5 Types of Productivity Debt

The point of productivity (as an art/science) is to do less, not more. You focus on getting done the things you have to do so you can spend more time doing what you want to do. Greg McKeown addresses this in Essentialism: identify the essential things you need to do without creating extra “work” that just keeps you busy without adding anything meaningful or beautiful to your life.

In Take the Stairs, Rory Vaden describes The Rent Axiom:

There are plenty of things to keep us truly busy and engaged. Our vocation is the obvious source of things we need to do, but any role we take on—employee, entrepreneur, husband, father, church, volunteer—has its payments we need to make.

This payments metaphor helps to illustrate why procrastination is (usually) bad. When we put off making payments, the bills pile up, complete with late fees and interest. If we develop a habit of choosing short-term gains with long-term consequences, we’re committing to future payments that will come due sooner or later.

Paying back these debts has a real impact on our productivity. It’s that much more that we have to take care of before we can spend our time and attention on the things that matter most to us. Here are five kinds of productivity debt that you should pay off as quickly as you can.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/tadamichi

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/tadamichi

The First Law of Productivity

Ever had a day where you were just unstoppable? Or a day where you just couldn’t build any momentum?

Newton’s First Law of Motion is usually expressed in two parts:

  • An object at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.
  • An object in motion will remain in motion untill acted upon by an outside force.

It’s an analogy for growth and productivity, too. There are several ways I could phrase this. For now, I’ll go with:

  • A reactive person will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force.
  • A proactive person will remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force, and may keep going anyway.

It comes down to how much responsibility you accept for your outcomes and actions.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/selensergen

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/selensergen

Get Notified of Important Email Messages

Email is one of the two-edged swords of productivity that we deal with every day. You can be incredibly effective with it, and you can get sucked in and lose your entire morning. You can be in touch and take care of business from anywhere, but you’re always in touch and can be expected to take care of business from anywhere.

Ideally, you check email only at a few regular times per day. You don’t leave your email open in the background while you work, and you have disabled notifications so every incoming message doesn’t ding! its cry for your attention.

And yet…

There are those times where you’re just waiting to hear back from someone. Or there’s that one important thread that you legitimately do need to keep up on. Or what if that special someone writes? If you’re constantly checking, not only is your attention on your inbox, but you can easily get sidetracked and start going down rabbit holes that have nothing to do with that one email.

Fortunately, your email client might be able to help. Here are three ways your Mac or iPhone can monitor your incoming messages for the ones that really do need to interrupt you.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/rvlsoft

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/rvlsoft

Email-Free Zones

We’re more connected than ever, which means it’s harder to disconnect than ever. When coworkers keep different hours than we do, it’s easy to feel like we need to be on call to answer any questions they have. It’s part of being a good team player, right? Someone sends you an email, and you picture them sitting at their computer, completely stuck until they hear back from you.

They aren’t.

Most of the time, they aren’t expecting an answer right away. If it were that urgent, they’d pick up the phone and call you. They don’t expect you to respond until you get in to work the next day.

The expectaction can become self-fulfilling and self-propagating. If we think that everyone else is checking email at all hours, we will, too, to keep the conversation going. Pretty soon, everyone is because no one wants to be the weak link on the team.

If checking email is constantly creating tension between the roles in your life, create email-free zones in your schedule. Give yourself permission now to get work done (or be present) without worrying about your inbox.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/YanC

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/YanC

Outcomes Lead to Actions

While mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani used statistics-heavy reports to get feedback on how the city was doing. Every department would enter information about their key activities into a customized “accountability system”. The numbers would be rolled up and soon available in reports at city hall.

Personally, I used to hate reporting weekly metrics. I understood the need for it, and I agreed that they were the right metrics to collect, but there was always something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like micromanaging.

Then one day, I was reading Giuliani’s Leadership, and he pointed out something that changed how I viewed (and felt about) metrics, how I lead, and how I set goals.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/donskarpo

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/donskarpo