This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 6: Completing the Puzzle, subscribe and buy here
In the previous issues of Alpha Efficiency Magazine we’ve explored the four principles of CORE (Collect, Organize, Review, Eliminate) but when should we apply them to the maximum results?
We’ve identified these behaviors as activities that all human being do, no matter if they are interested in productivity or not. When you’re overwhelmed by your tasks or your general productivity, it usually means that one of these four basic elements and their integrity has been challenged; the external factors have changed and you simply haven’t yet adapted to the new situation.
To borrow a metaphor from Francis Wade and his amazing book [Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure](http://perfect.mytimedesign.com), let’s think of productivity skills like a set of karate belts. In the productivity community, it’s a common habit to treat all “newcomers” as beginners, which is definitively not the case. Each of these principles is already developed to a certain level, even if only practiced implicitly during our lifetime. All of us come from some kind of starting position in task management; Part of it is biologically wired into us. Time management is something we are born with, but we may not necessarily understand what we are doing. Like walking, it is a skill that is learned but rarely a conscious effort.
Some people may come to time management and productivity with a black belt in organizing, but fall flat on their faces when it comes to eliminating and reviewing. Other people might have an orange belt in collecting, but would be masters of elimination and action. In order to be truly productive, you don’t need to be master of all the four principles, but you do need to have working-level skills in all principles. The key is to then leverage your strengths in those principles where you overperform.
Walking is a relatively binary skill: you’re either walking or you’re not. Unlike walking, most of the things in our task and time management behavior aren’t clear-cut. There are people who never read a productivity book in their life but somehow manage to get everything done. They are active in sports, deliver superior results and live healthily. When you ask them how they are doing it, they can’t really put a finger on it. The reason they can’t explain it is that the good behaviors they possess are fully internalized into their behavior pattern; To them, it doesn’t feel like they are doing anything out of the ordinary.
To be truly productive, you don’t need to be master of all the four principles, but you do need to have working-level skills in all principles.
The Four Biggest Productivity Killers
When you have productivity problems, it starts to interfere with your usual functioning. When you recognize that you have a problem, it usually has a root in one of these four things:
- You forget the tasks that you need to do
- You can’t find the tools and information you need to complete the task
- You are not certain where to move in the future
- You procrastinate
Many people throughout history used their mind as a capturing tool. When the number of tasks is in single digits, we tend to use our brains perfectly as a task management system. There is not too much to do, and we usually focus on two or three things. As our lives have become more complex and our obligations have risen, the average number of tasks we need to perform has increased; Our biologically designed task management system – our brain – performs less well under the increased load.
Collecting as a response to forgetfulness is already culturally ingrained. We’ve been using notebooks for centuries, even dating to the era of the ancient Romans and Greeks (let’s not forget the mnemonic techniques that helped them collect endless data in the mind itself: roman memory room, mnemonic techniques and similar). The moment when we collect something, we’ve established a productivity platform that we can use. Fighting forgetfulness is as simple as collecting all the information in a unified location where it can be accessed for later use.
Today we live in the era of smartphones, tablets and computers and forgetfulness should be the least of all of your problems. Not only can you write things down; You can also introduce reminders into specific points in our future, allowing you to completely externalize the process of reminding yourself of the things that are coming your way.
Simply focusing on the Collecting principle, powered with the tools you already hold in your pockets should be enough to obliterate forgetfulness. Implementing structured collecting into your life can diminish negative returns, annihilate late payment fees and help you run your life in a manner where you are on top of your game. There are no excuses for you to forget something.
Fighting The Loss of Items and Lack of Organization
Since Organizing is the most visible of the CORE principles, the disparity of individual skill levels is the most obvious. When you take a look at somebody’s desk or their house, you immediately understand whether they have a sense of organizational principles. But focusing on organizing isn’t about whether your place is messy or not; It becomes a priority when you can’t focus on your goal-driven activities because you can’t find the tools necessary to complete those goals.
Now some people have pristine desks, their house is neat and everything seems to be well on the surface. But when it comes down to navigating their digital environments, we see a completely different perspective of their organizational skills.
As a knowledge worker, a messy desk can be less impactful than having a messy desktop. Being digitally organized means that you can easily access the data required for the completion of your tasks without creating the time friction in your schedule that will delay completion of your goal-driven actions.
When you can’t find that important invoice, or when you can’t find the documents that are required for you to do your work, you know that it is time to apply the Organizing Principle.
When you can’t find that important invoice, or when you can’t find the documents that are required for you to do your work, you know that it is time to apply the Organizing principle.
Fighting The Lack of Knowledge of Your Next Steps
So you have your long-term plans in place, you know where you are headed, but you lack the knowledge, experience, and vision to get there. This problem particularly plagues entrepreneurs and people taking an active role in directing the company. It also impacts those who want to take their lives in a different direction to the “normal route.”
Risk takers can often encounter the problem of not understanding the next step and being paralyzed; In this sort of scenario, the reviewing principle helps tremendously because it highlights the actions that are bringing in the results.
Focusing on the reviewing principle means taking time off from the day-to-day to do your own thinking and assess the situation. Reviewing gives you clarity and enables you to break the cycle of mindless action that doesn’t generate results. Successfully applying the reviewing principle will often pay tremendous dividends in identifying the right course of action to take, dramatically changing the outcome of your destiny.
Procrastination is the bane of all productivity as it attacks the critical components of productivity: Actions. Whilst not all action is good, no action can often be worse than taking the wrong action. Reviewing solves the problem of “wrong actions”, but elimination is required to solve the problem of “no action”. Procrastination in and of itself is a complex group of emotions that puts us into a state of numbness and inactivity.
Sometimes procrastination occurs because you tell yourself I can’t; It’s impossible, Or it won’t make a difference.
In response to this, you decide not to take any action at all. The cost of inaction is probably the biggest productivity cost that you can encounter in your daily life.
When you are plagued by procrastination, you give yourself an excuse not to focus on the things that really matter. You tend not to find time to workout, yet continue to check Facebook. You don’t read, but do find time to watch the television. Eliminating can work wonders in this scenario as it enables you to trim down the garbage out of your life and help you to focus on the things that truly matter.
By avoiding toxic actions, your life and time will start to expand instead of contract. When you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, and you don’t have time for action, it is a certain indicator that the time has come to eliminate.
When you are plagued by procrastination, you give yourself an excuse not to focus on the things that really matter. You tend not to find time to workout, yet continue to to check Facebook. You don’t read, but do find time to watch the television.
Wrapping It Up
Analyzing your behavior is in no way an easy task. Sometimes the consequences of your actions can interfere with one another, making the root cause less clear. But for the purpose of this issue, we focus on how to identify the CORE principle you need to focus on first and where to start in order to reap the greatest rewards.
Not all of your issues will be solved by applying a single principle, but understanding what plagues your life and prevents you from reaching your potential will cut the bottleneck and put you on the highway of your goals. We’ve learned over time that being more productive doesn’t require a drastic change, nor does it require you to completely change who you are. You need to take small steps in addressing your biggest issues and introduce small habits that will make a big difference.