Tired of productivity articles instructing you to break down large projects into smaller, more annoying, and less interesting tasks?
Or about how if even the teeniest little thing remains in your inbox at 5:00 on Friday afternoon, then not only will your entire weekend be shot, but also you are a terrible human being?
Well I figured with the New Year ringing in Resolutions about how It’s Really Going To Be Different This Time, No Really I Mean It Why Are You Looking At Me Like That, it would be a good time to share with you a favorite technique of mine which doesn’t require that you sacrifice a goat at an altar of David Allen.
This technique is weird, and not in a good way. More like a painful, aggravating way, but entirely worth it.
It really does work. You’ll measurably improve your productivity.
It’s called the “Personal Checklist,” which sounds boring and benign but is actually the emotional equivalent of punching yourself in the face.
Here’s how you do it.
The week of pain
Starting on Monday morning, you’re going to write down every mistake you make.
Every single one.
- Make a spelling mistake in an email? Write it down.
- Close an application when you meant to just close one window? Write it down.
- Open the wrong document? Write it down.
- Save a file but can’t remember where it was so you just save it again? Write it down.
- Dial a wrong number? Write it down.
It doesn’t matter how you record the mistakes; use any technique that’s convenient for you. A pad of paper (yeah, you’ll need more than one sheet), a spreadsheet, some complicated Web 2.0 cloud-based always-available task-managing collaborative Wave-based ecosystem with little Gravatar heads peering at you, whatever.
You’re going to discover a couple of things:
- This sucks.
- You make mistakes all the damn time. Littles ones, sure, but still.
- Introspection destroys the ego, which doesn’t make you a good lunch companion.
- You realize you’re wasting a ton of time constantly writing the list, but then you realize you’re always writing because you’re constantly making mistakes.
- No really, this sucks.
It’s one of those 80/20 things
Confession: I didn’t make it through a whole week. I got to Tuesday afternoon before I cracked.
It’s OK though, because there’s nothing special about “one week” anyway. That’s not the point.
The point is that you make mistakes all the time, and you make the same kind of mistakes over and over again. And it costs you.
Maybe you’re a bad speller. Maybe your mouse finger is faster than your brain. Maybe you’re always misplacing documents and emails.
Folks love quoting rules like “20% of the activity is responsible for 80% of the problem.” I don’t know about those particular numbers, but yeah, it’s something like that.
Fixing the 80% — the Personal Checklist
This is actually good news though: You don’t have to fix 47 things about youself; you just need to fix 5, or 3 or even just 1, and you’ll be more productive.
Not only that, the “Week of Pain” just identified those things for you! You have empirical evidence of what slows you down.
So now all you have to do is write down just one, two, or three things you’re going to work on, and paste them somewhere you’ll see all the time, like the wall or a post-it note on your monitor or your desktop background or your mother’s Facebook profile.
Well don’t complain to me that you signed your mom up for Facebook. This is about productivity, not poor life choices. Sheesh. (Don’t worry, I love my mom.)
Anyway, the great thing about a short checklist is that you can actually keep it in your head all the time. When you go to write an email, you can check spelling. If you misspell a word the same way all the time, you can either take the time (once) to learn it properly, or you can program your email editor to automatically change your spelling into the correct one. Hooray technology.
If you keep misplacing documents, you could read up on some filing systems and pick one. Or you could use a tool like Google Desktop which lets you instantly find any document by name or content, so it doesn’t matter that you suck at filing.
It doesn’t matter how you fix the problem, so long as it’s not slowing you down any more.
The checklist evolves
Of course at some point you’ll have completely licked one of the items on the checklist. You’ll have changed your work habits, attitude, or technology so that particular mistake rarely happens.
Good for you! But now it’s time to retire that slot on your checklist.
Go back to your list of mistakes, find the next problem you’re going to solve, and slap it into the checklist. Or maybe you have to do the Week of Pain again — at least for a day.
What, you thought you were done? Ha. You’re never done. This is like SimCity — you can never win, you just keep getting new problems thrown in your face.
I told you this was painful.
What productivity tips do you have? Have you tried this method? Leave a comment and join the conversation!