I receive many requests asking me how I seem to accomplish so much in such a short period of time. People who know me well would be more than willing to inform these knowledge seekers know that I am far less impressive than I seem. My flaws are numerous and my failings are considerable.
However, if there is an area in which I seem to have some skill, it is in the area of productivity.
I do manage to get a lot done.
In response to these requests, I’ve decided to post productivity tips on my blog. The purpose is to be helpful to readers who are searching for ways to get more done, but the real purpose is to assemble enough of these posts to construct the skeleton of a future book.
See that? My first tip.
I’m attempting to be productive by writing about productivity in small bursts with the hope that these small burst will someday result in a book.
The old “two birds with one stone” trick.
But the real productivity tip that I wanted to offer today is this:
Don’t fall behind.
It seems exceptionally obvious, but this is extremely important and often overlooked.
Correcting papers is a good example of this that I see a lot. If a teacher allows herself to fall behind on a week or two of correcting, the mountain of uncorrected papers transforms (in many people’s minds) into a long term project that will require a specifically assigned period of time to complete.
As a result, if that same teacher finds herself with 10 free minutes in her day (which happens a lot), it is far less likely that she will attempt to use those 10 minutes productivity in order to make a tiny dent in the enormous pile, since the progress made will feel meaningless.
Rather than working for 10 minutes, that time will likely be wasted, and those small slivers of time add up quickly.
I used to work with a teacher who had to take a sick day before writing her report cards because the mountain of grading that she had required a full day of work.
But if you don’t fall behind with your correcting and the pile of ungraded papers remains manageable, then the few extra minutes found during the day can truly be productive, and it’s far more likely that you will use these few extra minutes for productive purposes.
The same can be said about so many tasks.
Laundry is another good example. If you don’t allow dirty clothing to collect in enormous piles, and if you don’t allow folded clothing to fill numerous laundry baskets, then you will be in a better position to tackle a small load or put your clothes away when you find yourself with a few minutes to kill.
I put most of my folded clothing away while brushing my teeth or waiting for my wife to get ready for bed. This would otherwise be unproductive time, but because the amount of my clothing in the laundry basket is never overwhelming, I can complete enough of the job to make the time feel well spent.
This also applies to tasks like cleaning the garage, cleaning a closet, cleaning out your car or organizing a pantry. If you never allow any of these areas to go to hell, then you can use a few minutes here and a few minutes there to tidy a corner and make marginal progress but still feel like you’ve made a difference.
When you feel like you are able to make a difference, you are more likely to use that time productively.
But once your garage or basement or closet or car reaches the point that it will require hours to clean, you are far less likely to utilize the slivers of time between life to make progress.
This is not to say that you can’t or won’t. Writing a novel is an enormous, unwieldy, yearlong process (or longer), but if I find myself with 10 free minutes, I will sit down and attempt to write four good sentences.
But this type of productive vigilance is difficult achieve.
It probably requires a obsessive-compulsive personality combined with an abusively persistent existential crisis and an ongoing, incessant childhood desire to prove my worth to inattentive parents who are dead or have forgotten about me long ago.
Wow. I never thought of it like that before.
Most normal people would not approach the writing of a novel (or any enormous task) this way.
But everyone’s day is filled with slivers of time that are often wasted because the jobs that need to get done have become too large to make the use of that time seem meaningful.
It’s in these slivers of time that I get a lot done.
It’s where I get ahead.
It’s where I gain ground.
I take advantage of the 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there, and at the end of the day, these bits of time add up.
Part of my ability to use this time effectively is my unwillingness to allow any task to become too overwhelming.
It’s a mental game that requires constant vigilance. It requires an awareness of how you perceive progress and what holds you back from being productive.
If you keep the job small and manageable, you are far more likely to use the slivers of free time throughout your day more productively, and these few moments will add up quickly.