The challenge isn’t to find better tools to lead a more productive life, it’s learning to be mindful of the tools that have already taken root. Mindfulness while using technology is important, and therefore the future belongs to those who can tame their distractions.
~Connect the Dots, Paul Jun
For a little while, I was trying to optimize my productivity. I thought that if I just had the right tools, the right apps, the right schedule, then I could get so much more focused work done in a shorter amount of time.
I explored to-do apps. I learned about Pomodoro timers. I started tagging and saving article on Evernote, OneNote or whatever note-taking things I could find. I took an online course on productivity (which, ironically, wasn’t very productive!). I signed up for emails, listened to podcasts. I learned about energy management v. time management. And, after all that, am I really any better off?
Honestly, I don’t know.
What I have found in my own life is that I can easily get distracted by the slightest of things. When I can finally focus and get some deep work done. I can get a ton of stuff taken care of in no time. But getting to that state has been hard. I think, in large part, it’s because I have so much on my to do list that I don’t take a moment to just be present in the moment.
Being a pastor is both relatively routine and wildly spontaneous. There are things that have to be done every week. They look a little different in the end, but the basics are there. Study the passage extensively, write an outline, write out the sermon. Record, edit and upload videos for our online worship. Prep for regular meetings. Stay on top of what’s going on in the denomination and in the conference.
Each week, typically on Monday, I get out my planner, go through my calendar for the week, and then write out my to do list. A lot of that to do list is the basic skeleton of what I do every week. And then there are the special things that pop up. The new initiatives. The educational opportunities (for myself and for the congregation). The administrative stuff that has to be done. The articles that need to be read and written.
In my own routine, I have found that digitizing everything is not always the best route. I have found a good flow with my planner. It’s portable. It’s accessible. Forcing myself to physically write down things instead of typing them out helps me remember better. But, above all, what I need more than anything else, is just a quiet space to do the work. And to put away the potential distractions.
As with most people, my phone can be a major distraction during the work day. Obviously, I don’t need my phone to check social media or to go down rabbit holes on the internet. But it certainly makes it easier. A brief distraction is just a touch on the screen away. Truthfully, though, it’s not a brief distraction.
Multitasking is a lie. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but our brains tend to work best when we focus on one thing at a time. I think this is why list-making is so important to productivity. It helps to get everything out of our heads and onto paper (or screen, whatever the case may be). Then, we can come to it when the time is right. It’s not constantly pressing at the front of our minds. When we try to multitask, though, we are switching our brains from one project to the next without really giving it the appropriate time to make the switch. In the end, it just slows us down.
Really, it’s not about multitasking, it’s about prioritizing in the moment, and being fully aware that something urgent and important has to take precedence.
When we begin to pay attention to what helps us get into a workflow best, we can really optimize our work. You see, that’s the big secret about productivity that people don’t want to tell you.
Productivity is not about finding the right routine or tools. It’s about being able to prioritize in the moment, and focus long enough to get it done. It’s taxing. It can be exhausting as we try to figure it out. But, eventually, we do. We just have to be mindful of ourselves to work through the process.