“How Does She Do It?” Four Secrets of a Productive Woman
There’s a lot of productivity advice out there. Medium has more than 100000 posts about productivity. There are hundreds of productivity apps and millions of calendars, daily planners, books, websites and life coaches ready and waiting to help people learn to be more productive. But I want to share some of the secrets that only truly productive people know can help them get ahead of their to do list. Here they are.
- Have Money or Family. The truth is, people who get a lot done aren’t doing it alone. They can either afford to pay for help, or they are proximate to people who will take care of their basic needs indefinitely (usually called family). For example, we are financially well-off. Not enough to benefit from Trump’s tax cuts, but pretty wealthy by middle class standards. We have a weekly house cleaner, a twice monthly gardener, and a dog walker. We can afford to get our groceries delivered when I remember to order ahead, or we can eat take out when I don’t. When my kids were younger, we had a nanny share, and later, a college student to pick them up from school. We live far from most of our family, so we hire people to help us, and it frees up a huge amount of time. I also know a lot of families who rely on grandparents to provide critical childcare, cooking, and transportation. The answer to “How does she do it?” is, “She doesn’t, a lot of people do it for her.” You may not have money or family nearby. First of all, forgive yourself that you aren’t as productive as people who have those things. It’s not your fault, it’s just luck. But you can also create a family out of friends that can achieve the same outcome. Babysitting co-op, group clean-ups, potlucks. There are dozens of ways to free up time by off-loading work (and freeing up other people’s time by taking on their needs) that don’t require money or blood relations.
- Procrastinate. On the surface, it appears that there are two kinds of procrastination. There’s the couch potato kind, where you just sit on the couch, watching Simpsons re-runs, and there’s the productive kind, where you avoid doing something you don’t want to do by doing something else that’s productive. For example, on Friday, using the excuse that I was waiting for a mover to arrive to move a piece of furniture, I avoided revising a document by baking a loaf of bread. And then sewing a little blanket for my cat. I was unbelievably productive! In reality, couch potatoes and bread bakers are both engaged in the same task (avoiding something), and they only look different because we value bread production over cultural consumption. In truth, if memorizing the Simpsons has value to you, it’s as useful or non-useful as a cat quilt. The important thing is to accept that you are a procrastinator, and use your procrastination time in a way that has value to you, rather than feeling guilty about it. Most people, including me, will eventually finish the task that they are avoiding. If your procrastination time was valuable to you, people will be astonished by how productive you are, because you feel like you were productive.
- Constantly re-prioritize. Every month, I make a Big To Do list that includes all the tasks I want to accomplish in each of the project categories I have. This month, the categories are Work, Work Admin, House Projects, Sewing, Business Idea, and Writing. Last month, there were some different categories. If I didn’t make any progress in a particular category, I did not move it forward. Why? Because I force myself to acknowledge that what I think is a priority might not really be a priority. I will work really hard on what is left on the list, but I’m going to stop fooling myself that something matters when it doesn’t. One thing that fell off my priority list from last month: “Kon-Mari the cookbooks.” While that might eventually get done, it truly doesn’t matter and I’ve let it go. Only priorities that spark joy get to stay on my list.
- Do B+ work, not A+ work. I was an A student most of my life, except in Penmanship, Physics and German. When I started working at my old law firm, I worked to be the best associate I could be. A big hindrance to being the best was the volume of work I had (a lot), the amount of time I had (not much) and the amount of money they paid (very little). I often found myself running up against deadlines, particularly for writing closing briefs in the arbitrations and administrative hearings I did. Finally, my boss told me to stop killing myself to write the greatest briefs ever and to start writing them as fast as I could as soon as I could. He told me 85% good today is better than 100% perfect in two weeks. Just get it over with. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Choose your aphorism. They all mean the same thing, which is just get it done now.