Today we’re revisiting a popular early podcast about how those of us who aren’t “naturally organized” can still get lots of high-quality work done.
Note: For Thanksgiving week in the U.S., we thought we’d offer up an encore presentation of a popular early podcast. This one talks about productivity for those of us who struggle with such things.
Some people are naturally productive. Naturally organized. Naturally get the important things done, every day. They have clean desks and rational calendars and earn the admiration of family and peers.
I am not one of those people.
In this 26-minute episode, I talk about:
Listen to Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer below ...
Sonia Simone: Greetings superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are The Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I am a co-founder and the chief content officer for Copyblogger Media.
I m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie, and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Today, I’m going to talk about productivity, and more specifically I’m going to talk about productivity for flakes, head cases, and other natural disasters.
Because I am a total natural disaster.
I wish you could see my desk right now. It is in a state of, I would say medium explosion based on my typical experience of this desk.
I have three different notebooks open with different outlines for podcasting and other recordings that I want to do. I also have two drinks, a couple of free weights, a bunch of chargers, a dead keyboard, my wallet, a new three-hole punch, an old dictionary that I use to prop up a monitor on, but the monitor’s gone somewhere else, and a small can of paint.
This is a normal day for my desk. This is what my desk normally looks like. My kid is the same way. In fact at school, he’s the only kid in his class who has two desks to contain what two separate teachers have described as his explosions.
I’ve always been this way, and I know I’m not alone. I’m not naturally particularly focused.
I have a lot of shiny object syndrome. I suck at doing things that bore me, and that tends to translate pretty readily into not being great about getting the things done that I already know how to do. Which means I’m constantly in a state of stress.
At the same time, left with my own devices, I would pretty much eat pie and play Minecraft with my nine-year old all day, every day.
Somehow, I own a business. I’m the primary breadwinner in my family — I have been since my son was born.
I have employees, and I have a family. I work out at least six days a week and meditate every day. I write every day. I have a weekly podcast.
Somehow, I managed to figure out how to be a grown up, but I had to learn it all. None of it came naturally to me.
I think we all know people who are naturally productive, these people who have awesome control of their to-do list to get it all done and wonder why other people waste so much time.
I work with some of these people, so I can’t hate them because they save my backside all the time.
If you’re a natural disaster, this episode is for you. If you aren’t, then you can listen and laugh at me. I don’t mind. I laugh at me, too.
The first thing I want to say about being a productive person if that’s not what comes naturally to you, is that habits are your lifesaver.
You may have seen me write on the Copyblogger blog about habits . Habits are everything. They are the whole game.
In fact those naturally organized productive people just happen to pick up good habits somewhere, and have made them a part of their life so they look totally natural. Some of us just have to work a little harder on getting those habits in place and maintaining them.
The thing to know about habits, if your habits right now do not strike you as being awesome, is that you literally cannot start too small. I’ll put a link in the show notes to a book that I really like, by a gentleman named, Robert Maurer.
He talks about things like people starting an exercise habit by standing on a treadmill in their living room for five minutes a day having a coffee in the morning. If you don’t love the habits you have, you need to start with a small, micro, what I call a “You get credit habit.”
I remember a quote from a student of ours that I loved, and I’ve always really taken to heart is:
If you can move it an inch, you can move it a mile
Thank you Judy in the Woods for that awesome piece of wisdom. I still think about that all the time.
You need a small habit, and if you do it every day, and I do think that this type of habit needs to be something you do daily, rather than doing it let’s say five days a week. You need a little tiny habit, and every day you do it, you get credit. You give yourself a little gold star. And very often that habit can lead to something else, a precursor to something else.
That’s what that standing on the treadmill is about. If you get into the habit of going over there to that treadmill, and actually standing on it, then it’s not that hard — you don’t have to overcome as much inertia — to turn the thing on and walk slowly for a minute.
And then once you’re walking slowly for a minute, it’s not that hard to just pick up the pace a little bit. Start so small it’s a little embarrassing — that s usually a good guideline. For example, I have a habit I do absolutely every single day, which is to do some hip mobility exercises.
The reason I have that habit is, once I’ve done that, I can do a strength workout, but I don’t always do the strength workout after I do the mobility session. It’s a precursor that sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. I do more often than not but I don’t have to to get the credit, and that’s what’s important.
You feel like a success, you feel like you did your good deed for the day if you do your small habit. I also have a meditation habit. My meditation habit is five minutes. If I can meditate for five minutes a day, I get the gold star.
Once or twice a week, it is 5 minutes. Most days, it’s more than that — it’s about 15 minutes. It could be 20 minutes. But it doesn’t have to be for me to get the credit for the habit. It only has to be 5 minutes.
If the day has gotten away from me, and things are a little crazy, and these things happen in our lives, I can carve out 5 minutes. I can always carve that out and that’s how you want to approach it. You want to create a small habit that even if the day is crazy, or you’re traveling, or you’re on vacation, or your dog is sick or your kid is sick, you can still do it.
It’s so small that it allows room for all the other things in your life that can be unpredictable.
I am going to give you a lot of resources to check out, including books and blog posts, and things of that nature. If you are listening to this episode on iTunes, you might want to pop on over to pinkhairedmarketer.fm and just pick up all the accompanying materials to this, because there are a lot of resources that I’ve pulled together — almost all of them are free, or very inexpensive, like the cost of a book.
My second tip for you natural disasters out there is to use tools — the right productivity tools. The ones that I found are the most useful are the ones that make things visible That make your progress visible, and that make your habits visible.
Once you’ve done something four or five days in a row, you’ll start to not want to break that streak. Again, small You Get Credit habits, that are small enough to sneak in.
One of the things I have is I have four whiteboards for the following four months — the upcoming quarter. Everyday that I do my three micro I Get Credit habits, I put a big green X through that day on the whiteboard.
I can tell at a glance if I’ve got a good streak going. When I think about, “Well, it’s only a five minute meditation, and it s not really doing anything. I don’t need the hip mobility drill, I can skip it for a day,” I look at the whiteboard and I really want to put that green X on the whiteboard.
So that little silly motivation is enough to just tick me over that little bit of resistance. Whiteboard calendars are also used for people like me because they help me get a big picture of what my upcoming obligations are. The conferences where I’m speaking, the business travel I have set up, the recordings that I have scheduled — and that helps me not over commit.
Natural disasters have a real tendency to underestimate what we have coming up and what we’ve committed to. So make your commitments visible.
And of course, there are all kinds of online calendar programs and apps, things like that. Those are very useful and helpful. However, I would encourage you not to be worried about doing this in a belt-and-suspenders way. [In other words, don t worry about duplicating your effort.]
Don’t worry about keeping two calendars if the two calendars have two different purposes.
My whiteboard calendars are very specifically to keep my habits and my obligations visible, which is not true with an online tool. I close my phone or I close my laptop, and a calendar app is gone, whereas this is literally on the wall in front of me.
Obviously you have to find some to-do list that works for you. Every once in awhile, some productivity person will come out and say, “Don’t use a to-do list. Use my to-do list instead.”
Everybody needs a to-do list, right? Don’t keep stuff in your head, put it on a list.
I’ve tried everything. I keep coming back to just a small paper notebook, a five by eight-inch notebook. The left side, I keep my daily to-do’s, and on the right side is my weekly list. I’m going to talk about that in a second.
For longer projects, you want to think about things like milestones and next actions. Make them all visible. Use a mind map or use Evernote, or use a paper notebook — it doesn’t matter. But make sure everything is laid out in a way that you can look at it and get a good understanding of where you are and what comes next.
That leads me to the third element, which is important, which is that most people who have productivity problems, or organization problems, have these problems because they are overwhelmed, and it’s just too uncomfortable to think about it, so they don’t. Then things start to creep up on them.
You have to come up with tools, techniques, practices and habits that will keep you out of overwhelm.
As soon as you go into overwhelm, you start making bad decisions.
You ll start putting things off. You’re going to start not using your simple systems and your simple tools, and you’re going to start being a natural disaster again.
I have a whole bunch of tips here for you, and I’m just going to power through them. The first is I talked about that paper notebook, on the left side I keep the daily items. I try to keep to two or three things that I know need to have happen that day and no more than that.
As soon as you have more than three things that have to be done today, you’re going to start to edge over towards overwhelm. Now we all have days like that, and sometimes you do and you just power through it. You try not to have that all day, every day.
One of the things I have on my weekly list, that’s the list of these things need to happen this week. I’ll have a section, just a part of the page for things that are fast, things that are just fast to cross off: an e-mail to return, a quick phone call to make, an appointment to schedule, something along those lines which are very quick.
One of the things you can do that will really help you stay out of the overwhelm and get things done, is knock those off. When you have a minute, when you don’t really feel like diving into the next focused chunk of work, hurry off and just use that to cross off something simple like making an appointment for that interview, or something like that.
The other really key tool I use is a timer. You can use a meditation timer, you can use a kitchen timer, you can use a timer on your phone, your laptop — it does not matter, but time your work sessions.
If I don’t have a timer, I’m very reluctant to get started, because I’m a writer, I’m a creative person. Once I get started, a lot of times I’ll get immersed in it and I’ll lose an hour or two hours and there’s part of my brain that says, “I don’t really want to spend two hours on this right now.”
“I’m not in the mood. I don’t have the energy. I literally don’t have time. I need to be somewhere.”
The timer really helps you get past that. No matter how distasteful you find a task, or how intimidating you find a task, you can work on it for 20 minutes. And if you can’t work on it for 20 minutes, you can work on it for 5 minutes.
Use your timer to just, again, take yourself over that little inertia point and get things moving. If your list gets messy or crazy, which mine does every week starting Monday afternoon, you can use a bright highlighter. I use a paper list. I use a bright highlighter pen and I put a number one next to the very next thing I’m going to do.
Then I usually will mark it number two and number three as well. When I’m done, I smoosh out that number one so it’s not staring me in the face.
A lot of times, when you have a bunch of items that need to get done, finding some way to make visible the one thing you’re going to work on next is very helpful for getting you out of overwhelm. Because you’re not thinking about the whole list, you’re just thinking about, “Okay, I need to do that task. I’ll need to work on it for 20 minutes and I’ll just keep doing it in 20 minute chunks until it’s finished.”
Again, if you’re stressed and things are bananas, I like to go to a single post-it for that one next thing, or the next three things max. A small post-it, not one of those big post-its you put on the wall. Just a 2-inch square post-it.
The next thing you’re going to do is put it somewhere you can see it. Put it close your to-do list, close to all the things that are reminding you of how many obligations you have. You just keep the post-it in front of you until the thing is done and then throw it away, recycle it, and make a new post-it for the next thing.
Again, it’s about paring down your focus, so that instead of focusing on the whole thing and getting freaked out, you’re focusing on one thing that you’re going to do next.
It’s really better to do one thing properly, than it is to just sort of halfway do 10 things, or even worse to do 10 things 90% of the way — to get 10...