The secret to making productivity tips work for you

I spent the morning going through my file of links that people have sent to me over the week that looked good to read. I have seen enough productivity advice to know that I should not leave links in my inbox. David Allen says everything needs to be dealt with now or filed for later. Leo Babauta says you should clear out your reading folder each week so it doesn’t hang over you. And I want to be productive, so I’m following all the rules.

But something happened on the way to the bottom of the reading folder and I ate a box of cookies after I read Mike Maddock’s list of Resolutions Successful People Make and Keep. I am upset about the list because I assumed I’d click on the list and be like, “Oh yeah, I’m great. I do all those things.” But the list is killing me.

High performers don’t eat a box of cookies.

Two things Maddock writes are  “spend more time on the not to-do list” and “essentials first, email second.” These are both related in my mind, because I play my inbox like it’s a video game. If I have less than ten emails in it at all times then I’m a winner. All day I shoot down emails like I’m trying to level up.

I never do, of course. There’s no winner of the inbox game. There is no reward for being an ace of emails except people who tell me they can’t believe how fast I respond and my kids telling me I’m addicted.

So I made a game with myself that I have to write a blog post before I can answer emails. That didn’t work. Then I made a rule that I could buy something if I wrote a post. That worked: Look at all those posts in January.

But I must be the world’s top candidate for crack addiction or something because with my new game, I keep getting more and more expensive stuff. And today, for one second, I was looking at the $10,000 stove I have been coveting for years, and I thought, “If I write my post I can buy the stove.”

Then I bought a book.

It’s clear to me that not doing essentials first is killing me right now. But what’s really killing me is that when I don’t like what I’m doing, I obsess about it until I do something else bad, like eating the cookies. It’s okay to recognize that you have an area where you are sucking. It’s not okay to distract yourself from that by sabotaging another area.

It’s not what you do it’s who you know.

But that’s not even the part of the Mike Maddock’s post that is upsetting to me. It’s the part where he says, “Think about who and not what.” Do you know why I hate this? Because I am not good at doing work. I’m good at making decisions and having other people do work (sweet spot for all ENTJ‘s). I used to be a great delegator, I used to write posts where I scream about perfectionist lame-0’s who cannot trust anyone to help.

But I’ve become a person who does not delegate. Not because I’m a perfectionist (I’m the opposite) but because I can’t make decisions fast enough. I read that poor people have to make so many money decisions that they end up having no energy to make big-picture decisions that will get them out of poverty. The term for this is decision fatigue.

And I am pretty sure I have this for dealing with kids all day. My son says he has a headache. Do I let him skip gymnastics even though we drove an hour into Madison for the session? It’s a million moments like that one creating decision fatigue and then I am not making big-picture decisions like, should I promote my Myers Briggs webinar on my homeschool blog? (The answer, by the way, is yes. There is no bigger help for a financially stable, educated parent than knowing their kids’ Myers Briggs score, which is evident in grade school. But did I announce it on the homeschool blog? No. And now someone is gonna be pissed that the discounted rate is ending tomorrow and the homeschoolers didn’t get it.)

What I need to do is make decisions and then pass them off to someone. I always tell people that if I run out of ways to make money from this blog, I’m going to start being a headhunter, because I have a huge list of rock stars I’ve met through this blog. And I could be hiring them to do stuff I think of. If I could just think. So today the essential thing that is not on my to do list because I am not a slave to my to do list starting right now is that I’m going to make three big enough decisions so that I can pass work off to freelancers. Good. I feel productive already.

Go to your safe spot.

There are a lot of things I suck at, but my ability to come up with ideas is like my security blanket. I have it no matter what. Even when I was supposed to be going to the mental ward but I was breastfeeding and they wouldn’t admit me and the baby, I had the idea of staying in the emergency room indefinitely. And then went for it: I’m an idea girl.

Do you know why I am good at being creative? Because I love things messy. Not a messy inbox. Of course, and not a messy house (in fact, I think I’m whatever the word is for the opposite of hoarder. Everyone hides stuff from me so I won’t throw it out.) I am comfortable with messy in my head. I like it. I don’t get scared that it will go somewhere bad, which is what the Harvard Business Review reports is the key to creativity: no fear of the mess, and being okay having no idea where you’re going..

And believe me, I’m on the cusp, right now, of things going bad. Like, if I have to throw this post away because my editor says there is nothing new here then I will have to sulk all day and go back to playing inbox Asteroids. It’s a possiblity. It’s hard to say something new in a productivity post. Especially after I’ve written a post about how all the productivity gurus should shut up and try taking care of kids all day.

Creativity is about tenacity, according to Ira Glass, King of  Fun at NPR. It’s not enough to have good ideas – you have to push them and work on them and not let go when it seems pointless.

For me, the key to being productive is being creative. Your own version of productivity will be related to where you are strongest. If you are a put-things-in-order person, (ISTJ) then you will feel most productive when you’re doing that. If you are a connect-with-people-emotionally type of person (ESFP) you’ll feel productive going out in the world and making people happy – even for just a few hours.

Productivity advice works best in the context of your personality type. 

Productivity looks different depending on our strengths. Advice about productivity is only good if it relates directly to what you know about your personality type, (which is why you should sign up for my Myers Briggs webinar) “Clear your inbox” isn’t good advice for save-the-world types (INFP). They won’t feel like they did anything. And the advice to delegate to get more done is only exhausting and draining for someone like my husband (ISTP), who likes the joy of doing things efficiently and doing them himself.

So, really what I should do is pay someone to sort through my inbox. And now it starts to make sense that when people say to me, “I’m so surprised you answer all your own email.”

If you don’t know what you should be doing, listen to other people. It’s so much easier to see how to run everyone else’s life. So hard to run our own.


79 replies
« Older Comments
  1. Dave Thomas
    Dave Thomas says:

    Fantastic article! Thank you! Hoping to put into make use of the secret in my personal life because I have decided to become a productive person from these days onward!

« Older Comments

Comments are closed.