Avoid Productivity Busters Like the Plague

Feb 18, 2010 by

Eight days ago I got one of those new DROID phones – the latest do-all gadget from Motorola and Google.  I finally put it down for the first time a few minutes ago.

You’ll notice that there has only been one new post in the past eight days as well.  This is not a coincidence.  It’s hard to type one handed.

During the course of the  last week, I have downloaded and set-as-default numerous new ringtones (currently I am on the ‘Magnum P.I.’ theme song), needlessly activated the turn-by-turn voice directions to locations I’ve driven to a thousand times, checked email incessantly, Tweeted, Facebooked, texted random observations to people that were sitting three feet away from me (I hope they made the L, O, : and ) keys especially sturdy), and pulled the phone from my pocket repeatedly to check my messages because I could swear I’d just felt it vibrate.  Throughout the course of engaging in these compulsively juvenile behaviors, something important occurred to me: this has been one of the most unproductive weeks I’ve had in a long time – which is why I had to work all day on Sunday.

During my days working in retail for a nationwide chain, I had a district manager who was really big on buzzwords and used to hammer them home any time the opportunity presented itself.  While many of them were superficial corporate-speak, one of the things he used to say really stuck in my mind: Avoid productivity busters like the plague.

While on the surface that phrase may seem to be little more than a fancy way of telling you to avoid distractions, there is one distinct difference that sets it apart.  Distractions are a hell of a lot easier to identify and avoid than productivity busters are.

When consciously attempting to avoid distractions, one typically associates such distractions with unexpected interruptions that require immediate action on your part.  In other words – external unanticipated demands for your attention.  While this is fundamentally accurate, a productivity buster is a more subtle, under-the-radar type of influence on the successful use of your time.

It’s easy to close the door to your office, take the battery out of your smart phone,  throw your earbuds in and go to town on the tasks at hand.  I know many business people who employ such isolationist tactics – to varying degrees of success.  But, I also know others who sabotage their own efforts to free themselves.

<rant> If you don’t want to be found, don’t tweet via foursquare where you’re at – no matter how badly you want to be the mayor of your side of the street’s Starbucks.</rant>

But productivity busters are sneakier than that – and it’s harder to realize that they’re hampering your progress until you look at the clock and it’s 3:30 and you can’t figure out where the day went and why you have nothing to show for it.

Most productivity busters lie in our own processes, and it’s up to the individual to identify inefficiencies in your routine.  For some people, the five minutes they intended to take to check Facebook & Twitter quickly balloons into 50 very unproductive and very gone minutes.  For others, it’s the fact that they allow certain tasks to expand beyond their initial purpose.  While the hindrances vary, there is a solution that universally applies.

productivityWhen I set out to get something done, I’ve learned to employ a policy called JGID – coined by Paul Ferrier, co-founder of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry.  JGID stand for Just Get it Done.  It sounds simpler than it is in practice.

In order to JGID, you have to establish a few things.  The most important thing to do though is to impose deadlines.  The reason this is so critical is the fact that accountability is a huge motivator to get things accomplished.  Set deadlines, and tell someone you respect.  Tell anyone.  Post it to Facebook, Twitter – whatever you need to do to make your intentions known.  As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, if you’re having trouble holding yourself accountable, find someone who will.

Setting deadlines requires establishing milestones for what you want to accomplish.  If you estimate that a multi-phase project is going to take you eight hours to complete, break it down into individual tasks, each with their own deadline.

What this allows you do to is group all of your unproductive time into one chunk.  The fact is, your productivity busters are aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  Your Facebooking, Tweeting, bathroom

Source: brian.shaler.name

breaks, lunchtime, coffee refills, etc. are all necessary parts of who we are as people.  To cut them out would be to deprive ourselves.  The key is to schedule your productivity busters to where they’re simply healthy breaks in the action.

Take me for example.  I take a break every single hour and I often take a couple hours for lunch to get some exercise.  That said, it isn’t uncommon for me to be up until 11:00 pm or later wrapping up the day’s tasks.  This routine probably wouldn’t work for most people, but I am not most people.

Between client meetings, meetings at Mindscape, varying kid responsibilities, travel time, etc. my routine on a daily basis is usually different each day.  I, for example don’t exercise daily (although I wish I would).  And, it usually takes a great deal of willpower to peel myself away from the computer at 11:00 pm to go to bed.  But again, back to accountability – I am trying – and I am writing it down so I am more likely to stick to it 🙂

When I first got my Droid, I hunted for a ringtone to replace the generic ‘DROID’ robotic voice that was set at the default ringtone.  I ran across a free one that was derived from the character ‘Scorpion’ from original ‘Mortal Kombat’ arcade game.  Scorpion’s signature was the spear move, where he would simultaneous growl ‘Get Over Here!!’ while shooting a spear at his opponent.  As homage to my favorite arcade game from my early teen years, I set my alert ring tone to command ‘Get Over Here!!’ anytime I received a text message, email, voice mail or mention on Twitter.

For the next day and a half, I obediently responded to the aggressive demands for my attention anytime I received an electronic message of any kind.  Then it occurred to me the irony of the whole thing:  I was allowing my phone to dictate my life!  It was literally telling me what to do, and when to do it.  I quickly downloaded a new ringtone for my alerts.

Everybody has different perspectives and ideas for how to better use our time.  How have productivity busters made your day less efficient?  How did you recognize them and what did you do about it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

1 Comment

  1. Great post Mike! I encourage everyone to turn their cell phones on private (especially if you have a smart phone), turn off your email notifications, and YOU DICTATE when you get to that stuff. Slavery is dead and the only way it’ll ever make it back is if we all inanimate objects to control our lives.

    I CONTROL my own time and life …. Do you control yours?