As I was getting started in personal development, one of the audio programs that made the biggest difference for me was Brian Tracy’s The Science of Self-Confidence.
In it, Tracy talks about how we always make a to-do list the night before leaving on vacation, and how we’re diligent in ticking off every task, ensuring all loose ends are tied up before we leave.
And then he asks, why don’t we do this in our daily lives? If it’s so effective in helping us identify and complete tasks we need to do before a trip, why don’t we make a list of everything we need to do in work and life the night before? If we treated it with the same importance that we treated our pre-vacation to-do list with, wouldn’t we be just as effective in completing errands, in our creativity, in work, and in life?
In his research, Tracy found that we accomplish 80% of what we write down. And in my own experience, this has proven true repeatedly.
This is the Pareto Principle (80/20) at work. I’ve talked about how it applies to your overall effectiveness many times, but if we look closely in other areas of life, we’ll see it at work everywhere.
Now, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of only 80% of your to-do items getting done, here’s what you need to know:
At times, you will achieve more than 80%. But you will often find that 20% of your tasks are unimportant, inconsequential, or simply don’t need to be done. Sometimes your big domino makes smaller ones irrelevant.
One more thing you should know about writing things down:
A few years ago, I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done. There are several productivity practices I’ve applied from that book that have stuck with me to this day.
One thing author Allen explains is that our brains are not great storage devices. With all the information we consume on a daily basis (texts, instant messages, emails, blog articles, podcasts, videos, and more), it’s a wonder our brains aren’t over-full already.
And while I understand that you’ve got a high IQ, good memory, and a rich inner life, you are prone to forgetting as much as anyone else. So, whether it’s goals, errands, or song ideas, I would encourage you to write everything down.
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In the digital age, our reliance on digital tools grows.
But there can still be tremendous value in paper-based tools like notebooks, yellow legal pads, index cards, and of course, desktop calendar pads.
I have been using a desktop calendar pad to organize my life since 2016, and when I don’t have it, I almost feel naked.
The calendar pad gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s to come this month (as well as the months ahead). I have used this function to plan meetings, gigs, social gatherings, vacations, and even social media posts.
Although most digital calendars do have monthly views, they are often cluttered and harder to make out. I like the immediacy of the calendar pad.
Step #1 – Log All Upcoming Events
You won’t necessarily be using your calendar pad to plan your routine or what you’ll be doing hour to hour. This is something digital calendars do better.
But all calls, meetings, interviews, social events, and other activities and commitments should go in your calendar, along with the times at which they are to occur.
Don’t forget to keep adding to your calendar as new events are booked.
This is the most obvious use of the calendar pad, but the benefits that come from planning out in this manner might be unexpected.
For instance, twice per month, I have an early call on Wednesdays. But on Wednesdays when I don’t have these calls, I can work on something else. Or maybe even sleep in.
When you have a bird’s eye view of your month, you can easily make snap decisions about your day. Although I have a high degree of flexibility in my life already, I have always found this freedom exhilarating.
Pro tip: Plan your vacations well in advance and put them in your calendar. Otherwise, something will always come up and you’ll never be able to get away. You’ve got to prioritize yourself.
Step #2 – Log Income Sources
This is optional. In saying that, anything beyond the first step is optional.
On my calendar pad, there is a substantial “memo” section on the right side. Sometimes, I use this for ideas. But most of the time, I just log my income sources.
And that’s my system for creating an income ledger. I may transfer the data to a spreadsheet later (for income tax purposes), but I like to keep things simple, and this works for me.
I have all my calendar pads saved from 2016 onward.
Step #3 – Log What Matters to You
It’s possible to use your desktop calendar pad in a variety of other ways.
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use it to track your social media posts. Well, that’s where I got the idea to use a calendar pad in the first place. I’d read about someone who was using theirs to track their digital marketing activity.
Obviously, I use mine in a different way, but it still ended up becoming an invaluable tool.
Anyway, there’s nothing saying your calendar pad can’t be multi-purpose, and I will sometimes use it to track my scheduled posts (for my blog, Instagram, etc.).
It’s always nice to be able to work ahead and knowing when something is scheduled saves me the guesswork of having to log into WordPress or Instagram Creator Studio to try to figure out when my last post was scheduled.
Whatever you need to track, you can put it in your calendar to make your life easier.
The desktop calendar pad is most useful when used in connection with other tools (like a yellow legal pad for notes and to-do lists).
The best book on setting up a paper-based productivity system is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link). Although I do not subscribe to the entire methodology, I have applied it piecemeal to my processes, and the habits have stuck with me ever since.
There may not be anything especially enticing about a desktop calendar pad, but as I’ve found, it can be a useful tool in helping you organize your life and boost your productivity.
I don’t know whether you do more meetings now than you did pre-lockdown. Personally, I have had far fewer commitments overall.
I still feel naked without my desktop calendar, so I keep one around regardless.
But the more you have to keep track of, the more you will likely benefit from incorporating a desktop calendar into your productivity routine.
Well, not if you ask me. Because I procrastinate. A lot.
It’s just a matter of knowing what to procrastinate on, and why.
Not sure what I mean? Let me introduce you to productive procrastination and why it’s a must in your creative efforts.
A Bias Towards Productive Procrastination
I admit. I have a bit of a bias towards productive procrastination.
Emails are responded to late. Bill payments are made at the last minute. My space only gets a thorough cleaning twice per year.
And this has had certain drawbacks, though not the ones you would expect. I don’t have terrible credit. People aren’t constantly on my case about unfinished projects (I finish most if not all on time). And my home is not infested with creepy crawlers.
The main drawback is there are always tasks on my to-do list that take up too much mind space and cause light anxiety if left unfinished. But because they are low priority, I procrastinate on them.
Then, there are some decisions that could have been made that you regret not making. When you use productive procrastination as a tool, your default position is omission. But there’s always that social event you wish you went to, that friend you should have helped, that rare opportunity you missed.
Well, you can’t do it all anyway. And if you’re an ambitious creative, you shouldn’t aspire to. It takes too much work, you don’t get the things you want to get done, and it can even lead to burnout.
If you’re the type that needs to know everything in advance, and things hanging in the balance drive you nuts, productive procrastination probably isn’t for you. But otherwise, it has certain benefits that are hard to deny.
What is Productive Procrastination?
It’s about leaving the less important, low value tasks until later (and in some cases, “never”).
You’ve got to be clear on what low value tasks are to you. To me, emails, texts, voicemails, errands, paying bills, and the like all tend to fall under this category. It doesn’t mean I don’t deal with them. It just means they don’t come first in my day, or even my week.
There are a couple of books that can add a meaningful layer to this conversation.
The first is Stephen Covey’s classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (affiliate link). Covey’s famous four quadrants form the foundation of my prioritization and productivity habits. You can Google “Covey’s four quadrants” to get a good sense of how this works.
The second is Tim Ferriss’ essential, The 4-Hour Workweek, which details how Ferriss was able to run a business as he was traveling the world. And you will find productive procrastination at work in a major way, especially as applied to communication.
Ferriss points out that most communication isn’t an emergency, so getting to it later or never has fewer consequences than you might be inclined to believe.
Now, I said that you should be clear on what low value tasks are to you. But this is of little consequence if you don’t know the opposite – tasks you would consider high value.
Writing is my highest value task, and, true to form, it shows up first in my calendar too. My day begins with writing because it is just that important, so I give it the best part of my day. And all other things can wait until I’m done writing.
Why Procrastinate Productively?
The old model of productivity (productivity 1.0) was just getting things done. And getting things done is a good starting point. It’s worth getting some practice in this area if you’re new to it.
But what people realized was that even though they were getting a lot done, a lot of important things weren’t even being touched. If anything, the urgent seemed to take over available time for the important.
So, then came productivity 2.0. This proliferated in many forms – Covey’s four quadrants, Priority Management, Brian Tracy’s The Science of Self-Confidence (affiliate link), and so on.
In productivity 2.0, we saw a movement towards getting the right things done and prioritizing high value tasks in one’s day. People noticed that, if it wasn’t scheduled, it wasn’t real. So, they started putting everything in their schedule.
Productivity 2.0 strove to put the important back on main stage.
The main drawback of productivity 2.0 was that people ended up working insane hours just to fit everything in! And this led to a net productivity loss, because by midweek, they’d be all out of steam.
To be fair, some managed to find a meaningful balance, and 2.0 was certainly better than the original model.
Productivity 3.0 is where productive procrastination started to show signs. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link) methodology, lifestyle design as taught by the likes of Tim Ferriss and James Schramko, and more. Finally, life was put in its rightful place again – taking center stage.
With 3.0 arrived the age of creating the life of your choosing. Many opted for a life of joy and balance, though, and it was available through rigorous systemization.
Productivity 4.0 is doing everything by intuition. Listening to your heart and doing things that feel like a 10 out of 10 instead of a four, seven, or eight. Vishen Lakhiani and Kyle Cease are both proponents of 4.0.
But getting back to the question, the main reason to procrastinate productively is so you can face the blank screen or canvas and finally do the work that matters.
At first, productive procrastination will probably seem lazy or maybe even fun. But then you realize it’s something else completely. It’s about facing your fears.
Because there’s something scary about launching that course, finishing that album, writing that book, or otherwise.
You probably don’t even realize that fear is the reason you’ve been putting it off. Until you’ve blocked out all distractions and given yourself space to work on what you say is important to you, you aren’t even present to it.
Now that you’ve created the space, you realize you’ve got to face the fear to move forward.
In this case, though, the fear is telling you that you are on the right track. If you felt indifferent, or normal, or sterile, you would probably be working on something that amounts to thumb twiddling.
If you feel fear, you are working on something that has the potential to matter. And it will most certainly matter to you, even if it doesn’t matter to anyone else.