April 3

Do you spend all day to get nothing done?

I’m becoming obsessed with productivity. I listen to podcasts like “Mac Power Users,” read books like “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and buy e-courses on goal setting from Michael Hyatt. Some part of me is convinced that if I can just hack productivity, find that elusive shortcut, I can do my work in half the time.

And, yet, too often, I feel like I spend all day to get nothing done.


All of the productivity advice boils down to one, simple, inescapable principle:

Find your priority in life. Do that first, before any distractions creep in.

For the sake of all that is good, I wish there were an easier way. Like an app.

But there’s not an easier way.

As a way to move out of restless activity and toward peaceful productivity, I suggest that there are 5 corollary principles that are essential to productivity:

1. Know what your priority in life is.

No one can tell you what your priority in life should be, and, honestly, it may take some time to figure out. But, I do believe you have a sense, deep within you, about what you want most to do with your life.

Maybe it’s writing about urban poverty. Maybe it’s travel and photography. Maybe it’s collecting data about how clean water wells impact rural African villages. Maybe it’s even more nebulous than those examples.

Grab on to whatever nebulous feeling you have, and take steps forward, wherever that feeling leads you. Your priority in life will become more clear only as you take action.

2. Actively pursue tasks that move you forward, toward your priority.

Take a look at all of the tasks that usually occupy your to-do list. Which ones are connected to your deepest desires and priorities? Which ones are simply necessary for getting from one day to the next? Write out the tasks that propel your life goals forward, and post those tasks somewhere visible first thing in the morning.

For instance, if you are a writer, try writing before any of your daily duties. For me, this means getting up before the kids, which – I won’t lie – is really, really difficult.

You are likely tempted to say, “Well, I just knock out a few of those phone calls and emails so that I feel better about starting on the larger project.” It’s a trap! That’s how we get sucked down the rabbit hole of needing to do “one more thing.” Then, the day’s over, and you’re too tired to work on that larger project. Maybe tomorrow, right?

3. Batch small, trivial tasks together.

This modern life pushes in with so many expectations that seem urgent but probably aren’t.

Since I’ve begun pursuing a more productive work flow, here are some things I’ve begun to batch:

  • Mail. Once a week, I open mail, sort it, scan it, pay bills, and respond. Nothing has ever been so urgent that it couldn’t wait a week.
  • Email. This is a work in progress, but ideally, I’ll check email twice a day, once around 10 or 11 am, once around 3 or 4 pm.
  • Social media. I try to set social media shares three times per week, and I try to limit just checking in to once per day.
  • Finances. Quick check in once a week, just to make sure we aren’t likely to bounce a check. Run a full financial report at the end of the month to see what the month looked like and what next month will look like.
  • Grocery shopping. Once a week. I have a meal plan set for the week, and the meals are nothing spectacular, but I know we’ll have food in the pantry for a week’s worth of eating.
  • Errands. Once a week. If a shirt needs to be picked up at the dry cleaner’s or something purchased at Lowe’s, it’ll just have to wait until errand day.
  • Order everything possible online. When I think of something that I can order off Amazon, I put it on a list in Evernote and once a month, I submit one big online order.
  • Laundry is twice per week, and cleaning occasional.

And that really takes care of most of my responsibilities outside of writing, clients, and running the business. If I’m not doing one of these batched tasks or working, then I’m with the kids and pretty relaxed. When it’s all boiled down like that, it doesn’t look so bad, does it?

4. Remove any and all activities that you can.

Simplify your life as much as possible, and make every effort to choose only the tasks that give your life purpose and meaning. You don’t have to serve on any boards or groups that you don’t really want to. You don’t have to go to any particular social events. Your kids don’t have to be in three different activities each week. You don’t really need any new clothes or a salon visit every month.

Yes, I know, there will always be things to be done – doctor’s visits and hair cuts – but just try to be increasingly intentional about what makes it on to your to do list.

5. Remember: Life is fleeting, but it is not an emergency.

Ann Voskamp changed my life with this phrase, “Life is fleeting, but it is not an emergency.” I read her book, One Thousand Gifts, over a year ago, but I still repeat it to myself daily, like a mantra in my head.

Because the days slip by quickly, we must use the time wisely. But rushing around, accomplishing menial tasks like we’re being timed is no way to live life. Instead of running as fast as we can in circles, we must take slower, more deliberate steps toward our life’s priorities.

What is one activity that you want to pursue, first thing in the day? And what is one activity you could either batch or drop entirely?


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