Who doesn’t know it: New year, new me, or as it is so often said in the corporate world: Even more, even faster, even better.
I too know this expressway, because my roles are very diverse:
Multi-entrepreneur, editor, mentor, podcaster, business coach for women, trainer, organizational consultant, speaker – and those were just a few of my professional roles.
Nevertheless, I have managed and continue to try to successfully escape this narrative of “Higher, Faster, Further” over the past few years as an entrepreneur by (sustainably!) raising my productivity to the next level, which does not tire me out, but rather boosts my motivation.
And I would like to share this experience with you. Here, my contribution has no universal claim that all my tips are effective and practical for you. Instead, it is to be understood as a pure source of inspiration to support you in your daily activities.
Successfully increase productivity – this is how it works properly
Some keep a journal, others go for a run, still others meditate in the morning. I admit: I’ve tried everything, just doesn’t work for me.
Fortunately, after a brief inquiry among my acquaintances, I came to the conclusion that I am probably not the exception here, but the rule.
While there are a few (digital) tools I use to boost my productivity and I’ll get into those as well, the most important question I ask myself in the morning is this and also marks the first productivity hack I want to share with you:
Ask yourself: “What do I really want to achieve today? What task is especially important today?”
Sounds simple, but it’s an absolute gamechanger. I know that as soon as I enter the office and start my mail program, all seemingly set to-dos can fade into the background because there is a “fire” somewhere and my problem-solving skills are needed. Sometimes I get “ambushed” with my first coffee in hand before I even make it through the office door. This is why this question is so important: no matter what happens that day, THIS task will get done.
Little trick: As with my last podcast episode on self-motivation, I would recommend: The daily task should remain achievable and not consist of many small “subtasks”.
“I’m releasing a new podcast episode” – Way too broad, unless you don’t need a script and can do the recording, editing and promotion of the episode in your sleep.
“I’m going to write down some bullet points for my next podcast episode today.” – Better, because the actual recording afterwards already has a basis and can even be adjusted if necessary, because there is still a break between the script and the recording.
To tell you my second tip, I’ll have to elaborate a bit.
I remember very well a conversation with a teacher during my high school graduation. I received “only” 14 points on the report card in her subject, in school grades: A 1. 15 points therefore correspond to a 1+. I looked at her in disbelief during the grade discussion.
“You know I’m the best at this subject, right?”
Yes, I didn’t lack self-confidence, however, as a so-called “working-class kid,” I was able to do one thing above all: work hard for my success, knowing that no amount of photographic memory or parental privilege would get me where I wanted to go.
Her answer was simple:
“I know, but I want to give you the opportunity to do even better on your final report card next year.”
I admit I didn’t understand it, because the concept of lifelong learning didn’t open up to me until my subsequent studies.
What I can say from retrospective though, and this also marks my second valuable productivity tip:
2. focus on being number 2.
Sounds a little crazy, but whoever occupies the first place starts defending it and that usually leads to pressure and competitiveness. However, anyone who is number 2 knows that she has accomplished a lot and what’s even better is that she knows there is still a lot to learn and discover. So the difference here is in the driving thought. There is definitely a difference between “I want to improve in my field” (promotion-oriented) or “I am the best and must not slack off now in order not to lose my position” (prevention-oriented).
We are always teachers and learners at the same time, and in order to maintain this mindset, it is quite advisable to retain a little upward potential. I follow this basic principle every day, even as an entrepreneur. No one in the company has a status that does not allow others to correct him/her or enrich him/her with their own knowledge. This also takes away the fear of always being able to do everything and intrinsically motivates one to stay productively in learning mode and to dedicate oneself to tasks that are sometimes difficult for us (in the short term), but which pay into our “knowledge and experience account” (in the long term).
With that comes a somewhat unusual tip, but one that “decouples” your productivity a bit from your (seemingly) prescribed role:
3. you are not your job title, so don’t work by it either
When someone asks me what I do for a living, it’s really hard for me to put an answer into a short sentence, because it really “condemns” me to a certain pattern of action.
A quick example:
When I say I am an organizational consultant, those who can relate to this term imagine that I advise teams as well as companies, work within projects and give the odd workshop. In fact, this corresponds pretty well (in a nutshell) to a classic job description. However, if you look at the above roles I take on, you’ll forget about (it feels like) 1,000 other tasks that I also fill and perform on a daily basis.
So it can be that we have an editorial planning for our magazine FemalExperts in the morning, I meet a coaching client at noon, give a short webinar on personal branding in the late afternoon and appear as a speaker at a business event in the evening.
For this reason, I base my to-dos not on what my title or qualification is, but where my potential lies.
Those who align their productivity with their potential will find more opportunities to complete tasks in an optimal and motivated manner.Kinga Bartczak
Don’t limit yourself by titles in your role spectrum, but enjoy the freedom to decide for yourself which task inspires you most at the moment.
Little emergency tip:
When you realize that you are “trapped” in your understanding of your role after all, and your tasks only feel like ballast: Get into action and change something. Delegate, adapt, let go or throw it all overboard. I don’t mean the whole job right away, but maybe the project, the idea, or even the beliefs that seem to bind you to the unlovable tasks.
We must not forget: We are not victims of our circumstances as long as we are able to act and decide self-effectively and freely.
And this is where my fourth tip comes in:
4. forget about the “Purpose”, the “Passion” and the love for the work
Already in my article: “The fairy tale of the love of work”, I went into the toxic messages that are presented to us every day like a creed on social media: Love your work – Find your purpose – Follow your passion.
I hate to write it, but this is rich, Western, privileged thinking, which excludes most of the world’s population. I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t find joy in your work or that it’s wrong to develop yourself personally, professionally, and entrepreneurially. I would just like to point out that we have social, monetary, family obligations and bear responsibility for them – and guess what: This is not always fun.
So how can I maintain my own productivity here?
By getting rid of this completely absurd expectation that I have to go to work every day with a smile and love all my employees/colleagues. Sometimes it’s cold and wet, the train was full, we have a killer headache or simply got up on the wrong side of the bed. These feelings need space so that you can accept, reflect and embrace them. Only then does letting go work and you can focus (see tip 1). If you are always looking for meaning, passion or love for your work, you will very quickly find yourself in a very exhausting cycle and in the worst case burn out before you find it.
Conclusion: Have fun, enjoy your tasks, challenge yourself, but if not: that’s totally fine, because you can find love, joy and challenge in other (interpersonal) relationships as well.
5. use the magic circular question, “How would …. do this task?”
Now I’ve brought up the subject that unfortunately there are unpleasant tasks that we can’t always delegate, and I’m going to let you in on a well-kept secret at this point:
I am an absolute procrastination queen.
I actually manage to finish assignments just before handing them in, even though I’ve had weeks to do so. I don’t take broken appliances in for repair until they’re already falling apart, and I don’t do my grocery shopping until an imaginary hay bale rolls through my refrigerator, indicating to me, as in the Wild West, the desolation and emptiness of my freezer’s contents.
Well, what only results in a growling stomach in the private sphere can develop into a real problem in business. So how do you break out of the procastination trap and become a productivity queen?
Quite simply, with my most important productivity tip:
Use the power of imagination.
When I’m at a loss and the blank page of the screen stares back at me, the tax return has been showing beautiful patterns of various coffee stains for weeks, or the customer reminds me for the third time of an outstanding offer, only one thing helps:
“What would Madonna do?”
I don’t know the Queen of Pop personally and of course she is not entirely uncontroversial in person, but she is an idol of my mother and thus a musical icon of my childhood. So when I want to do an unpleasant task, I simply ask myself how she would do it (or I think she would).
My standard answer is usually: Disciplined, in small steps, confident, keeping the goal in mind and without grumbling. – So, in summary, all attributes that I often let slide in everyday life, because I would rather describe myself as impulsive, impatient and (too often) “hanging in the clouds”.
My recommendation is to consciously imagine a personality (fictitious if you like) who will do your job in your place, even if you don’t feel connected to them at first sight in terms of character or profession. At that moment, you’re taking advantage of the role to get something done for a short time that will take the pressure off you in the long run.
It doesn’t always have to be the same personality. In stressful situations Madonna would probably be too strict and shrill for me, I rather wonder what the Dalai Lama or maybe John Lennon would do?
Digital tools for more productivity
Finally, I would like to share a few (digital) tools with you that support me in my daily productivity. Here I assume that you already use a calendar (ical, Google Calendar, etc.), communication tools (Slack, Zoom, MS Teams, etc.), project management tools (Confluence, Jira, Trello, etc.). Other useful tools:
- A whiteboard sheet – Not everyone has the ability to put a whiteboard everywhere. However, if one is gripped by the “flow”, this foil is an absolute enrichment to “scribble” ideas analogously into the impure, to literally (physically) take distance to the written, to cross out thoughts again and to give others the possibility to add something. The film can be applied to virtually any surface and can even be wiped off, making it reusable (in case the idea wasn’t so good after all).
- Todoist – Finally stop rummaging for your notebook because your head can’t stand still. I have tried a few digital to-do lists and this one has worked for me with its multiple options and ease of condition.
- Spotify – Okay, Spotify isn’t really a tool, but hey, this article is about productivity and I don’t know about you, but when all the tips (including emergency tips) don’t do anything, I put on my Sony on-ear headphones, fire up the popular music streaming service and with the right song, the productivity boost (almost) comes on its own.
I hope my tips helped you a little bit and I could motivate you a little bit today to look at the topic of productivity from a different perspective. Is there a tip that has worked particularly well for you? Or maybe there is a tool that has worked for you (digital/analog)?
And, of course, I must not forget the most exciting question:
Which personality would you like to hand over your tasks to and what would change as a result? What can you learn from this?
If you liked this article and would like to know more about this topic, I can also recommend the following articles:
- “Beautiful, Successful Business World or: How Do I Dig Myself Out of the Motivation Hole?”
- How do I motivate myself? 6 suggestions for more motivation in everyday life and in business
- The fairy tale of the love of work
- Get out of management madness – If you want to create something new, you have to break the rules
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.