How to Avoid the Productivity Rabbit Hole

How to Avoid the Productivity Rabbit HoleHow to Avoid the Productivity Rabbit Hole

This article is by Josh Zerkel, Director of Worldwide Account Management and Training at Evernote. We’re not entirely sure where the kitten photo came from. It’s best we keep it that way. We can haz productivity. And, so can you.

Scroll through your LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter feed. On any given day, you’re likely to see breathless post titles like:

“Send this one email and you’ll save hours of work!”

“Do more in less time with these 3 tips!”

“5 secrets for sticking to your habits!”

And so on. I see these as productivity clickbait (like the image of the kitten above!), which I wouldn’t really have a problem with if they really did help you boost your productivity and work more effectively.

As a Certified Professional Organizer for the past 13 years, I live and breathe productivity and aim to help people get more of the right things done, without adding more stress in the process. Unfortunately, posts like the ones I mentioned above are dangerously reductive, making productivity seem like something you can magically achieve by reading a 250-word post or downloading the latest app. You end up ascribing too much power to tools and tricks rather than addressing the root of the problem.

You don’t become more productive by making yet another to-do list in the latest fancy app, or by holding all your meetings without chairs. To me, this is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – the ship is still going down, no matter how pretty you make it.

I’ve worked with many clients who have succumbed to the deluge of productivity tips and tools, and they ended up more disorganized and frustrated than they were at the beginning. They wasted hours upon hours meticulously reordering tasks, rejiggering meeting formats, and reorganizing files on their computer – ironically, all in hopes of saving time. It’s a productivity rabbit hole. Tools and shortcuts don’t make you productive.

So, what makes you productive? It’s pretty straightforward: You have to break bad habits and build the skills, focus, and determination for long-term success. Baby steps. Here are some simple ways you can become more productive, and more importantly, sustain this long term:

Have a single place to manage your tasks. This could be a piece of paper, a spreadsheet, or a checklist in Evernote. The format doesn’t matter, as long as it’s something handy and that you’re comfortable using regularly. The simpler, the better. As for prioritization, I’ve found that most people tend to overthink this. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know what your biggest priorities are. Just put those things at the top of the list.

Centralize your supporting information. Most tasks have details you need to refer back to, and these details need a home as well. Just like with your task list, this place should be convenient and easy to use. Personally, I keep everything in Evernote, but choose the system that works best for you. Don’t agonize over meticulously organizing it. Can you easily find your stuff? If yes, it’s good enough. Can’t find your stuff? Spend a bit more time organizing until your contents are more easily accessible.

Most importantly: Just do it! This is where most people run into trouble. I’m convinced that when people think of productivity, they aren’t really looking for a more efficient way of completing tasks—what they really want is for the tasks to just disappear. Sorry folks, you can’t just organize your tasks away. You still need to actually do the work. Set aside the time to accomplish these things and cross them off your list once and for all.

Being productive doesn’t have to be complicated, and thus shouldn’t require fancy tricks or shortcuts. In fact, the more straightforward your strategies are, the more likely you are to stick with them in the long run.

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