A look more at the ‘why’ than the ‘how’ of Productivity.
Do you ever feel like you’re working on the wrong things?
Do you lose motivation half-way through a piece of work?
Do you have a strategy when adding to your To-Do-List or does everything go on it?
Have you ever tried to take a step back and think if there could be a different perspective you could take to get more and better stuff done?
If you ever find yourself asking these questions, this piece might be of interest.
In late 2017, I posted an article (and a podcast) focusing on 11 ways on How to get stuff done. I had been receiving questions from listeners asking how I was managing to keep all the balls in the air and release content on a regular basis. My response, jokingly (and true), was down to me having a lot of free time. I was single and didn’t have any kids. However, I did have a very busy day job, was podcasting regularly, was just finishing up a diploma in Executive Coaching, and was in the habit of signing up to adventure races and the like. From my viewpoint, I didn’t feel like I had productivity mastered (the opposite in fact), but when I stood back and looked at things objectively, my productivity was high. I recall a colleague at the time remark that I seemed to have “mastered time”.
In preparation for this piece, I took a quick glance back at the 11 approaches from 2017to see if they still hold true. Reassuringly, I still use all of them. One is sleep so I’m glad that’s happening and valued. Most of them are absolutely foundational to my productivity. Planning, exercise, creating lists, arising early, setting SMART goals, meditating and using the Pomodoro technique to hold me to account for 25 minutes (or however long I set it) to call out just a few more.
Then & Now!
Flash forward to the present moment. A lot has happened since. Getting engaged, welcoming a baby boy (Jake) into the world, a house extension, keeping the day job going, releasing over 100 new podcast episodes, developing my coaching skills, creating videos and articles (like this one), speaking at events, delivering coaching workshops, and trying to keep myself as physically as active as possible to keep my Type 1 Diabetes under control to mention just a few things that jump out. With all of these in flight, I’m glad to say the management of my time remains in a good place. But I’m not an exceptional case as almost everyone I know are spinning just as many plates as me.
What has changed for me is the lens through which I look at productivity. My view has gradually shifted, from a time focus and how I could get as much done as possible, made up with practical tools & methods, to a why focus and more on doing the right things.
I’m convinced now more than ever that you can be productive, get Sh1t done, and still have time to be a good dad, husband, friend, and all the other roles you want to have in your life. It just takes some discipline to regularly question and validate what you spend your time on! The more you do this, the quicker you’ll be able to confirm you’re on the right track. Through all of this learning, reflecting, and critical thinking, I’ve become more deliberate about the choices and decisions I make, all leading to time spent better.
I don’t typically quote Nietzsche. However, this one stands out for me. I read it in Victor Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ and it has stuck with me since. It goes “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how” and while this is a bit extreme when it comes to productivity, I believe that it is important to ask yourself if the work you’re focused on is in line with you own why!
That’s what the rest of this article looks at. Some ideas and questions that you can ask yourself about the why before you dive into the how. Let’s begin with a question on productivity itself!
- Productivity is a Choice
Think about the word for a minute. What does it really mean? Is it about getting stuff done? Or more about the choices & decisions you make?
To be productive, you are making trade-offs, choices and decisions to do one thing over another with your most valuable resource – time! Highly productive people, teams, or organizations recognise this. They tend not to blindly dive into busy work. Work that is never ending but yet has to be done to convince yourself you’re being productive. Instead, achieving high productivity is about taking a more calculated approach to deciding what to work on and then, using some of the practices and tools, how best to get it done. We all have to-do-lists (TDLs) that never stop growing, and that can be demoralizing, especially as you seem to be ticking things off them all day.
Think about productivity as a choice. Please Choose wisely.
- Procrastination without a clear Why!
Procrastination is probably something we can all relate to. It’s a very real thing! Do you find it popping up a lot? As you scan your TDL, do you find yourself putting certain things off again and again in favour of other tasks? You might notice this happening a lot, yet you keep doing it. It’s a whole lot easier to move a task from today to tomorrow than doing it now, right! Maybe it’s time to ask why!
Getting crystal clear on our whyhas become very popular over in recent years. Ever since the explosion into the zeitgeist of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ book and TED talk, it has become a question I ask myself more and more. Why am I doing what I’m doing? If I do this, will it bring me closer to my goal? Is it in line with my own values or what I believe in? (If you’re not clear on what your core values are, check out this post I shared on how to identify them).
If you can get clear on your why, what your purpose is, your set of core values, and get into the habit of looking at your work through this lens, you’ll find procrastination fades. Why? Because it’s work you believe in and take value from. It might not be easy work and it can take a little practice to build this habit but there is a huge return on investment if you do it. And you’ll see a difference in motivation, which is the next point to cover.
So, take a pause, check purpose, then proceed!
- A Motivation check on Language!
Maybe you are good at unlocking the procrastination door. You can get started easily but find yourself stalling and find it super hard to get back into it (whatever it is) again? The motivation is gone. Being motivated by the work you’re doing is essential to progression. Even more so if what you’re working a big goal which looks to be very far in the distance when you start. Even if it does align with your purpose, keeping motivation high can be difficult. I’ve found that using the right language can help!
Back in 2018, I interviewed Jim Breen for an episode of the podcast. He shared many great and impactful insights from his experience and lessons learned. One that has stuck with me since is around using positive language that can motivate instead of creating a blocker. In our discussion, Jim talked about how important exercise was for his mental health. Like all of us, Jim often found it difficult to motivate himself to go for a jog. By making a change to the language he used, stating he “gets to go for a run” instead of saying he “has to go for a run”, motivation increased and the likelihood of taking that first few steps was much much higher. Changing just one word made all the difference.
I get to wake up at 5am each morning as I want to spend time before work on personal development. I get to write this blog post. It’s empowering and exciting. It’s a choice, not a chore. Take a look at what you’re doing? Are you having to do it? Or are you in a privileged position to get to do it?
Transform from a chore to a choice and keep your motivation high.
- Locus of Control
I get to read a lot! 🙂
Earlier this year, I read two books from Charles Duhigg back to back. Both have been very influential in my thinking and in putting this piece together. In ‘Smarter Faster Better’, he outlined the concept of locus of control and whether you’re on the internal or externalside. An example here perhaps will help. Have you a friend or a colleague that is always blaming others for things when they go wrong? That it’s never their fault? That would suggest they have an have an external locus of control. That the world is against them. It’s probably a draining experience to be in their company?
On the other hand, what about that other friend that looks for feedback and asks how did they do? What could they have done better? You can instantly see that their approach is to become a better version of themselves. They display a huge amount of self-determinism to make things better. How do you view this person? They’re probably much more fun to be around and their energy can be infectious in a positive way. That’s what an internal locus of control looks & feels like.
How does this connect with productivity? Taking an internal locus of control allows you to determine your own future. You’re controlling the controllable, not ‘passing the buck’ or giving yourself an ‘out’. Do you find yourself putting off that task because you haven’t heard back from Tom or Mary and until you do, there is no point? Sounds like an excuse to me! What if you take control and brainstorm out some ideas on what the potential feedback could be, so when that when you do, you’re ready to take action? You’re in effect taking control.
Take a minute now & do a self-check. What is your intuition telling you about your own locus of control? What can you take more ownership on? It’s empowering to make decisions instead of waiting for them to be made for you.
- SMART GOALS with HEART!
Setting a SMART Goal is one of the 11 tips shared in part 1. It’s been around for years, very easy to remember and implement, and the data proves it works. Most of the time. What I’ve learned since is that it has one big flaw. A SMART goal can lack emotion. It doesn’t clearly call out an emotional connection to the goal and if I’m not emotionally invested and connected to the goal, if there is no heart in it, I’m less likely to complete it.
Pick a work or personal goal that keeps stalling or going off-track. Take a step back. Is it SMART? If yes, then check is it really something you believe in? Is it in line with your vision, values, and motivations? Does it excite you? If not, can you reframe it, so it connects deeper with you? Make it align with your why!
A very personal example I’ve shared a few times over the last 18 months is my own Dry18 adventure where I gave up alcohol for 2018 (check out the free e-book about this here). This was very much a SMART goal (some might say not very smart at all). Using insights that I took from the book ‘Switch’ by the Heath Brothers, I made sure it was not just a black & white goal but one that connects with my motivations. I reworded the goal numerous times until it was something that really energised and motivated me. One that I could connect with. When that happened, I was more bought into it. It became visceral.
Let’s be clear. None of us want to be wasting our time working on goals that don’t serve us. Take the time out at the start or during your execution to ensure you believe in it. It’s a big factor in staying the course.
When I shared the 11 approaches to get more stuff done, it quickly became one of the most read and listened to pieces of content I shared. I know it wasn’t down to the amazing writing style or never seen before ideas. More about the universal need to get more stuff done and gain control over the never ending to-do list. At the time I knew there was more digging required.
Diving a little deeper, questioning the motivations and really challenging the why instead of just running with the how has helped me keep moving forward and increase my level of satisfaction. Now, with life even busier, with time even more precious than before, filtering out the important from the busy, and the high value from the low has been huge for me.
The Best time to start?
To get started, maybe the best thing is to do nothing at all. Just sit and think about what’s on your list for today. How does it match up against any of the points above? Could you do some ‘Task to Purpose value mapping’and see what tasks jump out as ones you’re excited to work on, are in line with your purpose, and you can control. These could be the ones that will give you the best ROI, fulfilment and set you up for success. Have a listen to that internal voice inside the head. If it’s louder than ever giving you all the reasons not to do it, maybe that’s exactly the sign you need to start.
Taking these few minutes out to assess and resist the temptation to get busy could be the best time you’ll spend all day. You’re starting it off on purpose. With purpose.
Thanks for reading all the way though. It shows you’re serious about making improvements and want to get better. I’d love to hear back from you if you enjoyed this or if you had some feedback or different views. It would be even better if you shared it in your own network.
During the course of brainstorming and formulating this piece, a few other more How-to focused approaches emerged that I’ve been using that didn’t make it into part 1 and didn’t naturally fit into part 2. So, I’ll be releasing a part 3 in the near future. These tips actually sit at the intersection of How and Why so could be worth a look when it’s out. If you sign up to the newsletter, you’ll get notified when that’s out. Link to that below.
Rob is a qualified Executive Coach (ICF) and has been Mentoring and Coaching over the last decade in various roles held during his career. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob currently is a director of Project Management and Leadership Coaching at Dell in Cork, Ireland. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, leadership, goal setting, meditation, and other topics, like this one!
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