Productivity – motivation for output, or creativity killer?

Do you sometimes feel like your productivity is low, even though you’re constantly busy doing stuff? Sometimes we try so hard to keep up with all the tasks on our to-do list that we jump from item to item, starting lots of things, but finishing nothing. The to-do list can ironically make us less productive, because it’s cluttered with too much ‘stuff’.time

Research has shown we don’t multi-task as well as we might think we do. Even if we do manage to complete two tasks at once, we do neither of them as well as we would if we applied focus to each.

more tasks = less productivity

Productivity – where’s the sweet spot?

There are lots of articles on productivity and the magic number for to-do list items. Forbes recommends nine items (1 big thing, 3 medium jobs and 5 small tasks), whereas Inside Science suggests seven is the limit of items we can remember on the go. There are some who insist we can’t handle the stress of more than five items in a day, and CEOs who swear by the power of three (name 3 main things you want to achieve today, once you’ve completed those you can take on more tasks and feel like your productivity has had a boost).

That all sounds good, but it hasn’t exactly been working for me lately.

I’ve been incredibly productive, ticking off countless items on my to-do lists; creating websites for my new ventures, writing content, running workshops, mentoring students on creative writing, and even filming video workshops. And I don’t feel overworked — the extra hours and effort I put in is invigorating, in fact, it’s fun.

Is this a call for longer to-do lists? Surely the more I get done, the better my productivity?

That depends.

See, I am first and foremost a writer. And what does a writer do?

A writer writes

Some people merge left-brain right-brain activities well. I don’t. When I’m reading a lot of how-to books, I don’t feel like reading fiction. When I’m writing up business plans and articles for blogs, I’m not inspired to write creatively. If I don’t work on one of my novels soon, I’m stripping myself of my writer’s badge.

The Solution?

I’ve tried adding ‘write a story’ or ‘edit Undead Kev‘ to my daily to do list, but if I’m honest, it goes right at the bottom and I never seem to get to it. But I’ve come across another suggestion for keeping a to do list, and I want to share it with you.

James Schramko and Tim Reid host a great entrepreneurial podcast called Freedom Ocean and they put me on to this great tip.

How many things on your to do list?

James says ‘one’.

Yep. One.

By putting only ONE item on your list, it has your full attention. Does that mean you’ll only complete one thing each day? No, but even if you did, you’d do a darn good job of it!

Productivity and inspirationThe point is to just focus on one item at a time. When you complete that one task, you can nominate another. I’d use a master list. Everything that could possibly need doing for your business. You could group tasks into categories like writing, editing, marketing, or whatever suits you. Then pull only one item out to start on and put the big scary master list away.

Don’t trust yourself to stop peeking at the bigger list? Try NowDoThis – a nifty online app where you can store today’s compelte list and just have one item show at a time. Or use a fresh white page in your notebook with the item written right in the middle.

How will this help me get back my creative groove?

Simple. Tomorrow I will have ONE item on my to do list. And that’s to do the final rewrites for Undead Kev. That’s it. Nothing else. Creative inspiration is bound to follow once I get stuck in.

What will be your one big thing?


  1. Hi, Charmaine,
    Good article and so true. I’m doing so much, but don’t seem to be accomplishing much, but I recognize that’s I feel that way because my efforts are fragmented.

    I have a Things-to-Do book with a heading for various things, but I’ve abandoned it for a while now. Too much going on in that book. 🙂

    BTW – I like the look of the site. This is the only upside of WordPress for me. It’s seamless appearance.

    • Hi Joy – thanks for being my commenter! (if you don’t count those ones trying to send me to spam sites – and I don’t).

      Still building lots here, but I’m getting into a bit of a groove and actually enjoying the learning process now 🙂

  2. Love your new spot! Beautiful, clear, concise, friendly, not overwhelming…absolutely great. I can tell you’ve been productive.

    Great article, Charmaine. I already tweeted it (which also automatically sends the tweet to FB and posts it there, too).

    I should probably keep better to-do’s. Or any to-do. I make short ones when I do that I know I can complete in a day…usually more of a reminder list than a to-do. I’ll try that online list.

    Oh…and on some (most) sites where I’ve used Comment Luv it gives a selection of past posts to choose from (like the past ten). Yours only gives the most recent post. I like to be able to choose from my posts because sometimes the last one isn’t a good representation.

    Like the Blogfest, for instance. It’s goofing off. I’d rather have been able to choose the one before that (on the importance of book covers).

    Wonderful place. I’m proud of you!
    M.L. Swift recently posted…The Anti-Blogfest Blogfest (or Gary Philip Pennick’s Sad Cry for Attention)My Profile

    • Thanks Mike,
      Your input has helped me a lot. And good to know about Comment Luv, it’s probably just something in its settings, I’ll check it out. 🙂

  3. Great article, Charmaine. I love my lists, but I can’t always complete them and that gives me the feeling I haven’t done anything, lol. When I cut it down, then I feel more positive and experience less pressure. Things actually get done!
    Lynda R Young recently posted…How to Write an Original StoryMy Profile

  4. I keep a long term list of what I’m trying to accomplish and break it into daily goals so that I have one major career related accomplishment for each day, one major house related item (chore wise), and kid’s school wise. (With of course the daily allotment of writing. That’s a given, right?) I think I’d be a basket case without my calendar. Thank goodness for calendars!
    Crystal Collier recently posted…Squee worthy ANNOUNCEMENT, and an Editing GiveawayMy Profile