So far this year, I’ve been testing some extreme productivity scenarios. I haven’t done this because I think they’re better than how I work normally: No, I’ve deliberately pushed myself to extremities in order to see what I learn when I’m there, and see what I learn on my journeys back to sanity.
People have said “So, you’re suggesting that I should make business decisions by the throw of a dice?” (as I did in February). “No“, I say, “but I’m suggesting we should question our assumption that safety is the best route to productivity, or that accidents can’t be celebrated and exploited“.
When an article of mine was syndicated on Lifehacker, I had an amusingly negative reaction in the comments because it was misconstrued as suggesting it was really better to only check emails on Fridays. No it’s not, but perhaps limited email usage in some way can help with managing your attention and help you throw your energy into better things. And my conclusion from such absurdity was that maybe two days or concentrated periods of email processing activity a week might be workable.
Each of the months so far have been testing desirable outcomes (none more so than my month of working only an hour a day, which turned out to be less than desirable after all!). So May will mark a change in dynamic for my 2013 experiments. May will be all about testing what I currently see as being undesirable. I’m going back to the beginning.
In the early years of my career, I didn’t so much manage my productivity as struggle against it. And I achieved a lot… but by throwing every ounce of my energy into it, often very inefficiently. I was the guy who was too busy to go on a time management course I’d paid for. True story.
Since then, of course, I’ve got a lot better.
I’m still far from perfect – and regular readers will know I don’t believe anyone is “perfect at productivity” – but I have a set-up that works for me. And my book and the reactions to it prove that what works for me works for others too. We can all do this stuff better, but there’s nothing in my book that I think anyone has come back to me saying “doesn’t work”. And the book was a great affirmation for me that I am comfortable in this space, in this skin and in this journey of helping others see productivity as a momentous asset, not as another guilty thing to add to the to-do list.
It’s getting harder for me to teach it. It’s always easiest to teach the things that you found difficult to learn yourself. And as my new habits become no longer new but engrained, it’s more difficult to empathise with the people at the beginning of that journey when I’ve been on it for so long. And understanding the mind of the beginner is key to any teaching and learning.
So here’s what May is going to look like for me:
- Piling up my emails and not keeping at zero
- Not writing everything down
- Working longer hours, including inevitably working every weekend.
- Not keeping a Master Actions List at all
- Not undertaking weekly or daily reviews of projects and actions
- Saying “yes” to lots of stuff
- Having mobile email alerts on my iPhone bugging the hell out me
- Taking on too much work, getting out of control, filling up my head with high dramas and last minute panics.
- In fact, going against every common sense and engrained “good productivity” instinct, principle and rule.
Welcome, my friends, to “Maynia”.
What’s my hypothesis?
This month is about proving that a Productivity Ninja is as lost without good systems and habits as anyone else. And in doing this, it should prove that anyone can be more productive with good systems in place. Ninjas are, after all, not gurus or superheroes but humans who’ve undergone some training, keep good habits and have the right mindset for the battle. Without all that, they’re back to square one – and just as unproductive as the annoying bloke in your team who doesn’t get anything done. There’s no special powers here.
And after four years of preaching the gospel of productivity, it’s time to check whether I still believe. What if this month goes swimmingly well regardless? Then perhaps neither you nor I needed my book after all. If it goes really badly this month, clearly all those happy Think Productive UK customers were right, we were right and all is good with the world. But perhaps – just perhaps – there are some grey areas in the middle here: some things we could ditch permanently and do without. Sometimes I wonder whether I could make systems simpler – and one way to find out is to take the whole thing apart (and build it up again from scratch, which I’ll do on the 1st June!).
What are my hopes and fears?
Well, my hopes are that I find ways to be objective. It would be easy for me to just report back on abject failure all through May in order to “prove a point”. But that’s not the point of experimentation.
On the other hand, I fear that some of my current good habits are engrained and will be difficult to dismantle. And worse than this, I fear that even though it’s only for a short while, I may be destroying habits that I’ve had to work damn hard to develop in myself, being the flawed and fallible guy that I am underneath the productivity ninja costume.
So there you have it. I’m off to spend the weekend destroying things. Things like my Toodledo account, Outlook email set-up and filing systems. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be fun. I am a little scared.
And as I destroy things, my plea to you is to go away and build better systems for yourself. After 4 years of saying “do it like me”, this is a month of saying “do the opposite”.
It’s the least you can do.
Remember, I’m only putting myself through “Maynia” so that you don’t have to.
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