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How to Increase Productivity and Use Deadlines To Your Advantage

  • Guest AuthorGuest Author

Deadlines make me productive – especially when I have a bunch of them stacked one after the other, in rapid succession.

Now, I know that we’ve all had the experience of buckling down and working all night on occasion to meet a deadline, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Working more hours is basically about overcoming laziness (or lack of motivation, depending on how charitably we want to describe it).

But that’s not what I mean; increasing productivity doesn’t mean working more hours (though deadlines will sometimes do that, too) – rather, it means cramming more work into each of those hours. And deadlines definitely make me more productive.

Wondering why?

When we’re working against a deadline, we know that we don’t have time to spare; if something is due at 3pm and we just wolfed down our lunch, then we simply can’t afford to waste time. The result is that we’re a lot more diligent about ignoring the little time-wasters that would usually derail us.

You know what I mean; we ignore the non-urgent phone calls and emails, and push to get the work done. We don’t get hung up on the little nit-picky details that deep down we know nobody cares about – we just plough through.

In other words, we make the best use we can of the time we have. This is basically the definition of productivity!

Never Just One Deadline

It gets more interesting because I’ve usually got a lot of projects on the go; there’s Mirasee, and Natural Selection HR (another business that I’m starting with Peter), Motiv808 (a stealth mode social media project I’m working on), and about half a dozen consulting clients.

The upshot of all this is that when I’m under the gun with a deadline, and finish the work, I can’t just take the rest of the day off, because there’s usually more work to be done on another project. So I usually go for a walk around the block, pick up a decaf mezzo latte from Starbucks, and jump into the next thing.

What I usually find is that I keep on being productive – even though I may not have the pressure on this second deliverable that I did on the first one. I’m still ignoring the non-urgent calls and emails, and I’m still not wasting time on dumb details that don’t matter.

So… why does it happen?

The Momentum of Productivity

Do you remember Newton’s famous law of inertia? Something about a body in motion striving to continue moving? Well, the same thing applies to productivity. Someone who is in a productive mode will tend to stay in that mode, and vice versa.

I think productivity has its own momentum. The good news is that when you get into a groove, you’re likely to stay there. And the bad news is that if you aren’t being particularly productive, then you’re likely to stay that way, too.

So does this mean that we’re doomed, to be productive only when deadlines loom? Does it mean that if we want to be more productive then we should stack our deadlines one after the other, with no end in sight?

No, it doesn’t – certainly not if we want to keep our sanity!

We aren’t trapped into a level of inertia – It can change. Just the fact that deadlines can make us more productive proves that. We’ve all had the opposite experience, too – being completely productive, then getting side-tracked by an annoying distraction and then finding that we’ve lost that groove.

What Can We Do?

What we can learn from this is that if we want to work productively, we should make an effort to get ourselves into a productive groove.

Here’s what this looks like. If we have a four hour block of time set aside to work, we want to make sure that the first 30-60 minutes of them are as productive as possible, because that’s what will set the tone for the rest of the working session.

So don’t worry about switching off your phone and email for the whole four hours – we all know that we should do it, and none of us do. Instead, just focus on not letting yourself get distracted for the first 30-60 minutes. If something comes up, you can deal with it after that first hour, if you want.

Odds are, you won’t want. Once you have that first productive hour, you’ll probably be deep into that productive groove, and you can just ride the momentum!

What Do You Think?

Okay, now I’ll open it up to you, our readers. Does this make sense to you? Do you think this is a helpful way to increase productivity? Do you have some tricks that you use to get into a productive mindset that you can share with us?