Resolutions don’t work for me (read my anti-resolution manifesto from last year). They don’t work for most people. But that doesn’t mean that you should not have them. If nothing else, making resolutions kind of gives you a broad direction to work toward.
This post is about the two productivity tools I tried last year. Both are great tools and are practiced by many people. In my experience, one is more potent than the other. In this post, I will elaborate on the two tools, their advantages, and how one pips the other.
Last year, instead of making any resolutions, I simply decided to create a productivity tool. Now, this wasn’t an original idea. A few years ago, I read Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers and in that book, he illustrates a daily habit/productivity tracker.
#1. Daily Productivity Tracker
It’s a low-fi tool that you can create in an Excel sheet. Put the daily processes you want to work on, on the left side and dates in columns on the right. So, I created a daily productivity tool of my own that looked like this:
Every day, before going to bed, I would log in the details in binary – 0 against the tasks I didn’t do, 1 against the ones I successfully pulled off; you can also use a tick or a cross. At the end of the month, I would reconcile the results and evaluate my performance against every goal/task.
Initially, it all worked very well. I would approach every day with enthusiasm. But after a few months, a few doubts started to creep in on me. I felt something was amiss.
And, it didn’t require deep analysis to realize that I wasn’t able to look beyond a few items. Like I was super-consistent in some areas and I was constantly lagging in the others, month after month.
For example, one of the items on my list was ‘learning/practicing French every day for 15 minutes on Duolingo’. I went on a 6-month long streak without missing a single day of practice. Then, I also had ‘reading’ every day and well, you guessed it – I had 90% completion after I analyzed myself after 6 months.
I figured I was not able to make headway in those areas where my existing knowledge was scarce or the areas that required greater cognitive effort.
For example, at the beginning of the year, I enrolled myself in an Advanced Excel certification course on Udemy. After a first few days, I realized it was eating into my time and I wasn’t able to tick off other items. So I traded off the ‘difficult to comprehend’ with ‘easy to achieve’.
After six months, when I reconciled data, I realized I had barely practiced excel for 10 days. And, those 10 days came in the first 2 months of the year.
My conclusion (your experience may turn out to be different) is that Daily Productivity Tracker is a great tool, but it (in most cases) helps you build on your strengths or areas of interest.
Why you may ask?
Because every day you only be working for a limited time (I am assuming you have a 9-to-6 day job) and in that time, your instincts will push you to tick off as many items as possible. As a result, you will go for those tasks which can easily be completed.
After June 2021, I decided to switch over to a far less-glamorous tool. Daily journaling. Now, this may not look like a great analytic aid, but making those daily entries into a journal can help build perspective.
When you journal, you get to take stock of life on a daily basis. You start to realize what is working and more importantly, what is not working. When I was doing the daily productivity tracker, my total focus was on doing things that were up to my alley. For any task that posed a challenge, I would push it to the backburner.
A journal, on the other hand, brings your focus back to tasks that need your attention. You can’t go on writing about stuff that is becoming second nature to you.
Sooner than later, your brain would turn your attention back to areas. The I-will-wake-up-at-5-AM promise you made to yourself last month, the online MOOC about building negotiation skills that you were supposed to start last week, the financial planning spreadsheet you were to work on – you will start thinking about areas where you have made no improvement.
Once you start writing about how you have been disregarding XYZ goals, your brain coaxes you into writing what you can do to overcome the stagnation or lack of effort.
I noticed that when wrote down my thoughts….thoughts that stemmed from self-introspection, I was able to assess the challenges and think about solutions in a much better way. Last but not the least
After six months of daily writing, I can say that Journal is a better productivity tool than a daily tracker.
So this is what worked (and not worked) for me. Building a system that helps you track things daily is the key. You only have to ensure that your system doesn’t make you myopic or induce you to focus only on half the picture.
Let me know what tools or aids work for you and how you plan to augment your productivity in 2022. Please leave your comments in the box below.
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