Productivity coach and author David Allen has a saying, “The better you get, the better you’d better get.” This means that as you become more organized and productive, you’ve got to watch out because either others will recognize that you get things done and heap more tasks on your plate or you’ll initiate your own plans to achieve loftier goals, necessitating yet even more organization. How to manage?
First, identify where you can say “no” to others or where you need to stop and take 24 hours or walk around the block to think about volunteering to take on a task. When I’m in my most productive moments, I volunteer for more than I should and kick myself for taking on commitments that are a little larger or longer-term than I’d ideally like. When you’re in your most orderly, bullet-proof moments, it’s good to have a rule about never giving an immediate “yes’ to new projects and assignments.
Second, identify any areas in your life that you can outsource or delegate tasks you don’t enjoy or that are below your pay grade. If you are a perfectionist, this is where you will have to let go a little (or a lot). If your improved productivity has generated more income, maybe you no longer have to wash your own car or even do your own grocery shopping. Start with the chores you least enjoy and let someone else earn an income doing those while you fry your bigger fish.
Remember that perfectionism is not the same as excellence. While I don’t believe that “done is good enough,” as some productivity coaches preach, I do believe that in our pursuit of excellence we can get bogged down in perfectionism—sweating the details that undermine completion of projects and growth personally and professionally. Micromanagement and productivity don’t go together. If you’re too busy white-glove testing the door frames, or hand writing an elaborate thank you note when a friendly e-mail will do, you might achieve as much as your more relaxed peers, but it most likely be at the expense of your health and relationships.
Another area one has to continually monitor as productivity brings success is technology. I have a friend in her 70s who took several classes at an Apple store just so that she knew her Mac, iCloud and iPhone backwards and forwards. although it wasn’t natural and normal for her to be tech savvy, she put in the time she needed to so that she wouldn’t be left behind by the digital revolution.
Is sitting in a computer class fun? No way. Putting in the time to strengthen our weakest areas is something no one I’ve ever talked to enjoys, but it separates the good from the great. Mastery is all about those 10,000 hours it takes to become extremely proficient at something. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers for some great stories on how The Beatles, Bill Gates and others put in huge amounts of time learning and practicing before anyone had ever heard of them.
Taking this further, once you are proficient, you’ll have to keep noticing and exploring what’s new and available to up your game. It can be a better broom—the Swiffer is an example of a low tech game changer—or a new app. The compass app on my phone kept me from getting lost several times in Mexico City recently. The FitBit app makes fitness fun and keeps my friends and I challenged to try for more daily steps. Using the voice recorder on a smart phone, something that so many people fail to use, makes rattling off e-mails, texts and notes incredibly fast and efficient.
Productivity apps are endless and not all of them will be helpful. Since most of them are free or very cheap, you can play with around and decide if they increase your productivity or not.
In short, to better your best, say “no” or at least stop yourself before saying “yes” immediately, delegate tasks you don’t enjoy, let go of perfectionism and micromanaging, practice and spend time on skills you need to improve, and notice/explore new productivity tools and technology. This might take a little thought and journaling to identify exactly how you want and need to spend your time. When you’re at the top of your game, you might get to go on auto-pilot for short stretches, but on the way there you need to be thoughtfully engaged and at the wheel.