Last week I introduced a new weekly blog series, Life Balance 2.0. In the second installment today, I’m jamming about one of my favorite topics...
Confession: I am a productivity junkie.
The lovely irony, of course, is that productivity is a daily experiment and challenge for me, despite my intrigue and breadth of knowledge on various philosophies, systems, and tools.
It reminds me of how I used to be with diets and fitness. I spent hundreds of hours obsessing over the latest trends and methods in magazines, books and online, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was practicing them. (I’m reminded right now of my fridge magnet that says “It took a lot of willpower, but I finally gave up dieting.” Thank God.)
My point is that this is one of those situations where the teacher is very much the student. Nonetheless, my countless hours of reading, podcast listening, and app testing means that I have tons of knowledge to distill and share in this series. (So consider the dirty work done for you!)
From dozens of experts across all these various channels, I hear one single message repeated the most, albeit in slightly different words:
SIMPLIFY. DO LESS TO GET MORE DONE.
I won’t bother chronicling just how many experts and authors extoll this as a core productivity virtue, but suffice to say it’s pretty much all of them.
The only popular advice that might run counter to this concept is the emphasis in the entrepreneurship world on “the hustle,” but even many entrepreneurs talk about how you can only rev close to the red line for so long before you’re doing long-term engine damage. Even Ms. hustle herself, mega-entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, wrote her most recent book Thrive on how she learned the hard way that good sleep is critical to overall success, because a dead person isn’t a very good business owner (and about how we can’t measure “success” just by power and money as it’s always been traditionally defined).
So listen: if you’re like me and you’re always on the hunt for that “magical” piece of advice that’s suddenly going to turn you into a productivity ninja, well, I hate to break it to you but the closest thing you’re gonna get to that is SIMPLIFY. DO LESS.
Which is really not what us go-go-go types want to hear.
We sometimes think, “if I just find the PERFECT system or app, I will never get distracted by social media or my cat or my thoughts or rearranging my to-do list for funsies eeevvverrrr again!" (*crickets* Oh wait... that's just me?)
I will say that of the many apps and techniques I’ve tried, there are a few that have stuck with me because they’re super helpful, at least for my me. (That’s for another post.)
But overall, I find myself circling my way up the spiral staircase (shoutout to Nathalie Lussier for the awesome metaphor which I just learned on Amy Porterfield’s podcast), encountering this same core truth again and again:
SIMPLIFY. DO LESS TO GET MORE DONE.
It pops up again, and I sigh and think about how I’d rather just continue busying away with my planner and my lists and my apps than follow this wisdom. Just like how I’d rather roll up my yoga mat and get on with my day at the end of a yoga practice than lie in savasana.
Sometimes I muscle through my way, and other times I am able to soften up to the slower pace, the simplicity of one. thing. at. a. time. I am a work in progress.
Two of the books I hear most often recommended by successful people (often entrepreneurs) on the podcasts I listen to are Essentialism and The One Thing. Full disclosure, I haven’t yet read Essentialism, and I’ve started The One Thing, but I have to say — I believe they basically boil down to that same core truth (with their own twist, of course, to make it unique enough to pitch to a publisher).
Not that I’m saying these books are unnecessary or that I won’t ever read them, but as a person who would love to continue gathering great information rather than putting it into action, I think I will get a lot more out of continuing to challenge myself to practice simplicity and mindfulness. (Instead of saying, “I’ll just keep doing what I do until I eventually read those books and then I’ll do what they say!") Something I’ve been guilty of before.
I could go off on my own diatribe about how we can/should/must apply this truth, but of course it will look different for you than it does for me because I’m sure our lives are pretty different.
Instead, I’ll distill it down to a few important ways to think about/practice this. Likely all things you’ve heard before, and again, that’s because they actually work.
Actionable Strategies for Practicing Simplicity & Mindfulness to Be More Productive
1. Start each day from a place of groundedness. Meditate. Journal. Do Qi Gong, yoga or some other type of centering movement. It doesn’t matter what it is or that it’s “perfect" or thorough. Even five minutes is great.
2. Put a max of three things on your to-do list for each day. (Obviously this does not include stuff you are going to do anyway, like showering and picking your kid up at school.) Focus on these important things and beware of getting swept away by so-called “urgent” crap that’s usually actually not all that urgent.
3. Never hurry. Build in “buffers.” This is one of the hardest things for me, but the more I try to practice this, the better I feel. In fact, this weekend I’m making myself a “never hurry + it can wait” sign that I’m going to put on the dashboard in my car… to help with both the urge to check my phone and the feeling of needing to be where I cannot yet be.
4. Do one thing at a time. Seriously. Almost every other piece of advice would boil down to this. It can be practiced in so many great ways, like trying “Tabless Thursdays” (only one browser tab open at a time - GASP!) or the Pomodoro Technique (set a timer and do one thing for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, repeat.)
If you want extra credit on #4, I just discovered that The Atlantic did a 27-part series last year called “Single-Tasking is the New Multitasking.” I’m totally going to dig into this today.