I have a complicated relationship with productivity. On one hand, productivity can be about redeeming the time and making the most of my life. Thinking about productivity can push me toward stewardship, maximizing my ability to spend time on things that matter most. On the other hand, productivity can quickly veer off in the direction of neurotic achievement and chronic stress; a sign that I am over-identified with my own accomplishments and attaching too much of my self-worth to my ability to get things done.
When I think about how I put my hands to my own life in order to intentionally shape it, I prefer rich words like: stewardship, cultivation, flourishing, faithfulness, peace, order, calm, and limits. When I see a headline like “6 Habits that Help With Your Daily Productivity,” I expect a different kind of list to emerge: maximization, leveraging, pragmatism, success, winning, bigger, better, higher, and faster. Productivity is a word that can go either way for me. I click on most of the links I see to articles with the word “productivity” in the title. Most of the time I find things off the latter list.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when I read this article on Fast Company by Gwen Moran, “6 Habits of People Who Accomplish Everything on their To-Do Lists“. It reads much more like stewardship than pragmatism to me. What I like about her article is that it is more focused on what goes on the list in the first place than on what helps you get more done. Here’s a synopsis of what she noticed in people who get through their daily task lists.
1. THEY KNOW THEIR WORK STYLES
This is one of the most difficult things for me to master, and I’m definitely a work in progress. If we observe our own work patterns, noting when things go well, or not so well, and why (that’s the key… why), we can change the way we order our day. Are you better at certain kinds of tasks in the morning? Do you need to get out of the office at mid-afternoon? What if you went straight to the gym after lunch, then worked a little later. What could you do if you got up an hour earlier? Could you front load your day with things that give you energy, and help you feel calm?
2. THEY KNOW HOW LONG THINGS TAKEThis is one of my most consistent issues. I drastically underestimate the time it will take me to do most tasks. I’m usually off by approximately 18.2% (my confession about this is here). Lately I’ve been building my daily to-do list on a template that only allows for 5 tasks and no more. This seems to help.
3. THEY LOOK AT THE CONTEXT OF THE DAY
Seeing my day in context is such an important strategy for managing my time. Days filled with meetings should have short to-do lists. I also think naming the day’s priority is helpful: i.e., today I’m about sermon prep, or writing this article, or giving time to my staff. Context is key because helps me to not get down on myself if I don’t get to everything on the list. If I know what my main thing is for that day, and I’ve made the main thing the main thing then I’m okay with a list that isn’t completed.
4. THEY HAVE A “JUST ENOUGH” LIST
Knowing the difference between urgent and important is key, but just as important is knowing when I’m the bottleneck in a process (I am so often the bottleneck… yikes). I shudder to think how often other people are waiting on me to weigh in, or produce on a critical task so that they can move something forward. This is a new lens through which I need to view my list. If I star the tasks that will help someone else get moving on a key task and start with those things, I’m impacting the productivity of two people.
5. THEY BUILD MOMENTUM
Front load the task lists with tasks that are easy to complete. This is big for me. I try to set myself up with at least one simple item.
6. THEY DELEGATE AND DELETE
Delegating is the fastest way to get things off your to-do list. My ability to delegate comes and goes, and it’s usually connected to how well I’ve done step #3. If I’ve bumped a task to the next day more than once, I start looking for a way to delegate it to someone else, or delete it altogether.