We’ve all heard it before: to be successful, you’ve got to hustle. Stay on the grind. Sleep is for the weak. Problem is, I like sleep. And I embrace working smarter, not harder. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no stranger to hard work. I spent my early years in college on the grind working 2-3 part-time jobs to cover tuition. Sleep was illusive. I’d never worked harder, or been more miserable. Then I hustled as a marketing rep at a major record label. After that? Law school, followed by the epic Bar Exam designed to keep graduates from becoming attorneys (as in bar you from practicing). During all that time, I was busy, but I was also frustrated and dog tired. Too tired to fully enjoy my well-earned successes. This didn’t feel good, and it sure didn’t feel like a smart way to live.
This made me take a hard look at my working habits, rooted in cultural teachings that worthiness and busyness are synonymous. I believed that staying busy, and working hard, would lead to success and material wealth. So I gave more time to others and their agendas, and less time to myself, under the guise that this was a strategic investment in my professional future. Then I saw another quote that turned this belief on its head:
“Don’t confuse motion and progress.”
I discovered that the biggest trap I set for myself, over and over, was creating mile-long to do lists with the unreasonable expectation to get it all done in one day. The longer the list, the better I felt about the perceived value of what I was working on. But in reality, the lists just kept getting longer, and I often felt like I was failing, which was itself exhausting.
I finally understood the value of “Less is More.” Busy isn’t better. Don’t believe the hype.
I couldn’t afford to keep confusing quantity and quality, therefore, prioritization was going to be a key skill to help me shorten to do lists into manageable pieces. But how? I adopted tools that helped me leverage new skills to create better habits and increase my productivity.
I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. The methodology takes time to learn, as any new skill does, but is straight-forward and highly effective.
“The heartbeat of GTD is five simple steps that apply order to chaos and provide you the space and structure to be more creative, strategic, and focused.”
The five steps are capture, clarify, organize, reflect and engage. Obviously, I was a pro at step one, but failed at step five due to skipping all the middle steps. Step 2 Clarify acted as a filter, helping me decide to keep, trash or delegate a task, which was critical in paring down my lists and tackling only the highest quality tasks. Embracing all five steps made a huge difference by decreasing stress, and increasing focus and productivity. It was freeing, refreshing and interestingly enough, I felt a sense of vindication. The GTD system was the epitome of working smarter, not harder.
I also use the Todoist App to help me prioritize what matters most to me, and stay organized and energized. I admit, at times I catch myself making a long list, but I no longer feel overwhelmed. Rather, I have a acute awareness of what’s important to do, and those things that are nice to haves. And I’m happy to report I’ve been sleeping quite well.
I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve struggled with productivity, please comment and share what tools and practices you implemented to help you progress, and move your life and business forward!