Productivity through Discomfort

I’ve been trying an experiment for the past month, which is to take on more than I’m comfortable with. The idea of overbooking myself is one that I associate with forgetting things, dropping deadlines, and generally feeling harried…not good feelings at all. The idea of doing things that are outside my comfort zone is also an anxiety-inducing exercise in facing my own demons. Coupled with my continuing search for “creative and career identity”, all these negative associations contribute, I think, to a failure to really live up to my potential. And what IS that potential? By overbooking myself, slowly, I am finding where my cracking points are. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Shaking Myself Up

When I try these kinds of experiments, I like to identify some working principles to make it easier for me to know when I’m “on the money” or not. The challenge is to overcome my natural tendency to play it safe, and to do that I’m applying these guidelines:

  • If you think you might be able to take something on, or can’t think of a concrete reason NOT to, then take it. Don’t let “maybe” tasks prevent you from booking the commitment right now.

  • If you can see both positive and negative aspects to the task commitment, don’t let the negatives keep you from pursuing the positives. Likewise, don’t let undefined fear be your reason for saying “no”. Say yes instead.

  • Trust that you will do the best thing you can at any given time. It may not be efficient or systematic, but trust that you will get it done because that’s who you are (or want to be).


p>If I follow these guidelines, I am guaranteed to put more pressure on myself, and I’m thinking this will give me new insights into my personal productivity. Already I am feeling the need to get off my butt and work some more on the Emergent Task Timer Online, as I could really use the extended features I’d like to add. I’ve felt a few projects slip away from me in a way I haven’t wanted because my attention has been split. I’m not worrying about it as much as I would have in the past, trusting that things will get done. That’s a positive step, kind of like having the GTD “relax” attitude without the benefit of a working organization process; the next step would be to not only know what’s going on, but being able to have the energy to do it at a moment’s notice.

Pushing Through the Resistance

Energy and motivation can be a problem for me. Sometimes it’s the amount of work that’s daunting, particularly if I don’t know how long it’ll take to get it done. The emotional responses I feel are, I realize, based on the expectations that arise from fear and uncertainty:

  • How many things will I have to do and find out and make? Emotional answer: It’ll take some time to figure it all out before you can start, otherwise you’ll mess it up.
  • How long is this going to take? Emotional answer: You don’t know, but it’ll take a while and there’s no way to predict how long it will take. You’re a prisoner!
  • Is there something ELSE that I should be doing instead? Emotional answer: Yes, lots of things, but you have to do this one and a dozen others because you’re already behind. You’re a prisoner!

There’s a better way to address these questions, and that’s by taking a more pragmatic view of how things get done. I tend to worry about everything in large, complete pieces. The antidote to that is to recognize that everything gets done one step at a time. In other words, believe in the process.

  • How many things will I have do and make? Start with the first one, and the first step.
  • How long is this going to take? At least 15 minutes. Just put one foot in front of the other for an hour and review then.
  • Is there something else I should be doing? Focus on what’s in front of you, and just do one thing at a time.

In other words, deal with the fear by trusting I have a process of dealing with each scenario. I have seen these mantras before, as I’m sure you have. But it took the pressure of having TOO MANY THINGS TO DO breathing down my neck to put me in the zenful state of mind to perceive it for myself, in the context of my own dillema.

Three Tasks a Day

So I have identified my challenge and have come up with a process of dealing with the challenge. What’s left is the definition of a daily metric so I can pace myself.

I’ve decided that if I can get three tasks done in a day, I will feel good about that. They may not seem like a lot of tasks, and having such a low threshold for achievement would seem to invite abuse of the system. Since it’s just me, I’m going to apply the honor system and just accept that if I write down three tasks and get them done, then I will consider the day a winner. After all, I got three things done that needed getting done! Keep in mind also that there are going to be other tasks that pop up during the day: conversations, email, maybe even surprise projects. I figure if you can get three tasks done on TOP of that (and that’s all I’m asking), that is indeed cause for celebration.

I also like that having three things on your todo list, as opposed to a dozen, seems much more doable. That might be the positive boost I need to just get started in the morning. And I’m thinking that if I get those three things done, there’s nothing stopping me from picking another three things to do, and get a DOUBLE SHOT OF GOOD FEELING out of that.

So those are my thoughts for the day. I haven’t yet thought of a form to use to track this…I’m just running this on scrap paper until the right design burbles into my consciousness.