Productivity is an interesting beast. It’s quite possible to get a lot done very quickly and still be unproductive. Or at least fail to be usefully productive.

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you, but it happens to my make-believe friend Billy Bob. On some make-believe Saturday he grabs his number two pencil and a Big Chief yellow pad and makes a list.

  • Ride the moped out to get groceries
  • Get squirrel feed
  • Groom the iguana
  • Brush my teeth
  • Play catch with the kids

It looks like Billy Bob has a great day ahead of him. But if he goes out and spends the entire day chasing squirrels on his moped , he would have been better off if his list had been:

  • Find some way to waste my day and then feel as guilty as possible about it.

At least then he would have both clearly stated his expected outcome and accomplished his goal.

A Real Life Case Study

Just recently our office transitioned from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook for email. For whatever reason, the transition people decided that they would not migrate our emails even though they did migrate our email folders (I know…I know). That left me forwarding emails I’d already filed once back to myself so that I could file them all over again.

I taught myself a couple of keyboard shortcuts and I was on my way, humming along, thinking “Hey, I’m pretty quick at this,” and feeling very productive. After all, I was moving quickly and efficiently and what I was doing was necessary.

But here’s the deal; while I was doing work and I was being efficient I wasn’t accomplishing my goals. Each of the emails I was moving represented a project or an action – some outcome. But rather than accomplishing those outcomes, I was shuffling bits on my hard drive.

I might as well have been chasing squirrels with a moped for all I was accomplishing of my real goals.

Of course, in this case, what I was doing was necessary. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same kind of thing by my choice. In my search for productivity I try out new tools. I create profiles, move projects and actions, and start over. I feel really productive and go through the temporary high of learning something new. But I’m actually slowing down my real progress towards my real goals.

And there’s more

Sometimes I even do this with my blog. Yep. I spend time looking for new blog templates or trying out new plugins or reviewing the typography. None of that is bad, but if it takes the place of actually writing, then I’m hamstringing my blog.

And I do it with Facebook and Twitter and forget about the people I love and know the best. Sometimes I forget that I can’t have fondue on Facebook.

How about you?

What squirrels are you chasing on your moped?
How are you going to hop off the moped?

Photo credit: roland

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