The Productivity Project

"When someone says they ‘don't have time’ for something what they're really saying is that a task isn't as important or attractive as whatever else they have on their plate. Every person gets twenty-four hours of time every day and gets to spend those twenty-four hours however he or she chooses."

- The Productivity Project, page 64

Oh, you’re interested in learning more about leading a more productive lifestyle? Maybe improve on working smarter, not harder? Buckle up. Picking up The Productivity Project is like being interested in tennis and picking up Serena Williams’s training schedule. It’s hard core, intense, and everything you need to take productivity either one step forward or a big giant Serena Williams leap ahead. The author literally went all in, and I mean all in, in researching and testing everything there is to know about productivity. The book is full of actionable steps or giant leaps that you can use in your day to day. Every chapter starts with a quick summary, estimated read time and ends with a challenge (even the layout is productive). What I really took away from this is how passionate Chris Bailey is about this subject. You can literally feel his energy come off the pages. Nothing gets me more jazzed than being around someone who is crushing their craft – the above quote is a great example. It also made me realize how important the intrinsic reward is when examining one’s productivity. Bailey wasn’t successful (sorry, spoiler alert) at every task he tried. Where he struggled the most was where it conflicted with his other greatest passion: food. So knowing that everything we do in life isn’t going to have to have high intrinsic reward, how do we still be productive? How do we ensure we are spending less time on those less interesting, though likely necessary tasks, and focus our best energy on the highest reward? Don’t fret, I’ve summed up my top actions below.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Work Work Work Work Work

"Productivity techniques exist to help you work smarter. But they're only useful when you still do the work."
- The Productivity Project, page 157

When I read the above quote, I think I actually said “thank you” out loud. Productivity is such a meaty topic that all professionals, teams, management, consultants continually eat up. I think many people could relate to at least one experience being in a meeting or part of a discussion on all the ways that people can work smarter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s super valuable and I took away some great Insights to share with you. However, at the end of the day you still need to accomplish something, there needs to be results. Productivity equals accomplishing and busyness is not invited. Procrastination starts to rear its head when a task is boring, frustrating, difficult, unstructured or ambiguous, lacking in personal meaning, or lacking in intrinsic reward (not fun or engaging). In other words, it can happen often. Procrastination can become a (bad) habit where you may be procrastinating without even realizing it. Translation: lost precious minutes that could be used oh so much more wisely. In terms of being able to accomplish more or work smarter, my personal demon is procrastination. My Insights below are how I am going to battle. So while naturally an optimist, the worst case scenario is that you’re going to spend more time considering being productive than actually being productive. So let me challenge you to commit to and complete a 25 minute productive task, post reading the summary, where you are creating a result. You got this.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Shrink it

"Parkinson's law states that your work expands to fit the amount of time you have available for it."
- The Productivity Project, page 123

I can only speak for myself, but how often when you give yourself an hour to do something you become so amazing and manage to accomplish not only your intended task but three more?! For me that is not often and if I do finish early I tend to reward myself with procrastination. How about when your boss says “so I am going to need that in 30 minutes, the meeting got bumped up.” Now suddenly you have superpowers and you’ve just nailed the task in no time. Tasks with low reward or importance will continue to drag on. The same can be said for really large, daunting tasks. You’re overwhelmed with where to begin so you just hang out with procrastination instead. Shrinking your time is such an easy actionable tool that your future self will love. Side note: the author talks about setting up your future self for success in detail and my future self would like to say how great she thinks that is. All you have to do is block out the time you would normally set aside for a task and shrink it. This brings a sense of urgency and purpose to your task. Similarly for the second example where you have big task ahead of you, start with 25 minutes first. Once you’ve done that, go from there. Those are the steps, if you’re ready for the Serena leap you can try “Pomodoro Time.” Basically you work for 25 minutes straight, take 5, do that four times and then take a 15 minute break. Rinse. Repeat. Not only are you now feeling productive, but you actually are! Future self is throwing out high fives.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Take back control

"Your head is not for holding ideas it is for having ideas."
- The Productivity Project, page 149

Sometimes we just have a lot we want to do: short term, long term, high and low returns, personal tasks, professional goals… I am overwhelmed just thinking about it. So how do we literally “dump” this list from our brains so it we can focus on the productive things we have at hand? We’re going old school here –get out the pen and paper. Write it down, get it all out. The simple task of just externalizing your internal lists opens up the ability for you to then focus on what you need to be doing. So if you’re friend procrastination keeps popping up making you feel bad about all the other tasks you have on your plate, invite him over for a shortened amount of time and have a go. Beware though! This can easily be a trap of busyness trying to pretend it is productivity. You’re going to feel really great about your list and you will easily think you’ve been productive. You haven’t! Not until you start scratching some of those things off the list. The above is at the most basic and immediate level. If you’re ready for the Serena leap, which involves prioritizing your top three tasks daily and weekly and staying aligned. This is in part taking your massive brain dump and starting to determine how much time, energy and attention you will spend towards your highest and lowest return tasks. Now you’re balancing your time on what you really want to accomplish. Future self for the win. (Again!)

It is important to reflect on your productivity and to consider opportunities to make changes or improvements, but don’t let that come at the price of actually not accomplishing anything. I am going to sneak in one last actionable recommendation and that is to pay attention. Be mindful of what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and what the impacts are. If you’ve got a good thing going, keep it going. But if you don’t, then you have to change it up and I don’t just mean talking about working smarter strategies. By paying attention, externalizing your tasks and doing the work in a focused time you will with no doubt see results in your accomplishments. Because challenges are fun, I am going to add one more and that is to pick one of the actionable tools provided and try it in the next 24 hours and write down the top three benefits and, most importantly, what you were able to accomplish as a result.

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Alison Spitzer

ABOUT Alison Spitzer

Alison is a Planning and Budgeting Finance Manager in Healthcare. Her colleagues will describe her as "not your typical accountant." She is passionate about driving success and building highly effective teams...
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