The 5 Stages of Productivity

Productivity is a measure of output over time. All other things being equal, the more you produce per hour, the more productive you are. There are lots of ways to increase productivity, but I believe all increases in productivity fall into one of these five stages.

The First Stage: This is the simplest, get better at the task you have to do. Work harder and develop your skills.

The Second Stage: Find people who are cheaper than you to do tasks for you. People working together should be able to get more done, faster.

The Third Stage: Invest in tools that can boost the team’s output. For example, buying a digger for a team that previously dug trenches with shovels would significantly increase their output.

The Fourth Stage: Invent in new technology. Creating new technological innovations is how considerable leaps in productivity occur. Often these leaps enable huge savings or massive increases in customer value creation.

The Fifth Stage: This is a step that most of us never reach: At this stage, you need to figure out better things to work on. At this point, you can’t achieve more by working harder, smarter or finding more people. You can no longer react to demands. Now you must go your own way.

The fifth step is where the real productivity improvements occur. Saying no to somebody else’s demands and finding another way to achieve the goal. This is what separates great organisations from good ones, extraordinary people from frustrated ones.

Busy is The Enemy of Productivity

Everyone says they’re busy. I thought I was too busy to start this blog, but as it turned out it wasn’t so hard to find an hour a day to write. I’m sure you could easily find an hour or more in your day to do what you want as well.

I think if we’re honest we all like the idea of being busy, it suggests we are important, indispensable and in demand, but more than that being busy is safe.

We use busy as a crutch to justify why we couldn’t make it to the gym, didn’t manage to write that blog post or couldn’t go to those drinks we didn’t want to go to anyway. We kid ourselves that if we are busy, our effort will be rewarded.

The thing is, life doesn’t necessarily reward busy.

In the long term life rewards successful prioritisation. It rewards efficiency and productivity. It rewards doing work that matters, not having a full diary.

So let’s give up on busy, and start focusing on what matters.

The Pragmatic Bullet Journal

At the beginning of 2019, armed with my new years resolutions, I was looking for a way to get organised, be more productive and build opportunities for reflection into my life. Over the years I think I’ve tried every task management app available but none of them seemed to stick. So, instead of downloading the latest productivity app I followed my friend Ana’s advice and decided to pick up a Bullet Journal.

If you haven’t come across bullet journalling before I recommend you check out this introduction, but essentially it’s a framework for paper based goal & task management. To me it feels loosely based on principles from David Allen’s, Getting Things Done with greater emphasis on reflection, not just productivity.

I was initially reluctant to get started, mainly because the approach has become fashionable among many bloggers & vloggers who seem to spend more time creating beautifully designed journals than achieving the goals contained within them. However, after six months of journaling I can tell you there is a more pragmatic approach that requires little time and no artistic ability.

Now I’ve come to the end of my first journal, I thought I’d share my process and what I’ve learned so far:

Review’s
One of the biggest benefits of journalling for me has been reviews. I do a review once a month and also looked back on my year too. It’s helped me better recognise what I have achieved and reflect on things I want to improve. Each review, I ask myself:

– What went well?
– What went badly?
– What am I grateful for?
– What did I learn?
– What did I enjoy?
– What did I avoid?
– What are my new priorities?

Monthly Log’s
Every month I set up these simple pages. I have a simple calendar on the left to schedule key events happening in the month and a similar calendar on the right to schedule exercise I want to do. I also track daily habits I want to work on by colouring in squares when I do the activity. In these pages I’m tracking reading, journalling and exercise.

Daily Log’s
I use these daily logs for two things. Firstly I have a task list which I use to capture anything I need to do. I can then cross these tasks off as I go through the day with anything that isn’t done being moved into the next day or scheduled using an arrow. I also use these pages to write, this is normally just free flowing and used to reflect on the previous day or specific questions I want to ask myself.

These are the main components of the Bullet Journal method I use on a regular basis. It’s a simple process, that I use daily and have found to be much more effective than hiding my goals, tasks and thoughts in a digital tool. For me the biggest benefit of journalling has been reflection, looking back and recognising achievement as well as identifying areas for improvement. If you’ve ever considered bullet journalling or are just looking for a better approach to organising your mind I highly recommend giving it a try!