I´ve been posting a lot recently about finding one´s purpose (via discussions about The Highest Goal, Claiming Your Place at the Fire, The 8th Habit, others) and have spent some time discussing getting started (via a discussion about Art of the Start). This week, I am going to switch gears a bit and discuss personal productivity. Although different, it is really all related because highly productive people are more able to identify and act on and from their purpose.
I had the opportunity to chat with David Allen, productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and Ready for Anything. Allen reinforces this notion that conquering day-to-day productivity enables us to focus better on the big picture:
"There is too much distraction at the day-to-day, hour-to-hour level of commitments to allow for appropriate focus at the higher levels."
"Focusing on primary outcomes and values is a critical exercise, certainly. But it does not mean there is less to do, or fewer challenges in getting the work done. Quite the contrary: it just ups the ante in the game, which still must be played day to day. For a human resources executive, for example, deciding to deal with quality-of-work-life issues in order to attract and keep key talent does not make things simpler."??
Allen´s objectives in Getting Things Done:
"The methods I present here are all based on two key objectives: (1) capturing allthe things that need to get done – now, later, someday, big, little, or in between – into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind; and (2) disciplining yourself to make front-end decisions about all the "inputs"?? you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for "next actions"?? that you can implement or negotiate at any moment."??
Imbedded in these objectives and the book are a few assumptions about productivity that I found interesting and helpful:
Being productive goes WAY beyond what most of us think.
Imagine an inbox that had only items you have not touched or reviewed.
Imagine an email inbox fewer than a screen´s length of items.
Imagine having an easy way to capture and process ideas.
Being organized is not not the same as knowing what´s in each pile on our desk!
Being productive frees up time to for more meaningful work (or play!).
This one is pretty obvious and intuitive. When we have our act together, we more effectively use our time.
Allen says that time management is a misnomer. We can´t manage time, we have no control over time. All we can do is manage ourselves.
It has always been my experience that disorganized and overwhelmed people never get around to tending to their dreams.
Being productive frees the mind to work on more important stuff.
Clutter messes up our mind as much as it clutters our workplace. I remember reading somewhere that Einstein did not remember his phone number and when asked why, he responded that he wanted to fill his mind with more meaningful thoughts.
We´ve all experienced this but perhaps have not acknowledged the importance of organization to our ability to be creative, innovative, and effective problem solvers.
The ancient practice of Feng Shui emphasizes this point and considers clutter a key detractor to success and happiness.
Being productive is a practice.
One does not go from being disorganized to working productively overnight. There are habits and systems that we need to learn and develop.
In Allen´s book, he shares several examples of professionals at various levels of productivity and organization that help illustrate the continuous and worthy path.
Before getting into the system, Allen offers this encouragement:
"It is possible. There is a way to get a grip on it all, stay relaxed, and get meaningful things done with minimal effort, across the whole spectrum of your life and work. You can experience what the martial artists call a "mind like water"?? and top athletes refer to as the "zone,"?? within the complex world in which you´re engaged. In fact, you have probably already been in this state from time to time.
It´s a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening, It´s a state that is accessible by everyone, and one that is increasingly needed to deal effectively with the complexity of life in the twenty-first century."??
Sounds a bit like the Flow state, too, doesn´t it? It makes sense that becoming more organized and productive can enable flow. Cool.
In the next post, I will share more of David Allen´s suggestions for living a stress-free life of productivity. In the mean time, here are the links to his books: