I was reading a question posed on Mark Forster’s forum about whether doing the opposite of what others generally do is effective when it comes to productivity, and I realized that I have found that it is. Here is the advice I have NOT followed with great results.
#1 Collect all your to-do’s into one trusted system.
The gurus who preach this haven’t met people like me who can produce a potential task a second.
Every time I’ve followed this advice, I’ve become overwhelmed and have shut down. It becomes impossible for me to sort out the things I must do from the things I would like to do. A someday/maybe list within the same trusted system doesn’t work for me either. I need to keep all of my ideas and potential tasks in a separate place, so I don’t become confused. Right now, all of my legitimate tasks go into ToDoist and everything else is added to Evernote. Evernote is a great place for me to put things to cool off. I find there are very few of them that I want to do anything with when I review them later.
While it’s a good idea not to have your tasks in many different places, keeping absolutely everything in one place keeps me from getting things done.
#2 Get everything done on today’s list.
I’m like so many of David Allen‘s clients who are desperate for a “win.” But defining win as getting everything done on my list for today does not work for me.
Predicting the demands on my time for any given day is as accurate as a weather forecast. Things happen. People and circumstances can keep me from getting everything done, but so can I. I have no way of knowing when I will run out of gas physically or emotionally. Of course, I do what I can to improve my energy levels, but some days I’m unpredictable. I suddenly need a nap or idle entertainment to recharge.
When I use this principle of completion to evaluate my productivity, I feel like a failure and am less motivated, not more. Instead, I schedule my tasks using Timeful and if I get MOST of my tasks done for the day, I count it as a win.
#3 Don’t procrastinate.
Of course, there are times when procrastination makes more work for us and leads to strained relationships and poor self-esteem. But I’ve learned to be grateful for procrastination.
Procrastinating has kept me from working on projects that I wasn’t committed to. Sure it would have been better if I had said no in the first place, but sometimes I don’t consciously realize that I don’t want to or shouldn’t be doing something. Procrastinating has also lessened my workload. Many times I have put off doing something only to discover that it didn’t need to be done or someone else did it. Procrastinating on purchases has saved me money as well. I buy a tiny fraction of things I add to my wish list on Amazon. I allow the desire of the moment to cool. Mark Forster’s Do It Tomorrow is contrary to the advice not to procrastinate with excellent results.
Procrastinating isn’t always a bad thing and can actually help me get more done.
#4 Delegate anything you’re not good at.
I can appreciate the thought behind this advice and sometimes it really does help you get more done. But most of the time it keeps me from accomplishing what I want.
I’m someone whose energy and achievement are directly tied to being challenged. I would rather delegate many things I AM good at, because they’re boring and tedious. Things I’m not good at inspire me. I want to learn how to do them so I can get more done. A second problem I’ve found with delegating things I’m not good at is I lose control. My productivity slows down on specific projects as I wait for the delegated work to be done. I can also be taken advantage of by people who know more than I do, because they can tell me how long something will take and how much it will cost and I won’t know any better.
While delegating is the right choice in some circumstances, I’ve found that much of the time I shouldn’t delegate what I’m not good at.
#5 Don’t change systems frequently.
The typical advice is to find one approach to managing your tasks and stick with it. Fiddling with your system just wastes time, the gurus say. But as someone who intentionally changed systems nearly every week during A Year of Living Productively, I learned that doing the opposite has been very effective for me.
Looking back at the times I’ve changed approaches to tasks, one thing is clear: I didn’t make changes during times of high productivity. Instead, I made these changes when my productivity and motivation were low. I would read a new book, try a new app, or scour the Internet for a new way of thinking about work and BAM, my productivity would dramatically increase. I got out of bed excited to use my new system and found myself getting twice as much done.
Rather than being a means of wasting time, changing systems has been a consistently effective way for me to get more done.
How about you? Do you do the opposite of the standard advice with good results?
I share more contrarian principles in A Rebel’s Guide to Productivity.