Take a Slice out of Productivity Problems with Occam’s Razor

Posted on May 27 2018

Take a Slice out of Productivity Problems with Occam’s Razor

You’re probably thinking another blog post on “Productivity” is just what the World needs. And I feel silly writing about it. A quick Google search clocks in 165,000,000 results on the topic in a lightning 0.63 seconds.

We all lead busy lives. Most of us have limited time and would like to improve those lives. We understand being “busy” isn’t necessarily being productive. And there are as many different productivity hacks as there are people out there. I’ve finally arrived at a solution that’s been working for me, so I wanted to share it. In the spirit of Occam, I took the route with the fewest assumptions. Simple, yet no simpler than needed.

It all started when I was introduced to the book,”Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen. I’d never thought I’d be susceptible to joining a cult this late in life, but let’s just say I drank the koolaid.

I won’t rehash the whole book. The major point is a lot of our anxiety comes from having everything we need to do bouncing around in our heads and ‘the loop’ never seems to close. But, getting everything out of our heads, and into a notebook, computer, or app, allows us to close the loop. So, using the book as a guide, I’ve adopted what I call the Master List, a Next Action List and a Wish List.

Data dump your brain for the Master List. In the Wish List put down everything you want to do. Anything from sail around the world to drive though the corkscrew at Laguna Seca. But the real magic comes from the Next Action list.

Think of this as a modified ‘To-do’ list. Most of us use To-do lists where we write things like ‘Mom’s birthday.’ or ‘The Stevenson deal’. We use these as reminders to jog our memory. However, believe it or not, this format can lead to the real anxiety of things left undone. The book advises being very specific in your Next Action List: “Call Mom on Wednesday night at 7pm to wish her a happy birthday.” — “Schedule a meeting for Thursday morning at 930am with Mitch Karlson, General Counsel for Stevenson to discuss proceeding with due diligence on the Stevenson deal.” When the time comes around to doing things on your Wish List, those too end up on your Next Action list.

I don’t really know the psychology behind why this works, but it does work well. You know what you have to do. Even if you don’t get to it, the unfinished fragments of an incomplete To-do list won’t be floating around in your head creating the extra anxiety. Loop closed.

The second part of my productivity hack is a ‘daily practice’ of sorts. When I worked for a 3-star General, I noticed his entire day was mapped out in 15 minute blocks for weeks in advance. That’s a little too hardcore for me. I imagine it’s probably a similar story with high powered CEOs from large corporations as well. So, when I came across a Wait but Why post called ‘100 Blocks a Day’, I incorporated its lessons into my productivity hack. According to the post, we’re all awake for about 100 10 minute blocks a day. I started using the grid to track what I’m doing throughout the day. This allows me to get a gauge on where my time is going. Think of it as a Balance Sheet for your life. See where your time is actually going, and adjust as necessary.

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