are. The more you try to run away, the more intense is the force that pulls you back. Let go, be yourself.
TWO – Change is scary and often paralyzing; this is trying for most people. Small changes are less frightening, more easily reversible if they don’t work out and produce great results when compounded. The perfect system does not exist, and even if it does, it will be valid for a short time, because you change, and the environment around you changes continuously. When you want to introduce change, start small. Review the results, adjust if needed, repeat.
THREE – Read, educate yourself, but then act. You can read a lot and know a lot, but knowing and acting are two different things. You need motivation for the latter, which depends on emotions. So, give priority to doing: try, act, experiment, do. Look at the results and evaluate whether to continue, change, or stop. Design experiments with your behaviors, try things out. In Design Your Time, this is the “design” part. It’s a great discovery journey!
Discovering oneself and how to improve is a journey, not a weekend trip. Mine has been fantastic so far, setbacks included. My wish for you is that it is equally enriching and amazing. I am here to support you should you wish it.