"Productivity" has kind of a bad rep -- it smacks of automation and soullessness. But honestly, do you know of any successful creative person who isn't productive? By definition, successful talented people produce works in their chosen media. The cousin of productivity is efficiency -- which basically means making good use of your time. I'm not talking about scheduling every moment of your week. I don't mean turning yourself into some kind of 'Type A' whirlwind. What I mean by productivity and efficiency is doing more of what's really important to you -- and less of what isn't. When you do that, you will increase your creativity -- and make space for magical things to happen. DaVincis who cultivate productivity and efficiency reap other benefits, too.

Why care about productivity & efficiency?

1. to waste less time

Projects take as long to do as we give them. I can fuss over the finish work on a necklace for half a day...or I can set a timer for one hour and declare that whatever gets done is 'good enough'.

2. to get more done

At the risk of being obvious, the more paintings we paint, the more we have to grow our voice, to exhibit, to sell. If you're thinking that fewer, unique pieces are better and more valuable than a greater number of unique pieces, consider that Picasso's productivity didn't hurt him any. Gwen Stefani couldn't juggle her music, writing, performing and fashion design without mastering efficiency.

3. to increase the odds of success

The more songs we write, the more we hone our craft and the more possibilities something will resonate with an audience.

4. to nip procrastination in the bud

It's tough to procrastinate when you have only a limited amount of time to do something. Time pressure focuses your efforts.

5. to reduce the siren call of distractions

Along the same lines: if you've focused and working productively, you'll be less tempted by the siren call of the internet, Facebook or the sudden urge to scrub the tub.

I could list several more reasons, but I suspect I've highlighted enough benefits...and besides, I've set a time limit for writing this piece for the sake of being more efficient. So let's move on to the next logical question:

How to be more productive? How to increase your efficiency?

Once you decide what it is that you want to do, it's time to figure out what you're doing with your time, then to apply some basic time management techniques. (Please see my articles on these topics). After you put together a basic game plan, you can then look for opportunities to be more efficient and more productive. Consider the following techniques:

Technique #1: Avoiding

Start by pruning your 'to do' list, right off the bat. What's on there that you don't REALLY need to do? What can you eliminate entirely? What can you delegate or pay someone else to do?

Technique #2: Evaluating

There's no sense being efficient if you're doing the wrong things. Review your 'to do' list with a critical eye: What's IMPORTANT, what's not? What's URGENT, what's not? If you haven't already, delete all Unimportant items. Now look at what's IMPORTANT. Urgent, important items pretty much take care of themselves...but what often gets lost are items that are Important but Not Urgent. These are the things most influencing your productivity. This is where you will benefit from focusing your attention and time.

It's like that old story about how much you can fit in a jar: FIRST you put the big rocks (most important items), then the smaller rocks, then the sand, then the water. To enhance your productivity, ensure first that you're attending to what's really important. Streamline or eliminate what's not.

Technique #3: Have a Clear Purpose and a Plan

When you commence doing something, it's helpful to know at the onset what you aim to accomplish -- and why. If you can't conjure up a purpose for a meeting, for example, you don't need that meeting. If there is a clear rationale for proceeding, it's helpful to sketch out exactly what you want to get done -- so that you are poised and prepped to make the most of the experience. This goes for group work sessions as well as solo endeavors. It's more helpful to schedule this morning as 'outlining my script' rather than just 'writing'. If I can go farther and set the intention of creating my screenplay's complete beat sheet by noon, even better.

Another word about meetings: if you have a purpose and an agenda, follow it. If people stray, nudge them back to the task at hand. If an additional item pops us, decide to deal with it or 'park' it for action or discussion later.

Technique #4: Batching

Anyone who writes a book entitled "The Four Hour Work Week" knows a thing or two about working efficiently and productively. In it, Tim Ferriss makes a compelling case for "batching" together regular activities. If you check and respond to your email ten times a day, you're still doing the same amount of work as if you checked your inbox twice -- but you're taking a heckuva lot more time to do it. Every time you sign into your account excessively, you're wasting time and effort. Afraid you'll miss something important if you don't check your email every hour? You won't if you set up an automatic responder to indicate your email schedule and how people can reach you for urgent matters. Something like: "Thanks for your message. I check my email at 9 am and 4 pm PST daily. If you require assistance more urgently, please contact me @ (555) 555-5555."

Examples of things you can batch: checking your email; submissions; following up on queries; filing; making phone calls; laundry; etc. What are you taking too much time to do? Where are you wasting effort by repeating actions unnecessarily?

Running errands offers another batching opportunity: rather than making separate, random trips to take care of things, group them together into one trip and plan your route to be efficient and practical.

Technique # 5: Time-Boxing

For things that can expand to take whatever time is available, impose time limits. Set a timer. If you know you've got to get the article written this morning, set a reasonable deadline and stick to it. Here's another Tim Ferriss tip: don't allow business phone calls to be open ended. You know how it goes: You answer, there's a bit of chitchat and rambling before the purpose of the call is revealed and eventually dealt with, followed by a closing chin-wag. Instead, answer the phone by saying something like, "Hi Fred, I've got five minutes before my next meeting. What can I do for you?" Be helpful and then, after five minutes, it's time to sign off, as you already indicated. If there's more to do to deal with the matter, you can handle it via email or a scheduled meeting or whatever makes sense.

Technique #6: The Unschedule

In his classic book "The Now Habit", Neil Fiore offers a nifty technique to get more done in less time: Instead of pre-scheduling what you plan to do when, you commit to 30 minute blocks of focused, quality work. At the end of that time, you record what you did on 'The Unschedule'. So your day starts with a blank grid and fills up with evidence of your productivity, with each thirty minutes of focused, quality work. This is a nifty way of reverse time-boxing while increasing your focus...and somehow it makes productivity and efficiency inherently more rewarding.

Technique #7: Apply the 80: 20 Rule

It’s a well established phenomenon that “for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes”. Here's some more from Tim Ferriss, who applies the 80:20 rule to maximizing the impact of one’s efforts. For example “what are the 20% of customers/products/distributors that are producing 80% of the profit? Then we do the less common; we apply 80/20 to the negative: what are the 20% of activities and people that consume 80% of your time?”

Just as Ferriss focused on the 20% of his customers that give him 80% of his sales -- and 'fires' the 20% of his customers who give him 80% of his grief -- you can follow suit: rather than trying to do EVERYTHING, focus on the 20% projects/activities/opportunities/people that give you the most joy/success/recognition -- and let go of the 20% of projects/activities/opportunities/people that are sapping 80% of your time/energy/happiness/creativity.

Technique #8: Aim for 'good' and 'accurate' rather that perfection.

Related to the 80:20 rule, aim for 'good enough'. John Lasseter, head of Pixar says that their films are never finished -- just released. There's *always* more you can do. There are always potential improvements -- and those can make you crazy while killing your productivity. Avoid delaying the release of your manuscript/reel/CD/demo/canvas/sculpture unnecessarily. When you get to a point where it's good enough', let it go.


Activity: Review your 'to do' list. Answer the following questions:

- What doesn't need to be there? What can you eliminate, delegate or outsource?

- What on your list is really, truly important? How can you ensure you're making progress on these items?

- What items can you time-box?

- What activities can you batch?

- Where can you apply the 80:20 rule? What 20% projects/activities/opportunities/people that give you the most joy/success/recognition? What 20% of projects/activities/opportunities/people that are sapping 80% of your time/energy/happiness/creativity?

- Where are you applying excessive effort? Where could you aim for "good enough" instead of perfection?

Activity: This week, apply one or more of these techniques. See what works best for you.


I'd love to hear from you in the comment box below. What productivity tips and efficiency techniques work for you?


(c) Liisa Kyle, Ph.D.


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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The Da Vinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/.

Author's Bio: 

Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. is the go-to coach for smart, creative people who want to overcome challenges, get organized, get things done and get more out of life (www.CoachingForCreativePeople.com).

Liisa Kyle is also an internationally published writer/editor/photographer as well as author of books including "YOU CAN GET IT DONE: Choose What to Do, Plan, Start, Stay on Track, Overcome Obstacles, and Finish" (http://bit.ly/YouCanGetItDone). If you are a creative person with too many ideas and too much to do, check out her other helpful articles here: www.DavinciDilemma.com