One of the greatest realisations I will ever have is the fact that my ability to work better, smarter, and faster is completely under my control. For years, I believed the idea that some people are born better workers than others and I was born into the latter class. Then one day, I realised elite productivity skills are a set of behaviours and actions that others were engaging in that I too could engage in. In short, I realised that elite productivity is a skill that can be learned. Before I can fully articulate the idea that productivity is a skill that can be learned, however, it would be advantageous to first introduce a few important definitions.
Definition 1: A Skill is an ability and capacity acquired through deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or job functions involving ideas (cognitive skills), things (technical skills), and/or people (interpersonal skills) (definition from BusinessDictionary.com).
Definition 2: Productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system, etc. in converting inputs into useful outputs. This definition also comes from BusinessDictionary.com.
Productivity then is a skill that can improved by generating more output given the same amount of inputs. In simple terms, by learning, refining, and mastering how we work, we learn how to produce more at work and home in less time. The following three assertions about productivity are personal conclusions I have accepted.
Assertion 1: Productivity is a Skill that Can be Learned
If productivity is a skill that can be learned, to learn it one must first accept that there are certain habits, practices, or behaviours associated with productivity that can adopted. This entails dropping the mindset that certain people are born with an innate ‘productivity’ talent. This entire site – How2BProductive.com – is entirely based on the notion that highly productive people employ a set of behaviours that are different than less productive people and that anyone can adopt that same set of highly productive behaviours.
Next, learning the skill of productivity requires learning the tools of a productive person. While the tool set is large, and is unique to each individual, some basic tools include:
• to-do lists;
• e-mail processing;
• goal setting and tracking;
• the Pomodoro Technique;
• habit identification
• smart-phone discipline;
• reading Productivity books and blogs (especially this one!)
Each one of these tools, when adopted, boosts personal productivity. For example, daily to-do lists frame the mind to focus on important activities. Learning to process emails instead of checking emails is another example. The main idea is that the above set of tools are all actions and techniques that many high-performers utilise.
Assertion 2: Productivity is a Skill that Can be Refined and Improved Through Practice
Once it has been accepted that productivity is a skill that can be learned and it is simply a matter of using the tools, then the next step is to start practicing. At first, using the new set of productive tools is awkward and uncomfortable. The early stage of learning any new skill is always difficult. But with repeated practice, the skill becomes easier. Every day by trying, learning, and adopting different productivity tools, you will learn how to use these tools more effectively.
Let’s continue with the above example of a to-do list. Initially, you may do your to-do list at the beginning of your day. However, after using this approach for a few months, you start to question if there is a better way to write your to-do list. You experiment with writing tomorrow’s to-do list at the end of your current work day. After a few days, you start to see additional benefits from this slight variation of your to-do list methodology.
Repeating this experimental procedure with a variety of productivity tools will refine your use of them. The sum total of all your tweaks, refinements, and improvements to your productivity tool kit will then result in an overall increase in your productivity skills and system.
I know many people who dread the eight hour work day. I used to be one of them. But my mindset shifted once I began to see that productivity was a skill I could develop over time. I now see each and every eight-hour work day as an eight hour training session to deliberately practice my personal productivity skills. Each day I try new productivity techniques or hacks while continuing to use the ones that work. Those techniques that are useful I keep and those that don’t prove useful I drop. Simple.
Assertion 3: Productivity is a Skill that Can be Mastered
Mastery is one the three essential components of internal motivation (the other two being autonomy and purpose). Mastery is not about reaching a state of perfection, as some may think. Mastery of a skill or ability is simply an advanced knowledge or application of that skill. With that understanding of mastery, my final assertion is that productivity is a skill that can be mastered. With enough repetitive practice using productivity tools, over time, greater efficiency will result. Soon the techniques of high performers will become second nature. For me, writing out my to-do list at the end of the day and keeping track of my goals are just a standard part of my day. I don’t think about writing them, I just do it.
Yet there is one more level of skill mastery that can be reached – teaching that skill to others. Teaching a skill to others requires an advanced understanding of that skill. It does not require perfection, just enough knowledge to explain it to someone else. By teaching productivity skills to another, you are reinforcing and solidifying those skills in yourself.
To conclude, if anything is taken from this post, please remember the fundamental truth that productivity is a skill that can be learned. Absolutely anyone can adopt a set of work techniques that will enable them to work better, smarter, and faster. There are several assertions I have made regarding a productivity skill set, namely that it can be learned, improved, and ultimately mastered. It is simply a matter of using the tools and refining them, just like any other skill.