August 10, 2020
There are not actually that many new ideas. I remember hearing Aminatou Sow joke that around seven days or so after the first few minutes here, we humans ran out of new ideas. Everyone is looking for the secret sauce of productivity. How do you keep your papers going? How do you keep your grants written? How do you respond to urgent things in a way that doesn’t screw up your calendar?
Tried and true productivity tips abound for how you can get your work done. There are a plethora of books, courses, articles, apps, everything. I finally read “How To Write a Lot” about 4 months ago. It was very good. I loved it. And – there were no new ideas in there.
Here’s the summary of every productivity ‘hack’ ever:
1) organize yourself,
2) set aside time to do tasks, and then
3) actually do the tasks during the time you allotted.
So why is it so hard?
Consistent productivity is hard because the problem that we have is not “productivity.” (Nor is it lacking ideas, being underqualified, nor even having ‘time constraints.’ NOT the problem.) As faculty members who have decided to go into academic medicine, you are creative and generative and oriented towards doing *more* than one thing. Juggling several balls in the air at once is your jam.
The problem is that each one of these steps represents an underlying career foundation that you have either purposely cultivated or neglected by default. Without the foundations, the steps don’t stick.
Let’s take them one at a time:
1) Organize yourself. You can make all of the spreadsheets, but how do you *prioritize* them? What lens are you using – quantity of papers? Mentor’s priorities? Promotion requirements? Whatever mood the day brought? If you don’t know how to prioritize your work by your unique value, then organization will never translate into clarity or efficiency.
2) Set aside time to do tasks. You can block out times on your calendar every single week for the rest of the year and get nowhere, because the future unknown doesn’t care about your plans. If you don’t have a systematic way to make strategic decisions about your time, then any new development renders your careful planning moot.
3) Do the tasks in the time you allotted. If, when you sit down to work, your success in executing is more dependent on what happened 5 min (or 5 hours) ago and not on the importance of the task at hand – you are never going to be consistently productive. If you can’t count on your consistency, you can’t plan your future.
The success of any productivity strategy is wholly dependent on the strength of your career foundations – the foundations of how you value yourself, your work and your ideas – and how you translate that value into action.
So instead of trying to find the next new productivity hack or figuring out the latest way to organize your schedule, shift your focus.
Here is the real 3 step process:
1) Decide what you care about most & build a strategy around it.
2) Root your decisions in your value and your future goals and nothing else.
3) Choose courage and consistency over confidence – always.
Productivity is not about what you are doing.
Productivity is about who you are being. It is about what you are believing.
The person responsible for knowing and living those answers is you.
Which is great because it means that you are in complete control of your “productivity.”