A productivity workshop seemed like a silly idea for me.
No, not because I’m so productive. I could win shiny gold medals for wasting time, if there were official world records. But there aren’t, because it’s a hard thing to measure:
- Is staring at Facebook for hours waiting for another like to show up wasting time?
- Is opening email and then clicking “save as unread,” and having to deal with it again later, a form of wasting time?
- What about mindlessly eating crackers with butter, one after the other, while standing and sort of reading – but not really reading, because you’re thinking — the NY Times on the kitchen counter?
- Bolting to the bathroom in the middle of a project to play with eyebrow pencil because you were triggered by some thick-brow-endowed 20-year-old’s selfie on instagram — is that wasting time?
- And then opening pictures of yourself from the 80s to grieve for the caterpillar-sized eyebrows you once had but later laughed at during those plucking-happy 1990s: that might be wasting time. I don’t know, you tell me.
See, who’s to say what’s a waste of time? Brows need to be filled in.
All I know is, that’s been a snapshot of my typical day.
I’ve always felt out of control of my time.
(And my cracker-and-butter consumption. Why butter and not cheese? Don’t be ridiculous. Butter is a cheese. The best cheese.)
Around the holidays, a friend asked me what my big goals were for 2017.
I shrugged. My big goal is for something big to happen. Magically. Because I never trust that I’ll use my time well enough to make it happen. That’s why I let things happen more than I make them happen.
So yes, I’ve been wanting to be more productive.
But when my friend Selena Soo invited me to come to our friend Chris Winfield’s productivity workshop, I said yes because I liked Chris, wanted to see how he ran a workshop, and thought it would be fun. Not because I believed its promise that I would become “wildly productive.”
I never believe anything will work on me.
I love reading “tips and tricks” but that’s all I do with them. I brush them off with a sad, “Yeah, I should do that but I won’t.”
I’m not what you’d call an “implementer” or “massive action taker.”
OK, I don’t want to over-promise. But get this — I took one set of tips from Chris and actually put them into action. They weren’t new to me. I’ve heard them before and said, “Yeah, I should” before. Right voice, right time, I guess – something about the way Chris suggested this new habit convinced me to give it a shot. And it’s working.
Here’s what I’m doing:
Less email. And no checking email in the morning.
I know, duh.
How many times have we all heard not to check our email first thing? It’s a filthy habit. Reaching for my phone in my first wakeful moment and clicking that email icon while I’m still in bed feels as gross as lighting a cigarette. Or eating a Snickers for breakfast. But I’ve been doing it for years, saying I’d try to stop, without ever trying to stop.
At the workshop, Chris pointed out that checking email first thing puts you in “reactive mode.”
How many times have I had grand, writerly plans for the morning — free-write, then write a blog post, then maybe even start working on a book! — only to be completely derailed by a friend’s email asking, “Hey, our neighbors are going to Sicily. Do you still have your notes from that trip? Any great restaurants they should hit?”
Must. Be. Helpful.
There goes the morning.
So after Chris’ workshop, I set a rule. Just for one day, I wasn’t allowed to look at my email until 11am.
And after 11, I’d check it no more than ten times a day.
Chris said his happiness level goes down if he checks more than ten times. So he keeps track with a post-it on his computer. I find post-its dirty. They always fall off and get that grime on the sticky part, and god forbid I should throw out a dirty post-it instead of keeping it floating around my desk till my husband asks, “Do you really need this?”
So anyway, I created a virtual post-it using the Stickies app on my Mac.
To keep my checkmarks low, I quit out of my email every time I’ve checked it. That way, the red notification light doesn’t nag at my dopamine-fiending, attention-hungry eye.
I’m proud to say it’s been over a week. 8 days clean of checking email in the morning and over-checking it all day long. I’ve also turned off Facebook notifications on my desktop and all social media push notifications on my phone.
Here are the results.
I’ve been writing every single morning, without fail. I have an actual streak now on 750words.com.
I started an instagram account just for Talking Shrimp, something I’ve been wanting to do. What is productivity but doing things you’ve been wanting to do? I’ve made a whole bunch of content for it already. I learned from my friend/web-and-graphics genius Michelle Martello how to make the quote cards in photoshop and have been doing them myself. Check it out here! And follow, of course. More on that experiment later.
I have that “on fire” feeling. Who knows how long it’ll last, but for once I feel like I’m in control of my day. Like I can get anything done that I decide to get done. Now I have to put my keyboard where my mouth is and start writing that book.
It’s kind of like I upgraded my own software and now, instead of getting interrupted every ten minutes by that spinning Mac pinwheel, I can complete a damn task. Actually, I did get a sweet new laptop. Christmas present from my husband. I can’t lie, that helps, too.
(OK, this “on fire” stage might also be called “manic.” It does run in my family. Keep an eye on me.)
I’m already less addicted to my phone. And, by extension, to all the social media. So freeing! This may not be a big deal to you, but I don’t even take the phone out of my pocket while waiting in line to pay for my watermelon chunks at Citarella. That’s a major phone-checking trigger.
Less distracted, more patient. I can wait till later to pencil in my eyebrows.
I feel capable of change. Remember how I said things don’t work on me? Well, maybe they can. Who knows what other good habits I could form? Maybe even quit ice cream? No, not that. But if I wanted to, I could. OK, here’s one I’d like to take up, if I could only sleep through the night: start getting up early. That’ll be the final step to kick me from “more productive than I was” to “disgustingly productive.”
My new goal is to be so nauseatingly efficient and prolific, I make you sick.
Can I keep this going? I think so. Here’s why.
Well for one, I’m enjoying it. The “not till 11” rule is like a game.
For two, I’ve been minding Chris’ advice for forming new habits. It’s this:
Don’t break the chain.
I guess this is the same as “Take it one day at a time.” But “Don’t break the chain” somehow landed better for me.
I did it yesterday and the day before.
I’ll do it today, too. So I don’t break the chain.
That’s how it works.
And before you know it, you’ve got a nice, long chain. Hey, my less-email-checking chain is almost a bracelet. A small child’s friendship bracelet, but still. Soon it’ll be a necklace, and then one of those long, wrap-around necklaces that look like you’re wearing a bunch of necklaces. Those are great for dressing up a t-shirt.
I’m on my way. Get ready to be grossed out.
Do you check email first thing in the morning?
When it comes to improving yourself, do you feel like things “don’t work on you”?
What new habit would make you more productive?
Are you concerned for me that I’ve publicly announced my productivity streak, and worried that I’ll backslide in a huge and humiliating way? Hmm, you have a point.
TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS.
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