Lots of experts are eager to sell you their productivity systems, backed by bold claims about how great it is. And perhaps you have followed their advice or invested in their systems only to find that they weren’t so great, for you. Here’s why.
Have you had this experience? Lured by the promise of a new productivity system guaranteed to work, only to feel dismayed when it doesn’t.
Maybe you wondered: what’s wrong with me?After all, if the system is so great and works for everyone else, and it didn’t work for you, it must be your fault, right?
Not so fast.
Here’s the truth: no system works for everyone.
Productivity is Personal
One of the biggest barriers to productivity is simply trying to do tasks at the wrong time.
In his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Dan Pink sets out to answer the question:
When is the right time?
This is a great question, but it doesn’t go far enough.
The real question is:
When is the right time for you?
Pink touches on this generally in the first chapter, where he shares how our choronotype — whether we are an lark (early riser), night owl, or third-bird (somewhere in the middle) — dictates the best time of day to do different types of tasks.
But you don’t need to read a lot of science (or even his book) to determine when to do certain tasks.
You already have the answers you need. You just need to notice.
Productivity is About Your Patterns
It’s easy to get so caught up in what we think we should be doing, and when we think we should be doing it, that we forget to notice what’s happening when we are doing the tasks.
And the noticing of our patterns is the key to unlocking our personal productivity profile.
Noticing is Not the Same as Time Tracking
For those of you who like to get immersed in the time tracking game, let me clarify that noticing is not the same as time tracking.
Time tracking will tell you only how long you spent on a task. That’s data.
Time tracking won’t tell you that it could have taken you half the time if you had stopped to eat first. Or that it might have taken you double the time if you had been working at home instead of in a coffee shop. That’s information.
The only way you’ll know those things is by observing what you do, when you do it, and the other conditions around it, including how you felt during the process.
That feeling you get when you know you’ve been productive? That’s knowledge.
And time tracking won’t tell you how to plan your day to maximize your most productive hours — and possibly even generate more productive time. That’s wisdom.
Don’t mistake data for information. Don’t mistake information for knowledge. And don’t mistake knowledge for wisdom.
What to Notice
Through my own experiments in what I call The Lab of Me, I’ve found that the time it takes me to do a task can vary greatly depending on when I do that task, the mood I’m in when I do it, my energy levels, and a lot of other factors.
Here is a partial list of the elements I track to bring awareness to my productivity:
- what time of day was it?
- how much did you struggle with the task at that time of day?
- what did you do before that task?
- what did you eat before sitting down to work?
- what was on your schedule for after that task?
- what else was going on in your life on that day, or in that month?
- what was the weather?
- what time of year was it?
- where were you working when you did that task?
- what kind of device were you working on?
- what sounds were in the environment?
- what was the temperature?
- for women: where were you in your monthly cycle? (yes, it can have a huge impact.)
- were you distracted? If so, by what?
I track this first by observing and feeling what’s going on, and by recording it in a journal.
By noticing how you feel, your energy levels, and how much you get done, you will begin to see the patterns. And out of those patterns you will find what is the most productive system for you.
The Secret to Boost Your Productivity
Notice the conditions under which you do your best work. Not just in terms of linear time, but in terms of all the energetic components around your work.
Once you see the patterns, create the conditions you need to do your best creative work — I call this “creating your space.” Space is a function of time and a host of other conditions. Once you create the space for your best work, protect that space at all costs.
You may find that you can do the same amount of work, better, in less time.
Don’t just take my word for it. Try it out in the Lab of You and notice what you notice. Report back on your findings and let me know what surprised you!