Productivity Is Not The Point

I’m a productivity trainer and coach. So, it might surprise you to know that I actually don’t care about whether:

Your inbox is empty.

Your office is neat.

You have an up-to-date to-do list.

Your files are in order.

You prioritize like a pro. 

You avoid multitasking.

You plan in 90-day periods.

You have a morning routine.

 

I don’t care about those things. Well… not exactly.

Let me explain. 

I’ve often wondered why a lot of productivity training makes me uneasy. I mean, I teach productivity. That’s my thing. 

Here’s what bugs me. “Productivity” is often taught (get ready for sweeping generalization...) as a kind of moral imperative by people who can’t comprehend how in the world you could ever have a messy desk or an exploding inbox.

There can be an undertone of superiority that sends a subtle message that these “productivity” techniques are part and parcel of good character, like personal hygiene and telling the truth. To me, much of corporate productivity training has a weird goody-two-shoes vibe.

Why does this bother me? I mean, being on top of that inbox is important, ISN'T IT?!! 

It bothers me because it misses the point. 

 

Productivity is not an end in itself. It is the means. Inbox-Zero is not the point. So, no, I don’t ultimately care about your inbox. 

What I care about is your power. Productivity is about power. 

 

Okay, let's face it: “power” is a loaded word, and many of us have a visceral reaction to it. In fact, we shrink from it. It makes us a little (or a lot) uneasy. Why? Perhaps it’s due to the barrage of cultural messages about power. 

I mean, just look at the news: it is a daily diary of abuse of power – and always has been. And so, it stands to reason that we can unconsciously conflate power with its abuse. No wonder it makes us uncomfortable. In the social, economic, or political sphere, power is a pie and everyone is vying for a tiny piece, a little sliver. 

In the realm of productivity, however, I’m speaking about power in a more stripped down, basic, elemental sense. From this perspective, consider that power is neutral. Power is natural. Power is necessary. 

It fuels. It energizes. It plows the field. It turns on the lights.

It’s hard to get up in the morning without power.

Why do I teach productivity? I teach it as a means for people to access and exercise their natural, inherent power. 

What is power? Power is freedom and impact. 

Power is about agency – the capacity to affect an outcome, to move a needle, or to find it in a haystack.

Power is the capacity to make a difference, or a "dent."  Power is potent, but not flashy. This natural power I’m talking about is generative, beneficial, constructive. You might say, productive.

The reason I teach productivity is encapsulated in that moment when I’m working with someone to set up a way to manage their email and tasks and it happens:  I see this flash of light in their eyes (I'm not kidding.) It's that split second they realize that there’s a way to regain control over what has seemed out of control. I adore that moment. 

What is that flash of light in their eyes really? It is the recognition of their power. The power is back on. Lights on. Game on. They can see their way to greater agency. And that translates to greater impact, contribution, fulfillment, and meaning.

For me, that’s the magic. Something as mundane as getting an inbox under control or upgrading a to-do list or planning or managing one’s energy opens the door to a reservoir of personal power.

This isn't power you store up to use in some dramatic effort. This is the day-to-day power of making choices, taking action, and giving your best right where you are. 

So, yes, I actually do care about your inbox, and your office, and your habits. I care about how you ignite your motivation, manage your mindset and your energy. I care about how you connect and communicate. And I care about the method you use to fulfill your commitments, goals, responsibilities, and aspirations each day. I care about your productivity.

But not as an end to itself. 

It’s about what that productivity enables. The work and life it powers. 


Want to open the door to greater power (read agency, impact, meaning)?

Then, consider whether the self-paced, online course, Workflow Mastery: The Disciplines of Accomplishment  might be just the thing for you (or for others you know).... For details go here: 

What You Really Need to Be Productive: Read this before you download another productivity app or buy another organizer

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Yes, I admit: I’m pretty much a sucker for the latest productivity app.

In fact, while writing this, I hopped into the iPhone app store to see if I could find how many productivity apps there are. I couldn’t find that number. But I did download today’s featured productivity app that allows you to take visual notes … I mean, how awesome is that?  

But I digress. 

I know I’m not alone in my productivity-app love. It’s not accidental that productivity is a featured category in the app store (regardless of device affiliation). Productivity apps are moneymakers.

And if digital isn’t your jam, there’s a universe of analogue options: from ingenious productivity journals, to classic moleskin notebooks, to trendy organizers.

The promise of improved productivity in the palm of your hand – whether digital or physical – is enticing, to say the least.

Yes, I download A LOT of productivity apps. But, I also admit: I don’t use most of them. 

 

It’s easy to get seduced into thinking that an app is going to save the day, or that an organizer will get you accomplishing things like there’s no tomorrow. 

But, many of these cool tools end up abandoned after the novelty wears off. 

Why? Because they’re the cart – not the horse…. And you need the horse, if you want to get anywhere. Obviously.

Now, I’m not here to dash your productivity dreams, or dish on apps and organizers. Far from it.

I’m here to bring a dose of reality to the magical thinking that makes us believe (again) that a cool tool or groovy gadget is the magic bullet. 

I’m here to bring a dose of reality to the magical thinking that makes us believe (again) that a cool tool or groovy gadget is the magic bullet. 

 

The best paintbrush won’t have you turning out masterpieces. The high-tech speedo won’t have you laps ahead of your competition. 

Yes, these tools may aid. They’re the cart. But they’re powered by the horse – the artist’s or athlete’s method. The way they play their game. Their technique

If you want to power up your productivity and make accomplishment a daily routine (count me in): you need a method. Your own “workflow” method. 

To be clear, you have a method. Everyone has a method (even if they don’t call it that). Mostly, we don’t notice how we get things done – we just get busy….

Most people have some sort of jerry-rigged habits – conscious and unconscious – that get them through the day. Maybe the method includes:

Working out of the inbox

Writing (or rewriting) a daily to-do list

A schedule packed with meetings

Reacting to whatever comes up (you know, being responsive)

Putting tasks on the calendar (and then moving them forward when they don’t get done)

Using a blend of sticky notes and their awesome memory

Holding check-in meetings

And so on . . . 

Look at the past few days… and you’ll start to detect your method. You do have a method, a technique, the way you do stuff, the way you handle your work and life.

The question is: Does your method work

Does your method reliably deliver the results you want? 

Does your method leave you satisfied at the end of the day? 

Does your method keep you focused on what matters? 

Does your method give you confidence that you’re on top of things and nothing is “falling through the cracks”? 

Does your method put you in control? 

Does your method keep you energized?

Does your method have you playing your game the way you want?

 

Or… is their maybe, possibly, some room for improvement?  

 

As the saying goes, if you want a different result, you have to do something differently. 

Or put another popular way: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. 

If you want a different – better – result, then look at your method, your technique – and refine it, upgrade it. 

So before you download another productivity app, get your productivity game together. 

Make sure you have a workable method you trust. Establish an effective technique to achieve your goals, aspirations, and intentions – on the daily, as they say. 

A method is made up of some basic rules you follow – rules of engagement. (And for those rule-resisters, remember these are YOUR rules.)

Consider your workflow method as setting up the game board of work (and life). Without rules, there’s no way to win – you’re just looping aimlessly through Candy Land, or filling up your car with pink and blue pegs in the Game of Life…. 

 

Your method (in the madness) should help you:

 

1| Achieve crystal clarity. 

If you’re going to bet on a horse, put your money on Clarity. 

Imagine trying to use your GPS to get somewhere – but you’re not exactly sure where you’re going…. OR the exact coordinates of where you are now. Sure, you may know you want to go in that general direction (let’s say, “West”), and you know the vicinity of your current location. But, GPS doesn’t really work that way. Siri will end up driving you up a wall, but not to your destination. 

Many underestimate the power of clarity until they experience the immediate boost, the sense of progress (and relief) that happens simply by getting clear. (Now THAT’S magic).

I see this all the time with my clients. The first step of getting crystal clear has them flying high. All of a sudden, what seemed vague, or looming, or overwhelming, or inscrutable is now doable, possible, within reach.

Without clarity, you’re smack dab in the fog. You know you’re busy and have a lot on your plate – but you’re not quite sure of the best move to make. 

Your method should deliver crystal clarity about what is actually on your plate – the actions, projects, goals, requests, responsibilities you have committed to. 

Only then, will you be able to

make clear-headed decisions on the fly,

direct and redirect your efforts,

say yes or no with confidence,

communicate persuasively,

and see the forest AND the trees.

With the escalating pace and volume of information, it’s easy for things to get muddled quickly. The constant flow of new requests, opportunities, challenges, and demands can cloud and confuse. Clarity is gold. And it’s at a premium in today’s noisy world. 

Clarity allows you to navigate with confidence. Clarity fuels that horse.

And one more thing. When it comes to clarity, you can’t fix it and forget it. Clarity requires an everyday, dynamic engagement with your world. Things do change. Fast. And so your method must give you the capacity to recalibrate to clarity quickly. 

Clarity is a virtue and will take you far. The vague rarely wins the day. Without clarity, you’ll be a cart without a horse, up a creek without a paddle… you get the idea.  

So get a method that delivers clarity. Every day.

 

2| Make decisions.

Decisions are the meter of progress. Each day, you're confronted with…

So. Many. Decisions. 

Yet, it's easy to put decisions off for another day. In fact, in my work with others (and myself), I’ve noticed a rampant lack of decision-making. This takes a toll, not only on progress – but also on energy. When indecision piles up, it drains, stresses, and overwhelms.

Typically, people avoid making decisions (even in the simplest things) for two primary reasons: 1) They don't want to limit their options; or 2) They don't want to make a mistake.  

Here's the interesting thing about decisions: They almost always help you move forward, even if the decision is "wrong." It’s far easier to redirect when you're moving, than when you're standing still, or sitting out. Basic physics. 

Your method should help you make smart decisions.

For example, people’s email is a pile of indecision. What if you had a rule that when you read an email you must make a decision about what you will do next  – rather than push that decision into your future…. by going on to read the next email – that, of course, is more interesting than the one you’re reading now…? 

Radical, yes. In fact, it might revolutionize your productivity. Just a little rule about making decisions on email could change your game for the better. 

 

3| Prioritize confidently.

It’s easy to show up each day and get busy. There’s no end to the things calling your name. But are you doing the things that matter – or defaulting to the loudest voice? 

Your method should help you determine what is priority for your time and attention. 

Now, let’s be real. A priority isn’t etched in stone. No task or project is inherently a priority. A priority exists in relation to the whole– everything elseyou need to do. Priorities fluctuate and shift with the constant tide of information and constraints of time, energy, and resources.

You need a method that helps you assess these factors on the run, and determine where to put your focus at any given moment.

 

4| Optimize energy.

Without energy: game over. It’s that simple. (No horse. No cart. No go.)

Your method should optimize your energy. At the end of the day, you should feel energized. Not drained.

All living things have a biological clock, their own beat, their own ebb and flow. And while humans generally fall into certain typical patterns related to times of robust versus receding energy, each person has their own chronotype – their own circadian rhythm. 

Yes, there are external realities that we may not have control over. However, your method should help you match your energy to the task, as much as possible. 

For example, when your energy is strongest (often at the beginning of the day), do the work that requires concentration and cognitive muscle, rather than waste it on scrolling through email or Instagram.

When your energy is lagging, do those easier, routine tasks. 

Your method should help you design your day to bring your best game, the optimum energy for the play.

 

5| Make progress on the strategic.

In the default mode, the urgent and immediate always win. That strategic thing, that bigger effort that isn’t in your face but could have real impact – gets relegated to, you know, another day. 

Your method should promote step-by-step progress on those big things that will make a difference. 

 

6| Focus.

Productivity requires focus. And yet, it’s no secret that focus is hard to come by – with all the bells and whistles, dings and pings that accompany your day. Your attention span continues to dwindle as the notifications accelerate. And if something or someone isn’t interrupting you, it’s likely you’ll interrupt yourself with a quick check of your phone or the news or the latest productivity app. 

Like the blinders on a racehorse, your method should help you protect against the daily distractions, and keep you moving forward in your lane. 

 

7|  Run your email (instead of letting it run you).

If there’s anything that’s crying out for a rule, it’s email. Left unchecked, it takes over and calls the shots. 

Hanging out all day in your inbox puts you squarely in the reaction mode, at the effect of other people’s agendas. 

Email also earns the award for Best Procrastination Device Ever. It lulls you into thinking you’re doing something when really you’re just avoiding that paper you have to write, or that plan you need to create, or that difficult conversation you need to have, or that hard stuff. 

Run right, email is a fantastic tool of the trade. Without rules, you become email’s tool – hopping with every notification. 

 

So, before you reach for that new productivity app or organizer….. 

First, make sure you have a good horse (a sound method). Then, you can add the cart (that app or organizer). 

We love the cart – but we need the horse. Get a clear, workable method, some simple rules to power your efforts, to play your game…. and progress and accomplishment will become routine.

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If you’re thinking that maybe an upgrade to your method is in order, I encourage you to consider the online course, Workflow Mastery: The Disciplines of Accomplishment

Question: Would you like to learn the basic techniques - a solid, simple method  - to: 

Achieve clarity…

Make decisions …

Prioritize confidently …

Focus…

Optimize your energy …

Make progress on the strategic …

Run your email (instead of letting it run you) …

And more… 

….as a matter of routine, so that you can achieve what matters most to you?

 

If so, the Workflow Mastery course may be for you.

I've taught this course to (by now) thousands of professionals in businesses and organizations globally. For some time, I've been wanting to bring this course to more people and not limit it to private training events only. 

And now: TADA! 

I'm happy to announce that the online version of the course is now open for enrollment. It will launch on July 1, 2018. (Doors to the course will close on July 7, 2018). 

A self-paced, online video course.

Designed to fit into your (obviously) busy schedule.

Click below for more information. See if this course might be just the help you need to get a method that really works. 

 

 

 

 

Want to Get into a Productive Cycle? Do this.

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Do you ever get to Friday wondering where the time went?

Do you sometimes feel frustrated that the thing you most wanted to get done - didn't (again)? Do you occasionally feel disapointed that procrastination got the best of you (again)? Do you sometimes close the week feeling discouraged that you didn't make the progress you wanted? 

Well, if this has ever been the story of your week, or if you simply want to end the week strong, energized by your accomplishments, then I have a technique for you. It's called front-loading.

"Front-load" means:

  1. To arrange or plan (a schedule, project, or process, for example) so that a large portion of the activity happens in an early period.
  2. To concentrate maximum effort (on an activity) at the outset. 

Front-loading is a super-simple method that can have you riding high by the time the weekend rolls around. Basically, it's deliberately loading the beginning of a time period (your day and your week) with high-impact work - the work that matters most. 

 

Front-load Your Week

Figure out what you most want to accomplish this week, then begin to work on it on Monday. (Yes, Monday).

What often happens is we have that important project or task that we want to get done and we chase it all week. We ease into the week and start thinking about it on Wednesday. Then, we get sidetracked by all interruptions and email and meetings... and... then it's Friday. Again. And, we haven't touched that thing we most wanted (or needed) to complete. 

But if you make some progress on Monday, you basically start out ahead of the game. 

 

Front-Load Your Day

But don't just front-load your week. Front-load your day. What do you most want to accomplish today? Spend the first hour of your day working on it. By 9:00 or 10:00 a.m., you'll be flying high. You'll have made progress on something that mattered. 

What do most people do with that first precious hour? Email. When you start with email, it's easy to get behind and find yourself pursuing that thing you most want to get done all day. And then, it's 6:00 p.m. and it's not done. So you stay late or "kick the can" to the next day. And so it goes. 

Front-loading your day makes sense from a cognitive perspective, too. That pre-frontal cortex -  that thinking, plotting, planning, conscious part of your brain - fatigues with use. That means as the day wears on, your thinking faculties wear down. Why not apply the strongest cognitive muscle to making progress on the things that matter? 

 

Front-loading is a simple technique that builds momentum and fuels motivation. 

When you make progress at the beginning of the day, and the beginning of your week, your motivation rises, setting up a productive cycle throughout the day and week.

These opening productive efforts have a compounding effect that spills into the rest of your day and week. Rather than chasing your goals all day and all week, you're keeping pace or maybe leading the pack. You're activating a productive cycle of progress. 


Front-loading also works well with things you are procrastinating on, or are dreading, or are just plain hard.

Front-load those "undesirables" and get them done. Then, it's smooth sailing all day and week. There is a famous quote by Mark Twain, "Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” The book Eat That Frog, by Brian Tracy, is inspired from that sentiment - essentially, do the hard stuff first. Get it over with and everything else will be easy. 


How you start matters. Just ask a competitive runner or swimmer or jockey. How you are out of the gate will make a difference in your race. 

Front-load your day and your week with the things that matter, the things that are hard, the things you're procrastinating on and you no longer will be spinning your wheels. You'll be igniting a natural, productive cycle... and cleaning up!

 

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Hey, you! Are you a go-getter, do-gooder, mover, shaker,  or a candlestick maker? 

Then, by all means, come join Productivity Power, a private Facebook Group focused on the art of accomplishment, the craft of productive work, the technique of creating the life you want. Join your crowd over at the 


 

 

Are You Leading or Lagging? How to Take Productive Measures

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It's true: what you measure matters. 

For starters, measuring something means you're paying attention to it. That alone is a big deal when you consider the daily deluge of information coming your way. When you measure something, you're singling it out. You're focusing on it. You're elevating it above the rest. You're giving that bit of information prominence and priority. You're saying it matters more. 

So, it stands to reason that people should measure the results they most want.

Want to lose a few pounds? Measure your weight.

Want to increase revenue? Measure sales.

Want to save money? Measure expenditures.

Want to become a more prolific writer? Measure the number of words you write. Or chapters you finish. Or papers you publish.

Want to provide your customers with great service? Measure their satisfaction.

 

Unfortunately, there's a sneaky flaw in this measurement method. It puts your attention on the wrong thing: the result. And there's nothing you can do about a result. It is what it is. It's a done deal.

Ironically, in an effort to make a result matter more by measuring it, you perpetuate powerlessness.

The measurement will make you either pleased or disappointed. Happy or sad. Proud or ashamed. Excited or frustrated. But this measurement will not position you, prime you, or empower you to achieve the result you're after.

Why? Because you're looking in the rear view mirror. Your eyes aren't on the road.

And while it's useful to see what happened, that kind of measurement is retrospective. It's a "lag measure." You're measuring something after the fact. Fait accompli. Que sera, sera.

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If you want what you measure to matter, then measure the action that's most likely to lead to the result you want, or what is known as a "lead measure." Lead measures put you back in the driver's seat. You're measuring the action that matters most in achieving the result you want. 

Consider productive habits, like exercise, or meditation, or flossing. These are lead measures. You've assessed that when you do that action repeatedly over time (habit), you have a high likelihood to achieve a particular outcome you want. 

I'm a member of a women's entrepreneur group called Women Who Wow, led by (awesome) business coach Michelle Pippin. She's a passionate and persistent advocate for "daily selling" - doing sales-related tasks each day. Why? Because it leads to an easy, inevitable flow of revenue. Daily selling is a lead measure. The more days that you engage in simple selling tasks, the greater likelihood in growing revenue. Make it a daily habit and watch your earnings rise.

While this may sound like common sense, it's often overlooked. It's easy to get fixated counting money going up or down. But you do this at a cost. You relinquish your agency to do something about it. 

It's easy to watch your weight going up or down. But that measure has no power over the scale. 

Yes, lag measures have their place. They are important. They help you determine if you're on track and making progress. Lag measures also help you verify the efficacy of the actions you're taking (i.e., are your lead measures really leading you there?)

Lag measures are easy to fall back on because they're obvious. Lead measures, on the other hand, take a little ingenuity. Basically, you're taking the result you want and re-engineering the path to get there. What action or actions, the more you do over time, increase the likelihood of achieving the result you want? The more I do x (action), the more likely I'll achieve y (result). 

To qualify as a lead measure, it must be predictive (likely to lead you to your goal) and something you have control over (i.e., you have control whether or not you do it). 

Let's put this into action... 

The Result (LAG MEASURE)

Start by identifying the result you're after, the goal you want to achieve. Ask yourself: What is one thing I want to accomplish, attain, maintain, improve, etc.?

This is your destination. This is your lag measure.

 

THE ActioN (LEAD MEASURE)

Once you identify the result you want, ask yourself: What action or actions that, the more I do consistently (e.g., daily, weekly), the more likely I am to achieve this result? 

This is how you will get to your destination. This is your lead measure.

(You may need to start by brainstorming a list and then selecting the action or actions that you determine have the greatest leverage and efficacy in getting you to your destination.)

For example,

Want to lose weight? Then, measure the number of days you stay within a specific calorie count. Or, measure the number of days you exercise for 30 minutes. 

Want to make progress on that strategic work you're not getting to? Measure the number of days you block out time on your schedule for that work - and then follow through. 

Want get a new job? Measure the number of resumes you send out each day. 

Want to have money for a down payment on a home? Measure the number of paychecks you set aside a percentage of your earnings. 

Want to be less stressed? Measure the number of days that you meditate, or exercise, or leave work on time.

Want to write a book? Measure the number of days you show up to write.

Want to run a marathon? Measure the number of days and the distance you run.

 

Apparently, comedian Jerry Seinfeld knows about the power of lead measures.

Years ago, when the sitcom Seinfeld had just started, software developer Brad Isaac met Jerry Seinfeld at a comedy club in New York. Isaac recounted his interaction with Seinfeld to Productivity Hacker.

He asked Seinfeld if he had any advice for a budding comedian. Seinfeld said that the way to be a better comedian is to write better jokes. And the way to write better jokes is to write every day. And then he gave Isaac his technique: He has a big wall calendar that includes the entire year. Every day that he writes he uses a red pen and marks a big "X" over the day. "After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.... Don't break the chain."

Don't break the chain. Seinfeld understands the power of lead measures. And what makes his lead measure work is that he makes it visible. He posts one simple lead measure - days writing - and this motivates him. 

In the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals, the authors speak of the importance of tracking lead measures, of keeping score:

People play differently when they are keeping score... They truly understand the connection between their performance and reaching their goal, and this changes the level at which they play.... They now want to win.

Years later, in an interview for NBC Nightly News, Seinfeld said:

If you’re more interested in what you have achieved or what your financial position enables you to do than that thing that got those things, then you’re screwed.

If you're serious about achieving your goals, then lead measures are no joking matter. 

What you measure matters. 

Process matters. Action matters. Consistency matters. Measure that - because that is where your unparalleled power is. 

Focus your attention on those efforts that will automatically deliver your goal to your door. Measure it. Then achieving your goals won't be hope or happenstance. You won't be measuring yourself against the unchangeable past. You'll be taking the lead and fashioning the future you want day by day. 

So, what do you want? And what will be your lead measure?


 
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Hey, you! Are you a go-getter, do-gooder, mover, shaker,  or a candlestick maker? 

Then, by all means, come join Productivity Power, a private Facebook Group focused on the art of accomplishment, the craft of productive work, the technique of creating the life you want. Join your crowd over at the Productivity Power Facebook Group.