Continuing on (I think wrapping up, for now) our “Mindset Matters” theme, this week we take a look at some skills we can learn that will help us to be more productive–both in the sense of getting stuff done and in the TPW sense of making a life that matters.
It's not too soon to think about how you're going to start 2017. Kick off the new year with a group of motivated women like you, in one of my paid The Productive Woman Mastermind groups. If you’re looking for encouragement, motivation, and accountability in achieving your goals and moving forward in a life that matters, you'll find it there. TPW Mastermind groups are small, to allow maximum participation and benefit. New groups will start after the first of the year, but the groups are being formed in November and December, and spaces are limited, so get on the list now–visit the Work with Me page on the website for information and a link to the short online application. Questions? Email me!
Productivity skills versus productivity tools
It's easy fall into the trap of believing that tools are the secret to productivity — with the right software or notebook we will suddenly be productive. The truth is none of the tools will help us if we don’t have the skills. Productive attitudes, beliefs, and habits are what will help us to be productive. One writer, in an
The truth is none of the tools will help us if we don’t have the skills we need to use them effectively. Productive attitudes, beliefs, and habits are what will help us to be productive.
One writer, in an article called “Your Skill Training Plan for Productivity,” says, “We need to sit down and look at what's really stopping us from getting things done. A lot of the time, because we simply don't have the skills required to be productive, like speaking a language, cooking, playing chess…being productive is not an instinctual thing we're born with. It's something you learn and you get good at with time. I really believe that.
Merriam-Webster defines skill as “the ability to do something that comes from training, experience, or practice.” In other words, skills are learned.
Many people say, “I’m just not organized,” or, “I’m not good at being productive,” or, “I’m not good at managing all the things coming at me.” In episode 112 we talked about a few beliefs that support a productive life. Perhaps we need to add to our list of productive beliefs this one:
“I can learn the skills I need to know to become productive.”
We need to realize that nobody is born organized. But we can learn.
Here are a few skills I believe we can learn to make our lives more productive.
We can learn the skills we need to be productive
1. Organizing Your Space and Stuff
If you want to make a meaningfully productive life it is essential to know how to organize your space and stuff. We've all lost time looking for misplaced items. According to one article, “As much as 30 percent of working time today is spent looking for misplaced items.”
Highly productive people “have systems in place to find what they want when they want it, and can quickly locate the information needed to support their activities” (from “10 Traits of Highly Productive People“). They're able to locate the materials and resources they need to stay on top of life. Organizing your calendar and time is a critical skill in helping regain otherwise lost time, which you can then devote to things that really matter to you.
There are many resources to help you develop this skill. Check out:
- Lisa Woodruff's Organize 365 website and podcast
- Vanessa Hayes, the professional organizer who was our guest on episode 42
- Monika Kristofferson, another professional organizer who was our guest on episode 39
- Rashelle Isip, a productivity pro who visited TPW on episode 110
- Julie Morgenstern‘s excellent book, Organizing from the Inside Out
2. Seing the Big Picture
The most productive way to work is to begin with the end in mind. You need to be able to envision the end and believe you can achieve it. Envisioning the future you want is really a skill. This helps you to avoid detours. For help in casting that vision and creating a life plan, check out Michael Hyatt’s “Best Year Ever” or Erin Condren’s Life Planner. These tools can help you to come up with a plan on purpose and look at the big picture.
No one can or should do everything. When you try to do it all, you deprive others of opportunities and get overwhelmed yourself. If a task is more suited to someone else’s skills, then we can delegate that responsibility. We might have a hard time asking for help because we feel guilty doing so or we just don’t know how.
Inc.com shares “6 Ways to Delegate More Effectively“:
- Don’t look for perfection
- Provide complete job instructions
- Stop believing you’re the only one who can do the job properly
- Focus on teaching skills
- Check on progress
- Say thank you to the people who have accepted the responsibility
There is a whole web page on wikiHow dedicated to explaining “How to Delegate.” If you're interested in this skill, this article is worth reading. The first step the article recommends is to set your ego aside. It's important to understand you are not the only one that can do it. It also recommends learning to trust others, as this will free up some of your time if you can let go of certain tasks.
We need to be aware of what we want and what is going on around us. It is easy to walk through life with our heads down, just getting stuff done without really thinking about whether what we're doing is getting us where we want to go. The answer to this is to develop the skills of mindfulness and awareness. We've talked about this recently, on episode 108, for example.
Consider keeping a journal or a record of how you felt, what you did, and changes you might like to make. This causes you to think and encourages awareness. Use mindfulness triggers, such as a stoplight, or an alarm at work, that remind you pause and consider if you are using your time in the best manner.
No matter how much we have on our plate, we can only do one thing at a time. A key to productivity is the ability to focus on that one thing, and put everything else aside. Dan Goleman, Ph.D., author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says “The more focused we are, the more successful we can be at whatever we do. And, conversely, the more distracted, the less well we do…the ability to focus is like a mental muscle. The more we work it out, the stronger it becomes…” (from “The Four Basic Moves to Strengthen Focus“).
Dr. Goleman writes about a “focus workout,” resulting from research at Emory University, that can strengthen that focus “muscle.” The focus workout follows these simple steps:
- Bring your focus to your breath.
- Notice that your mind has wandered off.
- Disengage from that train of thought.
- Bring your focus back to your breath and hold it there.
- The next time your mind wanders off and you notice that you’re thinking about, say, your lunch rather than your breath, repeat that basic mental repetition again and again.
According to Dr. Goleman, this exercise will strengthen the brain’s circuitry, centered in the prefrontal cortex, that both puts your attention where you want it to go, and brings it back when you wander off.
Dr. Goleman has created a resource for more exercises for the focus muscle called Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence, a series of guided exercises to help people of all ages hone their concentration, stay calm, and better manage emotions.
Julie Morgenstern (mentioned earlier), productivity expert & author of Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life and Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule–and Your Life, recommends a couple of ways to improve your focus in an article she published on TheMuse.com, including the suggestion to avoid computers for the first and last hour of each day. Our constant connectedness can distract us from things that need to get done.
6. Self-Management / Self-Discipline
Much of what we struggle with in building a life that matters is in our own heads. We have to learn first to recognize when our mind is wandering down a negative, non-productive path, and try to turn our thinking toward best-case scenarios. One of the things that has helped me most, when I find myself being unproductive in my thinking, or feeling discouraged, is to listen to an episode of Brooke Castillo's Life Coach School Podcast. Just about any episode of that podcast helps me turn my thinking around.
If we can learn to manage our minds, and be aware of when our thinking is headed in the wrong direction, then we can swap our mindset for a more positive way of thinking.
We also need to have self-discipline. We need to manage our actions and do the hard tasks first. We need be aware of what productivity pitfalls we are prone to, and have a plan in place to deal with them.
Another technique for increasing our productivity is creating structure, both in our space and in the use of our time. For example, having a place for everything and developing the discipline to always put things back where they go.
Another way to help us create structure in our life is by scheduling time for certain tasks to certain days. You may have heard of Mike Vardy’s themed days. Over time this helps us to be more productive. Having structure helps us develop the skill of self-discipline.
We can take very small steps toward developing self-discipline. Check out Stephen Guise’s excellent book, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, for ideas of how to take small steps toward developing the self-discipline you want.
7. Saying No
Many of us are not good at saying no. Why is the skill of saying no gracefully important?
- It gives someone else a chance to contribute
- The ability to say a purposeful “no” is necessary, for our “yes” to have any meaning.
- Sometimes saying yes will overtax your health, your time, and your family.
- Saying no to some things–even good things–leaves room for better things.
- Your time is just as valuable as the person who asks you for help or time.
If you have a hard time saying no, you can practice different ways of saying no in the mirror. (Check out episode 8 for more suggestions and resources to help you develop this skill.)
8. Letting Go
In order to live a productive, meaningful life, we need to learn how to recover when we fail, let go of past mistakes, and move forward. In episode 28, we determined that failure isn’t fatal, and more recently, in episode 112, we discussed the fact that failure is just proof we tried.
Brené Brown wrote a whole book called Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution, about her studies of people who’ve bounced back from epic failures. She says, “Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.”
Another great resource on this topic is from Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries. In his article, “The Essential Guide for Recovering from Failure,” he says that to bounce back from failure, we need to first recognize, and then treat, the wounds failure inflicts, encouraging us to:
- Revive your self-worth.
- Remind yourself of what success would mean. He says, “Recharge your motivation by reconnecting to the reasons you began pursuing your goal in the first place.”
- Focus on factors within your control. Winch says, “Most failures are related to inadequate planning, poor preparation, and insufficient effort. Figure out what was lacking in your planning, how you can be better prepared in the future, and how and where you can invest more effort.”
- Reframe the failure as a single incident. This failure doesn’t define who you are as a person.
Another helpful process is described in “On the Rebound: 5 Steps to Recover from Failure“:
- Accept the failure
- Reflect on the Root Cause
- Take Responsibility
- Implement New Processes
- Set a New Goal
Most important, learn to let go of shame and move forward. It is not easy and we have to practice it over and over, but our ability to make a life that matters depends on our developing this skill.
What do you think?
Do you need to work on developing these skills? Are there other productivity skills I didn’t mention that you think are important to learn? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Scroll down to the comments section below, post a comment or question in the TPW Community Facebook group, or email me.
A couple extra resources:
- 17 Essential Time Management Skills
- Check out this Pinterest pin: 15 Time Management Skills to Master Before You're 30
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