The REAL Secret to Personal Productivity

This BNET article was written with such a cheeky tone that I couldn’t tell whether the author, Steve Tobak, was serious or not: The Real Secret to Personal Productivity.

But I endorse his conclusion — true productivity is a function of discipline and focus, yet that shows up as something different in each person.

Actually, I’d go a step further and say that there’s no way to tell if someone has these two traits by simply observing them.  For example, you may come to believe that someone has incredible commitment, only to find out that they are suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or something akin to it.

We are on much safer ground if we focus on habits, practices and rituals, simply because these are observable, and the frequency can be verified easily.  I might not care if you are disciplined and focused, as long as you have the right habits to get stuff done.

Therefore, I doubt that there’s any “real secret” that lies in anything that cannot be put on film, and used as evidence in a court of law.

Importantly, this also indicates what a manager should focus his/her coaching advice on… observable behaviors, rather than opinions and judgments that are unreliable, and always biased.


Nothing New in Time Management

I sense that there is a certain fatigue around the topic of time management.

I remember a time in the early 1990’s when productivity tools were all the rage, and you wouldn’t be caught dead without a DayTimer, FiloFax or Dayrunner folder equipped with custom tabs from Staples or Office Depot.

These weren’t entertainment devices, communication gadgets or portable search engines.  They were designed for productivity… and that was it.

Nowadays, the buzz around smartphones has little to do with productivity and time management, and more to do with stuff like connecting with your friends using Facebook Places and upping your score in Cityville.

Sexy?  Absolutely.  Productive? Not really.

Most of the articles related to the topic of time management consist of “Quick and Easy Tips,” “Top 10 ShortCuts…” and “Simple ways to gain two extra hours each day.”  We want our time management like our fast food.  Quick. Cheap. Filling. Instant.

Unfortunately, for those who are really interested in improving their skills there is little of substance, and little that’s new.  The market for instant time management tips has been saturated with books and websites touting hundreds of instant, effortless tips.

The get-rich-quick mentality has infected time management with its promise of fast results with little or no investment, risk or effort.

It’s the reason why so many companies are giving out Blackberry’s as the solution to issues of productivity.   If your employees are complaining because you have each of them doing the work of three people, then “Let em eat cake!”  Buy them a Blackberry, and that will be enough to do the job.

Those who are serious about improving their time management skills are tired of the tips and tricks, and aren’t looking for another gadget to buy.  They are already weary of these “solutions,” even if the general public seems quite to be quite happy.

They are focused on the 11 fundamentals of time management, and improving their overall skill by practicing each one at progressively higher levels.  They are like professional athletes who isolate parts of their game, and spend hours eking out small improvements via structured practice, often with the help of a coach, but often by working just by themselves.

It’s what most people call “anal.”

But it’s just not like that if you are serious about improving.  Instead, ut’s the price that must be paid for sustained achievement in any field.

Tiger probably spends very little time scouring the internet for easy, instant tips, and a lot of time in practice sand-traps perfecting his methods for digging out half-buried balls.  In the sun, wind and rain.

The same applies to Grand Masters in chess, Grand Slam winners in tennis and top NASCAR drivers.

Time management is no different, and I see that part of my job in 2Time and MyTimeDesign is to provide a viable pathway for improvement for any professional who is serious, and willing to discover what habits they need to work on in order to take their game to the next level.

This is a trickier assignment for those who are already operating at high levels of accomplishment (i.e. Green Belts and above) but Zen speaks of a beginner’s mind that comes with superior achievement.  I believe that the same applies to professionals who are ultra-productive and can manage a huge number of time demands — they don’t believe they have reached as they can see more clearly than others how far they still have to go.

Ritual Building

ritual.jpgI came across an article on the Harvard Business Review website entitled “An 18-Minute Plan for starting Your Day.”

It’s an interesting take on the value of rituals, and how they build competence over time.

Here on the 2Time blog, I have written a great deal about the essential nature of habits, and how they are the building blocks of all time management systems.  In fact, someone who is skilled at developing new habits and shedding old ones is one who might have a tremendous skill at upgrading their time management skills whenever they want — the “Holy Grail” of Time Management 2.0.

I like the use of the word “ritual”, because it implies some degree of  conscious effort, whereas the word “habit” makes me think of something that might well be unconscious.

“Time Management Habits” might therefore be seen as one’s already existing repetitive actions, while the phase “Time Management Rituals” can be seen as a set of carefully crafted practices.

The article makes the point that experiments have shown that people who specify a time and a place to get something done are more likely to be successful.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.

In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.

This small example seems to be pointing out the difference between what I describe as White Belt, and Orange Belt Scheduling skills.  The Orange Belt approach is obviously more effective, or in other words it increases the odds that the action will actually take place.

Obviously, it takes some effort to turn the good ideas mentioned in the article into rituals, and then habits.  As I mentioned in a prior article, that may be the most difficult challenge of all.