The Oxymoron of Productivity

How I was more productive in the last 2 weeks without productivity tools than I ever was with them

No matter your exact job role, you are a project manager.

That statement is without a doubt the most significant professional epiphany I have had. It changed how I approached everyday work and soon became part of my everyday life. Everything on my plate — from PowerPoints to cleaning the cat litter — because a work in progress (WIP) that could be predicted. Scheduled. Forecast.

Stiflingly Aware of WIP

I hit a mental roadblock a few weeks ago. My calendar of to-dos that once set me free from worry had become insurmountable. I could not focus on today without seeing how much I had left to do tomorrow.

My due dates began to turn red. forecasting began to slip. My productivity had gotten beyond control and I lost track of what I could or could not achieve. Something had to change.

From WIP to GSD

Over a year into this habit, I gave it all up. That was two weeks ago now. I stopped forecasting. I started doing.

I stopped talking about work and just started getting sh*t done.
You become incredibly productive when you have no clear measurement of what’s on your plate. I’ve engaged more people, written more words and checked in more code than I ever would have in just a fortnight. Each night felt like Al Pacino’s speech from Any Given Sunday was written just for me. “That’s what living is, the six inches in front of your face.”

Focusing on today was a relief from what I worried about tomorrow. It freed me from a continually growing amount of WIP. I was all action and no talk and I loved it.

And I’m ready to give it up.

Unsustainable Productivity

What my productivity masked was an utter loss of prioritization. While I wrote blog posts faster than ever, I forgot to write the one that was due for work. I code for hours and ignored my email. I lost that sense of balance my militant project management process had hidden for me.

Yes, I had lost the ability to predict when I could complete tasks. But more significantly, I had lost track of why I decided to manage my WIP in the first place.

I want to be reliable to those who rely on me.

I feel like I lost that in the last couple weeks. Without some idea of my WIP, I lost track of how others rely on me. I lost track of how I manage to be reliable while I stay constantly curious. And I want that balance back.

What I’ll keep and what I’ll throw away

Neither method — of over-management or laissez-faire productivity — is right for me. This experiment has given me insights into myself, my projects and my productivity that I plan to implement. Here’s what I believe will work for me:

**Lesson 1: **Remove routines from project management software

Scheduled blocks of activity — from cooking to cleaning to running — do not need tasks with due dates. Routines need to be lived and to become natural, not managed.

Lesson 2: Keep an eye on the prize

There are parts of my week that could easily be forgotten in the mix of ambition and occupation. These goals need more flexibility than routine allows. I decided to continue to keep an eye on them.

For example, I keep a repeat weekly reminder to go on a proper date with my girlfriend at some point throughout the week. No one night of the week always works, but no amount of life’s WIP should get in the way of that time together. You might not find that romantic, but we do.

Lesson 3: Block off time for creativity

Reviewing the tasks that pushed me over the edge from productivity to stifled, I found an unmanageable amount of half-started projects. My new strategy is to keep these early stage ideas outside of my project management software and sum them up with a “Hack Day” on the calendar.

Once every couple weeks, I’ll set aside a chunk of my weekend to brainstorm and prioritize them out. This change has given me two benefits: my forecasting is now focused on what I plan to deliver. I’ve also given it a name, which empowers me to realize its different than every other day on the calendar. On Hack Days, I’m free to explore. I’m free to ignore everything else.

Still a Work in Progress

I stay curious about how I can find work/life/health/career balance through mental strategies and software tools. In a fitting way to end this oxymoronic topic, I continue to find managing WIP is itself WIP.

A note on what I use:

In case you’re left wondering, here’s my current tool set: projects and tasks live in Asana. I Have three workspaces for home, career and podcasting. Notes and draft posts live in Evernote in just a few notebooks and with clear tags. I occasionally schedule out a day using Trello.

This was originally published to Medium.