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’.
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?
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.
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’.
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!
The 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?