Across The Board

Updates, inspiration, and musings from the folks behind Trello.

The Reason You're Not More Productive? It's Complicated.

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Life can be a challenge. It’s common to feel like you’re constantly battling personal and professional to-do lists, working against the clock, and moving plans around to reach deadlines. When you do take time to relax … you feel guilty. That’s no way to live.

Good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to take control and start accomplishing your personal and professional goals, all while having a life.

This won’t be your typical “wake up at 4:13am and conquer your day!” article. Rather, it will focus on one minor shift in your mindset that will lessen the anxiety that can come with the daily grind.  

The ‘One Thing’ Approach

The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, prompts you to ask yourself: “What’s the one thing I should do now that’s going to make everything else easier or unnecessary?” It suggests starting with big, long-term goals then trickling it down. Start by answering the question for the one thing you want to accomplish in your lifetime, then the year, the month, the week, the day, and finally, this very moment (i.e. the domino effect).

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Image source: KellerInk.com

When you take this ‘one thing’ approach, productivity hacks become obsolete. You’re focused on one thing at a time, accomplishing it, then moving on. Every decision you make will go back to answering that one question, simplifying your life greatly and eliminating, or at least lessening, the feeling of running on a hamster wheel.

The book says that you have to let whatever is not your one thing go, admitting that it can be painful. Granted, there is a balance to this. Rather than completely allowing everything that’s not your one thing to fall by the wayside, you can prioritize those tasks under your one thing, and find a way to connect them (more on that later). The other “things” in your life become stepping stones towards achieving your one original goal.

By relating everything, personal and professional, back to the one thing that’s most important, you now have one goal rather than many goals, which is more attainable and less overwhelming. To simplify the concept of streamlining your entire life around one goal, here it is broken down into steps you can start to take right now:

Step One: What Do You Really Want?

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Image source: #WOCInTech Chat

So many people avoid taking a step back to reflect on what’s most important to them. Try defining, even if it’s broadly, what matters most to you. What do you hope to accomplish in life? Where do your priorities lie?

To put it simply, think about what elements of a career and life you seek. These could be flexibility, stability, wealth, travel, emotional support, family, growth, or having a routine. Brit Morin, founder of Brit+Co, suggests asking yourself, “How will the result improve my life?” for every activity you set out on. Start there, and see what happens.

Here are some examples:

  • Develop a flexible schedule that allows me to be spontaneous and outdoors as much as possible.
  • Connect with people and build more relationships based off productive conversations, rather than mindless ones.
  • Learn more and share these learnings more with others.
  • Challenge myself to meet new people who can teach me things I don’t already know.

Pretty broad, right?

But by being aware of the things you care about, all of your decisions become easier. If you know in advance that you’re going to take time off, you won’t feel guilty. Or maybe you know that if you take a new job, it has to be one that allows you to research and learn.

With a clear vision of what you want, anxiety around decisions you once felt dissipates.

Step Two: Learn To Really Prioritize. No, Really.

It’s easy to become obsessive about lists. Lists can be made for everything from groceries to dying wishes, from playlists to to-dos. List are great; lists create order. Lists help you prioritize.

But they also run the risk of getting awfully long and unwieldy.

To streamline your life, you need to prioritize and focus on less. After step one, you know what’s most important to you. What are one or two things you can should do now that are going to help you get to those things? Focus on those. Break them down into individual to-dos or steps if you have to. Cut, outsource, or delegate anything else that’s in the way.

Step Three: Make A Visual Outline

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Image source: #WOCInTech Chat

Visualization plays a huge role in getting things done. Trello boards are immensely helpful in doing this but sticky notes, a whiteboard, or a notebook will also work.

Once you’ve identified your one thing and the subsequent things you need to get done this month, week, and day to reach your one thing, visualize them so you can wrap your head around what exactly you need to do. Break your tasks into smaller tasks if you need to.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

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This Trello board is being used to organize a side project.

In the above Trello board example, to-dos are color-coded using labels that represent clients, and deadlines are added to critical tasks. All to-dos are broken into This Week, In Progress, and Done lists.

It’s good To-Do list hygiene to go through your tasks every week or so and assess which ones have been sitting there for a week or longer and either add a deadline, archive them, or move them to the backlog if they’re clearly not going to get done that week.

If you let tasks just pile up, they’re going to stress you out and cause you to lose focus on what matters. Go through each and ask yourself, “Is this going to make everything else easier or unnecessary?” If the answer is no, then toss it.

Step Four: Identify Points of Integration

It’s amazing how many things you can accomplish at once when you discover points of integration, also known as the “two birds, one stone approach.” For example, if a friend wants to hang out, but you want to get a workout in, then combine the two. Take a class or go for a jog together.

Integrating isn’t the same as multi-tasking. Rather, it’s finding things you can fully immerse yourself and be present in at the same time. Examples include walking meetings, batching meetings, combining friend groups, getting friends involved with projects, mentoring each other, or combining coffee meetings with social time.

Finding points of integration is simply about being mindful and aware of what you hope to accomplish and how the task or opportunity at hand fits into that.

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Image source: #WOCInTech Chat

Step Five: Optimize A Routine That Works For You

Determine what type of routine and process works for you. Everyone has different circadian rhythms, that is - physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.

The trick is to find what works for you and stick with it daily. You know when you’re most productive and what triggers productivity. Make the most of it. If you’re in a job that doesn’t allow you to do this, well then honestly, you might be in the wrong job.

Your calendar and Trello boards are your friends; get disciplined in using them. Time-box certain days or certain times for focused work, meetings, errands, exercise, or even social time. In doing this, you’re eliminating uncertainty and opportunity for wasted time.

Not feeling productive? Then move your time blocks around that day. Keep a structured routine, but allow room for flexibility.

Breathe Deep

Even with this simplified approach to life, you will obviously still have moments of anxiety. At the risk of sounding zen, these moments are great opportunities to take a deep breath and remember that every moment is fleeting. You might as well make the most of life by doing things that matter to you and those you love. Moments of stress are simply opportunities to learn and grow. Break them down, identify what’s bothering you, make it a task, get it done, and move onto something more fun. :)

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