How to Guarantee You'll Be Less Productive and Never Have Any Time for Yourself

Feb 21, 2014 | Updated Apr 23, 2014

For years, my to-do list gave me a sinking feeling of déjà-vu: It looked suspiciously like the to-do list I had seen the week before, and the week before that... and yes, the week before that.

Sound familiar? (I can see you nodding).

Why was my to-do list so clearly a "not going to get it done" list? Because I was more committed to my comfy, old time management habits than I was to shaking things up -- and likely getting more done. But once I realized that regarding my to-do list as a friendly suggestion rather than an imperative was costing me profitability, productivity and personal time, I knew that something had to change. So I employed three strategies to shake things up that I had used with my coaching clients (I know, I know!) but had never applied to my own work and life.

Warning: Do these NOW -- don't add them to your to-do list. Trust me: I know how that turns out.

1) Have an "Opposite Day" (just like your kids do!). Brainstorming the same old ideas -- from "how do I become more productive?" to "how do I have more "me" time"" -- can get old fast. Chances are, you've been using the same old thinking to deal with the same old problems. As Albert Einstein famously remarked, "You cannot solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them." So instead of doing a typical brainstorm, do an opposite brainstorm. Ask yourself how to achieve the opposite goal of what you really want, as in, "how can I guarantee I'll be less productive?" or "how can I make sure I never have time for myself?" will not only be more fun, but it will give you a useful list of what NOT to do, and some helpful insight into what you're already doing that's actually thwarting your goals.

2) Plan for the Unexpected. Much of our productivity is negatively impacted by constant interruptions. While we don't want to seem rude or unresponsive, dealing with interruptions as they come means that we have to shift back and forth between tasks, which studies show decreases our effectiveness. Of course, there are some interruptions that truly require us NOW (like a kid who is throwing up or a co-worker in crisis) other interruptions should be dealt with on our own terms and timing. Each day, schedule a block of time between 15-30 minutes that to deal with all non-emergency interruptions, and plan to let people in your office know that you've done this. Practice saying, "I wish I could deal with this right away, but I am in the middle of something important. I can get back to you at 3 o'clock" (or whenever your interruption zone is scheduled for). Say it and stick to it. It will boost your productivity by keeping you focused, and by letting other people know that you respect your own time boundaries around interruptions.

3) Diagnose Your Roadblocks and Create a Personal Plan. There are three things that get in the way of our productivity: 1) lack of skill (we don't know how to do it), 2) lack of will (we don't want to do it) and 3) lack of opportunity (we haven't scheduled the time to get it done) -- and these work hand-in-hand. For too many months, there were several things on my list, such as filling out insurance paperwork or getting some of my training videos up on YouTube, that lingered like the scent of my teenage son's Axe. While I told myself, "I'll get to them," what I needed to do first was to diagnose why I haven't gotten to them. As for my insurance paperwork, I knew how to do it -- but I didn't want to sit down and do it, and I hadn't scheduled the time to get it done. So what did I need? Not someone to tell me how (I already know how), but some motivation to get it done (like a massage at the finish line) and scheduling the time, indelibly, in my calendar to do it. CHECK! As for my training videos, I didn't know how to do it -- so no amount of cheerleading or incentives would get it done. I needed to learn how to do it -- or to hire someone who knew how to do it, and again, to make the opportunity to do it show up on my calendar. CHECK!

If you want to be less productive and never have any personal time for yourself, keep beating yourself up for what you haven't accomplished and keep managing your to-do list the way you always have. But if you are interested in being a little uncomfortable in the short term so that you have time to produce and play in the long term, take the time now to shake things up and get that to-do list done.