The fascinating thing about being obsessed with time management and productivity for thirty plus years is recognising at what level a person is when it comes to their personal productivity.
The first level is no level at all. It’s those people who have no system for managing their tasks or files and only use their calendar to see what meetings have been scheduled for them. These people are unconsciously allowing other people to dictate what they do each day, and they have no interest in building a personal productivity system.
And, of course, Level Zero people will not be reading articles like this.
Then there are the beginners. Beginners are learning to collect all their tasks into a task manager, and they collect everything. You will find things like; clean house, check I have my travel card, read a book, reply to Pete’s email etc. This is great because the first habit for anyone starting is to develop the habit of collecting everything.
It is a learning process. Beginners need to develop the proper habits and techniques, so it is good that everything is collected at this stage. You will find beginners usually do a weekly planning session, but it is sporadic and often skipped. Processing their inbox is done fastidiously, and there’s a lot of experimentation with tags/labels and project folders.
The beginner needs to do this. It’s a learning process, and testing and trying the many ways you can improve your time management and productivity will ultimately help you settle down on a system that works for you.
Intermediates are people who are now ‘testing’ every new productivity app there is on the market. And with each new app they try, they will spend a whole day transferring their tasks from the original app to the new app and then the rest of the week tweaking and playing around with the new features they have.
This is also a good practice. Testing out these new apps, while doing nothing for their productivity, teaches them what features they find useful and which elements don’t work.
The intermediates will join forums or Facebook groups to find interesting new ideas to try out, and again, while this will do nothing to help them get their work done, it does help them see what works and what does not work.
Rather interestingly, the intermediate stops doing a weekly planning session — they don’t see its value. The only time they will do any planning session (or weekly review) is when their system breaks down — which will always happen when no weekly planning session is done.
It usually takes around three to four years to graduate from this level, and that’s when things become interesting.
At this stage, people divide into two groups. The first group end up micro-managing everything in their task managers or calendar. Everything is meticulously collected into a system — most of which will be repeatedly rescheduled and the rest dumped into a project folder, never to see the light of day again. These people find themselves overwhelmed and frequently falling off the productivity wagon.
Again, this is primarily a learning process. People soon discover that dumping everything into their task manager doesn’t work, and they eventually find themselves at the next level.
The Enlightened Ones
The enlightened ones finally discover that personal productivity is about eliminating the unimportant and only focusing on work that achieves their goals.
You can tell who these people are because they only have a small number of tasks on their task list each day — usually, around four to five tasks. They allow nobody except themselves to control what goes on their calendars, and they block a significant amount of time off for deep focused work each day, including weekends.
The enlightened ones never miss their weekly planning sessions. It’s a core part of their week, and you will find they complete these sessions either early Saturday or Sunday morning. They understand that to remain focused on the vital work and achieve their goals, they must make sure they are progressing towards them each week, and the only way to do that is to do their weekly planning sessions consistently.
To reach this level of productivity requires you to know what is important to you. To understand what you want out of life and to know why it is important to you. Without knowing that, you will become entangled in other people’s projects, goals, and crises, and you will find your task manager is full of other people’s tasks with very few of your own.
You can test this. How many of your tasks in your task manager benefit someone else? Look for tasks related to writing reports for your boss, responding to client or colleague emails. Now compare that to the number of tasks that directly drive your goals forward. If you are doing more tasks for other people and not enough tasks that directly contribute to your goals, you need to realign your priorities.
The enlightened ones are focused on their purpose, goals, and, in GTD speak, the higher level 30,000 foot tasks.
The most productive people I know have not changed any of their productivity tools for years. David Allen, for instance, has used the same task manager for twenty years. Can you imagine how fast he is using his tools after twenty years of using the same tools? Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, has been using Apple Notes for all his productivity needs for at least ten years. Simple, and it works beautifully for him.
You can, of course, shortcut this process considerably if you understand that the purpose of becoming better at time management and more productive is never about being able to do more work in less time; that’s a fools goal and one you will never achieve. It’s about eliminating as many less important and unnecessary tasks and only allowing meaningful, goal-accomplishing tasks on your task list.
It takes time to learn this, and it helps if you know what is important. What your areas of focus area. Once you know what these are, you can make the necessary adjustments and start enhancing your life, achieving your goals, and being a lot less overwhelmed.
You do not need elaborate tools to become enlightened. You need to know what is essential and a determination to eliminate anything that does not contribute towards your higher purpose. You do not need the latest, shiniest application to achieve that.
So, where are you on this list? And, what can you do to get yourself to the Enlightened Level?
If you struggle with your personal productivity and time management and would like me to help you, you can join my coaching programme or take the Time Sector Course, which will help you move towards the enlightened stage.
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