When we spend time learning new productivity tips, we need to keep in mind the big picture and ask two questions:
- Will these tips get me closer to the big-picture goal?
- Is there something more important toward the goal that I would be better off spending my time doing?
Learning and implementing productivity tips can be completely distracting. That’s not to say they always are. But they can be. In the same way that “doing” email makes us feel busy and therefore productive, wasting an hour or two looking for tiny gains in our process can be an equally misguided effort.
Don’t get distracted by tips that make you feel busy if they don’t actually put a dent in your efficiency.
A Drop in the Bucket
As an analogy, think about efforts to go green. Let’s say I regularly drink bottled water, and I usually buy a big flat-pack of 16-oz. bottles that are held together with thick plastic wrap. As part of my effort to be green, I make a conscientious effort to always recycle my bottles. Recycling the bottles is a misguided effort. It might feel green, but in light of all the waste I’m creating by purchasing this particular type of bottled water and all its packaging, I could do better to focus on matters that come with higher payoff, such as choosing instead to drink tap water (if it’s safe) or as buying larger quantities of water in glass bottles that can be fully reused and don’t need to be recycled. Or I might invest in a distiller so that I can create my own safe drinking water and therefore cut down on the additional waste created by traveling to the store or having my water delivered.
Finding ways to improve our personal productivity can have this same effect. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of believing that figuring out a few ways to curb distractions, for example, will somehow make up for the fact that I’m extremely slow at creating slideshow presentations. If the real hold up is that I spend too much time looking at help files for how to use PowerPoint or searching online for images that will improve the style of the presentation, then installing apps that block me from accessing distracting websites is really a drop in the productivity bucket. It’s not going to have a substantial effect. It’s merely going to make me feel better.
Inexperienced writers often have the same problem when they edit their own work. They might learn some editing techniques in a class, such as how to combine sentences, but if they aren’t creating compelling ideas that are well structured and supported, then no amount of line editing is going to help. You have to get the ideas right before you can get the words right. With productivity, you have to make the big pushes toward the goal before you can refine the little movements.
Your Best Rube Goldberg Effort
I got a kick out of this silly Rube Goldberg machine in the video below. Rube Goldberg machines are meant to be whimsical and playful, not examples of how to be more productive. They are quite the opposite. But if we pretend to take them seriously, it can serve as a lighthearted example of what happens when we get too caught up in life hacks and productivity tools, when we build needlessly complex workflows just to serve a slide of cake, when picking up a cake server would have been the more efficient solution.
Drop image by fRedi, CC.