Who are you kidding?
“Productivity: the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.”
You’d probably agree with Dictionary.com’s definition of productivity in general terms. But what does productivity look like when applied to you and your business? How do you know when you’ve been truly productive? And do you know what traps are likely to send your productivity right down the toilet? If you can’t quickly, confidently, and honestly answer those questions, you’re heading for a fall. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs kid themselves about just how truly productive they are.
The most successful business owners are those who know how to fill their days with strategically chosen, effectively implemented business-development activities. The unsuccessful ones typically fall prey to one or more of the following productivity killers.
1. Being more concerned with activity than with progress
This one’s a classic when it comes to shooting yourself in the productivity foot. I love Ernest Hemingway’s recommendation on how to avoid it: “Never mistake action for motion.”
Being busy is very seductive. The problem is that busyness is not the same thing as productivity. It’s up to you to continuously monitor your activities for relevance to your goals. If you fail to do this, it’s especially easy to succumb to the second villain.
2. Drifting with the tide rather than charting your course
It’s easy to drift when you’re not sure where you want to end up. As Lewis Carroll put it, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
Similarly, if you don’t know what you want to accomplish, nor why it’s important, how can you decide what deserves your attention? (Hint: You can’t.)
And if you can’t make an informed decision about what to do, you’re probably going to end up doing whatever presents itself to you – whether or not that activity has any long-term value for you. In other words, you’re likely to get sucked into…
3. Doing it because you can, rather than because you should
You may know that I very rarely use the word “should”, but it applies in this particular instance.
Activities that “should” be given high priority are those which you have objectively judged to be likely to propel you to your important business goals (assuming you’ve identified said goals).
Success requires productivity, intention, and commitment.
Unfortunately, there are almost infinite ways we can be tempted away from high-payoff, frequently uncomfortable activities into ones that are more appealing in the short run. Is it really going to boost your revenues by checking Facebook to see who’s coming to your 25th high school reunion? Is now really the right time to reorganize your bookshelves? And does it really make sense to clean out the 900 promotional messages in your Gmail inbox now rather than finish that speaking proposal?
If you make a hasty decision to do a task because you can instead of because it makes sense to do it, you’re experiencing some of the consequences of…
4. Being oblivious
Many people spend the majority of their time on autopilot. They respond to incoming stimuli in habitual patterns rather than react to changing circumstances by consciously judging which action will contribute to their desired outcome. This means they’re often oblivious to what they’re doing and why they ended up doing it.
Taken one step further, it’s unfortunately easy to also be oblivious to the fact that you are on autopilot. Here’s one way to tell: If you get to five o’clock and find yourself wondering what the hell you did all day…you were in Oblivious Autopilot mode.
And one step further yet: If you don’t pay attention to the important work your business needs to survive (much less thrive), this grossly unproductive default setting will make it dangerously easy to fall prey to…
5. Allowing yoursel – Squirrel!!
If you haven’t recently watched the movie Up, I encourage you to do so when you’re ready for a fun evening of R&R.
Talking dogs play a key role in this film, and many of their conversations are interrupted by the appearance of a squirrel. Since every single one of them is hard-wired to notice the rodents, the dog breaks off what he’s saying, pins the squirrel with a brief but intent stare, then calmly goes back to the conversation.
Unfortunately, most humans are not nearly as good at refocusing after distractions. This is Really Bad News, because those distractions come in an almost endless variety, and they mess you up in at least two ways. They not only pull you away from important, goal-oriented tasks; they also force you to spend time getting back in the work groove once you do pull away from the distraction.
Face it: Haven’t you sometimes opted to play “just one game” of online solitaire / sudoku /whatever? And when you (finally) finish, how long does it take you to review the interrupted blog post (proposal, important email, research…), figure out where you intended to go from there, and start producing again?
That’s the danger of…
6. Not keeping an eye out for rabbit holes
Unfortunately, rabbit holes don’t come with flashing red lights indicating “Danger!”
Plus, they’re sneaky little buggers; you often don’t realize how far down the hole you’ve ended up until daylight is just a tiny, faraway pinprick. One of my least favorite rabbit holes (because it’s so dangerous for me) comes in the form of thinking I’ll just “quickly take care of that one little task.” All too often, I’ve found that one click leads to another to another to another, and all of a sudden I’ve wasted 30 minutes doing something that does not directly propel me toward my goals.
Another insidious thing about rabbit holes is that, at first glance, they can look like a legitimate use of your time. Want to write more compelling content in your blog? Then reading a top blogger’s recommendations can make a lot of sense. But when one article references another, and that article leads to another – not exactly related to blog content, but so interesting – all of a sudden you can discover an hour has gone by. And if you weren’t reading very intentionally to find ways to address weak spots in your writing, chances are you don’t even have a list of ways to improve your copy. Where’s the return on all that time?
And here’s yet another kicker: When you sacrifice your planned work on important, strategically identified goals to (sometimes impulsively) work on something else, how often do you truly return to and finish that first task? You and I both know that good intentions to “get back to it” often come to nothing, even though we optimistically assume we’ll follow through on them. And that leads to Productivity Killer #7:
7. Making assumptions
If you haven’t been introduced to the admonition that “to assume makes an ASS of U and ME”, let me correct that right now.
Productivity-killing assumptions come in a variety of flavors:
- “everyone’s doing it [i.e., a particular business-building technique], so it must be right for me, too”
- thinking you’ve spent hours on an important activity when it reality the time can be measured in minutes
- being sure that coffee break lasted only 15 minutes, when in reality you were off task for nearly an hour
- “I was busy all day, so I was productive all day” (see #1)
In the distant past, in some forgotten report, I read that people often overestimate the time spent on important activities and underestimate the amount spent goofing off. (If anyone can identify this resource, please let me know what it is – I beg you!)
Now, since I can’t track down the report, I can’t swear to the accuracy of my memory, but I’d bet money those findings were right on.
According to eMarketer.com, in 2015 American adults spent an average of over four hours a day watching television and over an hour a day watching “digital video devices.” How many of those average adults would estimate they spend going on six hours every day watching versions of the “boob tube”? I’m guessing very few.
On the flip side, how often have you been slogging through a project, feeling you’ve been at it for hours, only to realize you last looked at the clock just 20 minutes ago?
The bottom line is this: You risk deluding yourself and trashing your productivity if you let yourself make assumptions about how you spend your time. Can your business afford for you to make an ASS out of U?
Chances are good that at this point you’re realizing one of three things:
- “Wow! I really am incredibly productive. Yay, me!”
- “Hmmm. I’m really productive in some areas, and in other areas I have a lot of room for improvement.”
- “Oh, crap. I’m in such trouble.”
If the second or third options are ringing any bells for you, I may be able to help.
My specialty is showing frenzied and overwhelmed entrepreneurs how to decide what’s important, toss out what’s not, and effectively implement those important-but-often-uncomfortable tasks that translate into business growth.
There’s no telling – right at the moment – if you and I would work well together to turn you into a productivity goddess. However, an easy way to find out is to spend time asking and answering some questions. If that sounds worth exploring, grab a spot in my calendar for this nobody’s-committed-to-nothin’, no-charge, get-acquainted call.
And, if that doesn’t feel quite right at this time, consider taking advantage of the DIY version of the Take Action Now System™ I use with clients. Just email me with “I’m ready to kick some productivity butt” in the subject line, and I’ll zip the PDF to you.productivity and tagged effectiveness, focus. Bookmark the permalink.