I took a look at my to-do list, first thing, and my energy dispersed the moment I realized that I had many urgent tasks to attend to and not much time to do them. As I got to work, I began skipping from one action item to the next without gaining traction on my most important goals.
So, I called my productivity partner for a quick four-minute conversation – two minutes each on our goals and obstacles. It hearted me how a few minutes of focused connection could help me concentrate on what matters most.
Even though we might be skilled professionals, many of us struggle to keep focused on the task at hand. While we have several software packages and electronic reminders to help us keep on task, there’s also a simple method that involves communicating with someone who is your “productivity buddy.”
A productivity buddy is a friend or colleague who can help us stay focused – on some days that’s no easy task. Without support, I can flounder around e-mail or the internet for hours, knowing full well that I could spend my time better. When I am in that state – a bit of a fog, dodging something important, or just experiencing low energy — I like to do a phone check-in with someone who can help me get focused.
A phone call might last four to six minutes, not much more. We both know that this is not a social call. This is a chance to talk through our next steps with support. Sometimes just voicing my quandary to a good listener can help. All of a sudden, my fog lifts.
A phone check in might sound like this.
Productivity Buddy: What do you want to get done in the next hour or two?
MP: I have five things hanging over me. I’m not sure which to focus on. Two items are urgent to finish today, but there is one other task that I should make progress on today so I can build on that progress tomorrow. I’m really avoiding the editing. I’m afraid the work is just not as good as I was aiming for.
PB: What might a good action plan be?
MP: I will spend one hour finishing the urgent project edits. I’ll let go of my super high standards and make sure it is done on time. Then, fifteen minutes on refiling, then, I’ll create some order here. Then, I’ll spend fifteen minutes rethinking the meetings workshop. And, then, half an hour fleshing out the leadership outline. I can block all interruptions for the next two hours. I will not check email. And then I will take a fifteen-minute walk. Thank you so much.
MP: And what are your goals for the next hour or two?”
PB: “I have a report due to the Head of HR at the end of the week, and I want to spend my first hour on that. I am going to spend 30 minutes collecting data, and 15 minutes drafting the first three paragraphs. I’ve really been avoiding the data collection, but it won’t be hard once I start. So, I will give it half an hour and frame my questions, identify websites to look at and review the data I already have. Then, I have to prepare for a meeting on staff development. Thank you so much!!
We often think of check-in buddies as people to hold us accountable. But good productivity support can also offer us a chance to explore:
1. Where we are stuck and what are our obstacles: such as self-doubt, lack of inspiration or resources, perfectionism or so many others
2. What, if anything, we are avoiding.
3. What small next steps we can take to enough us to get started.
Why do these calls work so well?
1) We have developed skill in keeping them short and focused. These calls can help us cut through the isolation we feel when we are floundering.
2) When we acknowledge that we need this level of support, we reveal our vulnerability to each other. We then find that the humanity of that humble exchange helps us cut through our vacillation and confusion and get onto a task that is awaiting us.
3) In a world where we are both highly productive with many responsibilities, we feel that we have to look like we know what we are doing all the time. Yet in our buddy check-in we have a few moments to experience a heartfelt understanding of our dilemma. We conduct a shame-free conversation about the next steps to our goals.
4) Finally, when we check in later about what we accomplished, or how we might have over-reached in our expectations, we work without self-blame to refocus on realistic goals for the next day.
Remember that it is essential to limit the social side of these calls. Celebrate the chance to connect to give each other a powerful boost of focus and connection. And enjoy moving towards a more productive day.