How to Finally Be More Productive—and Stay That Way
It’s 2015, and hey, things are complicated. But according to Carson Tate, nationally renowned productivity expert and author of recently-released Work Simply—they don’t have to be. In our Q&A, Tate talks individual productivity (and procrastination) styles, simple ways to streamline your day-to-day, and essential tips for balancing “busyness” and personal wellness in the coming year.
Smarty Cents: Much of your recent work is aimed at addressing what you refer to as the “busyness” epidemic. Can you elaborate more on that concept and how it played into your motivation to author Work Simply?
Carson Tate: Life in the 21st century is busy! We have access to unprecedented amounts of information. We are connected to one another 24 hours a day, seven days a week because technology has blurred the lines between professional life and personal life. We experience exploding inboxes, bulging to-do lists and packed calendars. We can do more, so we do. As a result, being busy has become a status symbol; if you are not busy, then you must not be important, successful, valuable, or needed. This is the busyness epidemic.
The busyness epidemic motivated me to write Work Simply because of the negative impact I saw it having on my clients’, family and friends’ physical, mental, and spiritual lives. As I spent more time exploring “busyness,” I realized that busyness itself was not the real problem. It is the systems, tools and strategies that we use to address our busyness that are the problem.
Busyness is only the symptom of a personal productivity system that is not in alignment with your purpose and the way you think, process information and communicate. The systems you are using are creating the problem.
SC: We’re fascinated by a quote we’ve seen a few times lately urging us to stop the glorification of busy—an assertion that seems to fit nicely into the idea of a busyness epidemic. Do you think we’ve become slaves to our own ideas of productivity?
CT: There is a pervasive belief that if we are not busy, then we are not important, worthy and valuable. This is what I call psychological busyness and it feeds our glorification of busy. Busyness is how we fill the empty places inside of ourselves by cramming our days, evenings and weekends so that we need not—and cannot—face our true desires, goals and needs. The symptoms: an over-packed calendar, constant connectivity and fluid to non-existent boundaries.
SC: In the book, you outline four major productivity styles—arrangers, prioritizers, visualizers and planners. How does identifying your style allow you to work smarter?
CT: In order to work smarter, it is essential to identify your Productivity Style. Once you identify your Productivity Style, you can build a system that fundamentally works for you. You understand why other systems, tools and methods you have used in the past did not work enabling you to focus only on those that will work for you. By focusing only on tools that will work for you, you can begin implementing your new system quickly and easily and actually sustain the changes you make instead of backsliding into old habits.
SC: We have to ask your take on how to tackle procrastinating. In your research, have you noticed different types of procrastination styles in the same way there are different productivity styles?
CT: Procrastination is fundamentally about avoidance—avoidance of a project, a meeting or other commitment that might be challenging, uncomfortable or boring. However, in my research, I have noticed different types of procrastination based on a person’s Productivity Style.
For example, for Prioritizers, who are analytical, fact-based, data-driven thinkers, procrastination is driven by the need for more data and facts. Prioritizers will procrastinate through incessant research, asking colleagues for more and more data and avoid work where they do not believe that have enough data.
Planners, who are organized, sequential and detail-oriented in their thinking, will procrastinate through perfectionism. They will rework documents over and over again, unwilling to commit to a finished draft.
Arrangers, who are intuitive, relational and spatial in their thinking will procrastinate primarily through connections with others—social media, email, phone calls or impromptu meetings.
Lastly, the Visualizers, who are strategic, integrating and holistic in their thinking, will procrastinate by looking for the next big idea, stimulating conversation or project. This is what I call the “bright, shiny object syndrome” where anything is more interesting and engaging that what I am currently working on.
- Do streamline your routine. Look for places in your professional and personal life where you can develop a routine. Streamline. Make it easier for yourself. How can you reduce the number of steps you take each morning to get dressed? How can you automate and streamline your responses to email messages? Can you pay all of your bills online? Can you keep your bag stocked with frequently used items (phone charger, extra lipstick, pens)?
- Do tasks, not jobs. It is much easier to quickly walk through the house and pick up a few stray items – which is a task, versus overhauling your entire home in a weekend long clean-up session–which is a job. By putting away items when you get them out, filing each week instead of each quarter, and hanging up clothes after they are worn you are able to easily maintain a home or an office. Who wants to spend a weekend cleaning up and organizing? Do tasks, not jobs.
- Do take care of you. You deserve it. Do what you need to care for you. Do you need to take a walk, read an engaging novel, take a bath, get eight uninterrupted hours of sleep? What do YOU need? If you are tired, burned out and running on fumes, you serve no one, including yourself. The most productive people put self-care at the top of their to-do lists.
- Don’t let your space drain your energy and creativity. Create an environment that reflects who you are and how you want to work. What changes do you need to make at your office? Workers spend on average 44.2 hours at work. Are you working in a sterile environment that sucks the life right out of you? How can you become inspired? Do you need to display more photographs? Paint a wall? Put an inspiring quote on your desk? What can you do to personalize your work space? Space matters.
- Don’t succumb to the myth that organization is about how a space looks. A cluttered desk for some folks is their organizational system, while for others, they can only work on pristine surfaces. Being organized is about how a space functions for you. It is about finding what you want when you want it. Look at your office and think about it as a space in which certain activities take place. For example, responding to email, writing, and research. Then, put every item you need to complete that activity in the space where the activity is performed. Now, when you want an item you’ll know where to find it—every time. Find a location for everything.
SC: What would you most like readers to take away from Work Simply?
CT: Instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them. Identify your Productivity Style and then embrace it. Use your understanding to guide the choices you make to manage your attention, invest your time, get work done, tame your inbox and work well with your colleagues in ways that are customized for you – not for someone else.