Reading time: About 6 minutes (but easy to scan much faster)
I offer this post on how to kill your productivity because we often learn best by learning the opposite of what we want to do…
I write about productivity a lot because time is the most valuable element we all have. It’s worth more than money — because lost money can often be regained but lost time is gone for good.
It’s worth more than intelligence — because people who are able to put enough time into their tasks are able to accomplish more than the smart people who remain unfocused.
But did you know that 51.5% of people are interrupted frequently while they’re trying to work? And 26% of people often leave the office having accomplished the tasks they set out to do?
Something is killing our productivity. Or more correctly, we’re killing it ourselves. Here are 13 causes:
1-We overestimate the amount of time we have
The myth of the eight-hour day leads us to believe that we have, well, eight hours of time for writing (or other work) every day. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Think about what interrupts you at the office: phone calls, emails, chats with colleagues, chats with your boss. And working from home can be even more distracting: phone calls, emails, dealing with the dog and neighbours who arrive at the door.
In fact, the app Rescue Time has found that people have as little as one hour and 12 minutes of uninterrupted time in their day.
2-We underestimate the value of small actions
Most of the new clients I meet with tell me they aspire to write for at least an hour a day. They are usually shocked when I tell them that that’s way too much time.
Small, regular actions we do daily — like writing for just 15 minutes — are far more likely to pay off for us. The value comes from the daily repetition. That’s why it’s better to write for 15 minutes every weekday than it is to write for 75 minutes on Fridays. Even though the ultimate investment of time is exactly the same.
If you don’t want to kill your productivity, remind yourself that what you do daily makes you much more productive.
We used to think multi-tasking demonstrated superior intellect and control — like CEOs who dictated new documents while signing existing ones. Now we know from neuroscientists that multi-tasking leads us to accomplish less and to feel worse while we’re doing it.
The ultimate and most destructive multitasking I see writers do every day is this: they edit while they write. Many of my clients are addicted to this way of working and I always view it as my important job to teach them how to break that habit.
Stop editing while you write and you’ll find writing much more enjoyable. And you’ll be able to write faster, too.
4-We allow ourselves to become distracted
Two types of distractions derail our writing plans – external and internal ones. The big external distractions are phone calls, texts and other people showing up beside our desks. The big internal ones are email, the internet and our own self-doubts.
To keep external distractions at bay, have a talk with your boss and get permission for some “protected” writing time. Ask for at least 30 minutes a day. Then turn off your phone, post a sign on your office door, or on the side of your computer saying, “On deadline – please do not disturb.” Then, plop a large pair of headphones (not discreet ear buds but BIG ugly headphones so that others can’t miss them) on your head and start writing.
Dealing with internal distractions is harder but turn off your email, shut down your internet and start writing. If you have difficulty staying with the program, then invest in some software that will cut off your access to email and the internet. Two good options are: SelfControl (Mac only), and Freedom.
The word “perfectionist” sounds like a lovely thing, doesn’t it? It makes me imagine notebooks filled with neat and tidy writing, decorated with gold stars, and a delicious piece of chocolate cake with no burn marks or sloppy centre and fantastic fudgy icing.
But in fact, focusing on perfection is the most effective way possible to kill your productivity. Trying to achieve perfection only frustrates us. It makes us accomplish less and it increases our stress and predisposes us to depression. We’re human beings for goodness sake! Nothing is going to be perfect and the sooner we can let go of that absurd and unworkable idea, the more we’re going to be able to accomplish.
6-We don’t know how to say ‘no’ to anyone
Time is short and if we want to be productive with the tasks that are important to us, we need to be able to say no to requests in other areas. Saying yes too often is what will kill your productivity.
Saying no is never easy, of course. To be able to say it successfully, you’ll need some practice. I like to begin with a policy of not agreeing to anything right away. Instead, I ask for more time to think. Here’s the phrase I use: “Can you give me a couple of days to think it over and make sure I have the necessary time to devote to it?” This sentence is an excellent transitional one, as you work to become better at saying no. It gives you the chance to marshal your arguments (which are often arguments with yourself). And if you do want to say yes, you will have preserved that option.
Here’s more info on how to say no.
7-We fail to have a work routine
If we don’t plan what we’re going to do every day, the demands of other people will quickly take over our lives.
To make sure your schedule reflects what you really want to do, I suggest using what’s called “time blocking.” I had heard about this system for many years before working up the guts to use it, roughly five years ago. Initially, I thought ‘this isn’t for me,’ because my days are filled with meetings and phone calls.
Unbeknownst to me, those are the two best reasons for using it.
Once I started time-blocking, I became about 50% more efficient. Here’s how it works: First thing each morning, I schedule my day, 6 am to 6 pm, in pomodoros — 25-minute units of working time, divided by five-minute breaks. (No, I don’t work a 12-hour day. Some of my time is scheduled for meals, personal email, exercise and other non-work tasks.)
Here’s why time-blocking works: If I’ve bitten off more than I’m going to be able to chew, I’ll understand that fact early in the morning. This gives me the chance to decide what I’m going to do and what I’m going to postpone. As a result, I’ve never worked in the evening ever since I started my time-blocked schedule. (Before that, I had to work in the evening all the time.)
Time blocking also gives me a sense of (manageable) urgency that makes me far more productive every day. Learn more about it here: Time-blocking will stop you from having to kill your productivity.
8-We don’t automate recurring tasks
Anything we do irregularly (less often than once a week) is something that we have to relearn how to do each time.
For one of my clients, I have a series of website-related tasks I need to do once a quarter. It’s so confusing and overwhelming, it’s almost as if I’ve never seen the task before. For this reason, I’ve created a “dummies guide” for myself, typed out as a step-by-step document. Each quarter, I open this document and follow the steps and it’s easy.
Yes, it took me some time to create the document but the value I get from it each quarter made it pay off the first time I used it.
9-We let ourselves get sucked into too many meetings
Sometimes, you may have no choice about attending meetings — and if that’s the case, you have my sympathy. But avoid as many meetings as you can. Remind yourself of the anonymous quote: “A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.”
Here are five questions to ask the next time you’re invited to a meeting:
- What is the exact topic?
- What is the timing, location and (most importantly), duration?
- Who else will attend?
- What decision(s) will be made at the meeting?
- Why, specifically, do you need to be there?
The last two questions will help you determine whether the meeting is worth your time. If it isn’t, plead “lack of time” and ask the organizer to email you the results.
10-We don’t track our results
When I ask clients how many words they can write in 30 minutes, many of them can’t answer me. (This isn’t to criticize clients. Many of my writer friends can’t answer the question either.) But without knowing numbers like this, how do you plan your day?
I urge all writers to track their writing and have a good handle on how long it’s going to take them to do any project, before they start it. I even provide a tracking chart on my website, available at no charge for anyone who wants to use it.
11-We set unrealistic goals
The planning fallacy causes most of us to underestimate the time we need to do just about anything. This is because we tend to be overly optimistic when planning, we engage in wishful thinking and we chronically overestimate our own abilities. Instead of planning with rose-coloured glasses, become a dire pessimist if you truly want to meet your goals. And, most of all, make future plans based on your past performance. Don’t guess how long it’s going to take you to finish writing project XZY. Instead, look at how long writing project ABC really took you (again, not your goals, but the actual achievement) and use that past performance to predict your future one.
12-We don’t leave enough room for downtime
All work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull person. Or so the saying went when I was a kid. But as a writing coach, I’ve found the all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a blocked writer.
Writing is a creative act and it requires more than just work. It also demands relaxation time, such as reading novels, going for walks, listening to music, meeting with friends. We are human beings, not machines. If you want to be more productive, make sure you get enough downtime.
13-We don’t use the accountability lever
Many writers procrastinate. They put off until tomorrow the job they should be doing today. This is just human nature and if you want to be really productive, you need to figure out a way to persuade yourself to do just a little bit of writing every day. But to make this happen, you’re going to need some help. Make a pact with a colleague or a family member that both of you are going to work on your writing every day for a minimum of X minutes. (You both get to determine the number X represents.) Make sure you report to each other when you do it.
And if that doesn’t work — because friends and family are often too forgiving — then up the ante a little by getting professional help. I offer an affordable program called Get It Done that, over the last eight years, has used daily accountability to help thousands of writers start and finish their writing projects.
Don’t kill your productivity! Or let it kill you. Instead, use these 13 signposts as a way to protect your time, safeguard your energy and ensure you’re able to meet your most important and meaningful writing goals.
My video podcast last week addressed how to create a book launch team. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.
Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
Do you tend to kill your productivity? How do you stop yourself from doing that? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!