“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Productivity … it’s the holy grail of work.
We all want to get more done in less time. And all it takes is a little digging before you realize that there are a million methods to get you there.
But the question isn’t really how much we get done, is it?
It is easy to busy ourselves all day long with mundane but necessary tasks, checking off our lists merrily as we go, and get to the end of the day with nothing of value to show for our “productive” streak.
Oftentimes productivity can just be a way of not doing the hard things. For me, it can be so easy to work on everyone else’s to-do list before I address my own- meeting other people’s needs and desires through my inbox, maintaining communication on social media, and planning events to fill up my calendar.
Sadly, the simple joy of creating can get lost in all of this productivity clutter, and leave me feeling as though I am just spinning my wheels.
So instead of counting how many items I’ve crossed off my list on any given day, I’ve decided to keep it simple. I work to identify those things I have been putting off — the things I truly want to be doing, but haven’t made time for.
What would that look like for you? What projects keep getting pushed to the backburner? What is that thing you know might be hard to do, but would bring you the most joy to complete? It’s time to go for it.
The hardest part is sitting down (or standing up, whichever you prefer). Once you begin, things usually come more naturally. But you must make time and you must commit yourself to the work.
Once you get in the flow, you may find time passes much more quickly then when you are completing all the other “must-dos” on your task list.
And the kicker? When you do the hard thing first, all the other tasks tend to get crossed off the list as well.
According to Parkinson’s law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. So when you attempt to complete all the “little” things before tackling the hard thing, you are actually sabotaging your efforts.
Completing the hardest thing first doubles your results with the same amount of effort and intention. Not only does this guarantee a higher level of satisfaction throughout the day, but it also increases your chances of completing all of the other tasks in a more timely manner.
True productivity isn’t always easy, but it is simple.
First, identify what you need to do, today, to move yourself or your most meaningful project forward. Next, create specific, realistic, measurable, and actionable tasks that you can knock out today.
Once you have your tasks laid out, identify which ones are causing negative emotions for you, and separate those out.
Write the emotions down. Often we avoid something because it feels like too much of a challenge, or, if there is a deadline attached, we avoid it out of sheer paralysis or stress that we will not be able to create something of quality in the time allotted.
Whatever you are feeling about a task, bring the emotions out of the dark, and they will lose their power. Stare them down, and remind yourself that you must follow the fear. It is telling you what’s important.
Fear and bravery can live together. Choose to be brave.
Don’t open your email, don’t look at your notifications, don’t even think about opening your internet browser (unless the task requires it). If you need to stop and take a small break, do that. But don’t reward yourself until the hard thing is finished. Once you have finished, stop.
Review what you’ve accomplished, and notice how it has moved your project, and you, in the right direction.
Then, reward yourself. The intrinsic reward will be the way you feel for having completed the hardest thing first- now you can accomplish anything!
Feel free to also give yourself something awesome- say, a beautifully crafted latte, a new pen, or anything that makes you happy.
Keep in mind — working on the hardest thing first doesn’t guarantee you won’t run into a few roadblocks or frustrations along the way. It doesn’t have to be perfect on the first go round. But you went for it, and that’s what counts.
No Sidebar: At Work
There’s a misconception that the more you do, the more productive you are. Ironically, this isn’t always the case, and there are 4 ways that really work when it comes to getting things done.
The “more-is-more” culture we live in can sometimes result in inefficient work habits. Thankfully, it’s proven that sometimes less is more, and there are simple ways to be more productive.
Speaking of getting things done, David Allen and Tony Schwartz have a theory that using lists are the way to being more productive.
No Sidebar: At Home
If you work at home, then you no doubt understand how difficult it can be to stay undistracted. The key might not be how you intend on getting more done, but maximizing your home office space instead.
Leo Babauta of famed Zen Habits compiled a list of tips for staying productive and sane while working from home. Among the many great pieces of advice he gives, there’s quite an interesting one — don’t work an eight hour day.
Apparently there’s truth in how beneficial it is for companies to allow working remotely. Stanford conducted a survey that confirms letting employees work from home raises productivity.
No Sidebar: In the Soul
Our minds can sometimes function in the same way computers do — they slowly compile unnecessary files and processes that can ultimately slow it down. Here’s a 3 step process for organizing your brain for better productivity.
We live our lives on overloaded with notions of practicality and productivity. At the end of the day, there’s one thing we must stop doing to be he happy.
You might find it difficult to sift through the infinite amount of lists that help you get more done. If you’re in that camp, it’s best to follow the scientific experts who share some habits of productive people.