The Dragons of Inefficiency and Lethargy
The other day, I was feeling very unproductive. It was a feeling that had persisted for a couple of weeks and I was growing more and more frustrated by the day. At first I thought, “Well, it’s just a bad day.” But that excuse can only hold for so long.
So I started to ask myself, why am I being so unproductive? What is preventing me from getting all the work done that I want to get done? It was like there were these two dragons named Inefficiency and Lethargy sitting outside my castle, stomping, roaring, and breathing fire at me anytime I tried to come out and get things done! Not cool.
After considering my dilemma for a while, I decided to do a little reconnoissance on these pesky dragons. I began by trying to understand what gave them their strength. I figured that if I found the source of their strength, then I could destroy it and conquer the beasts. So I started by reflecting on my average day. Not only did I consider my actions, but also my emotional state throughout the day, all in an effort to pinpoint what was fueling my lack of productivity and apparent lethargy. Pretty soon, I discovered that the primary cause of my problems was a lack of preparation. I was not well prepared for each day. More specifically, (1) I lacked a clear direction, and (2) I allowed too many obstacles to get in my way. These were the source of the dragons’ strength.
Problem #1: Lack of Clear Direction
Waking up in the morning, I felt lost about where to start. I felt overwhelmed, and anxious, like I was about to go fight some unknown monster and I didn’t know where to begin or how to go about doing it. The problem was that I didn’t have a specific enough list of tasks to guide my work during the day. As a result, I felt overwhelmed, and I lacked a sense of purpose and direction for the day. Not defining my day and my starting point clearly enough not only made me less productive during the day, but it made it so much easier to just stay in bed and not get up in the first place. Not good for an entrepreneur that sets his own schedule and doesn’t have to report to work at a specific time.
Problem #2: Too Many Obstacles
But even if it was a good day and I had worked through the challenges I was facing and prioritized the tasks I needed to get done for the day, another wave of lethargy and apathy hit me. This time, the problem was that I felt overwhelmed by all the little preparatory tasks I realized I had to do just to accomplish one of my main goals for the day.
For example, if one of my main goals for the day was to “Send followup emails to interested investors,” then there are a whole lot of little tasks that need to be done in order to actually be able to send the emails. First, what specific materials (PDFs, videos, etc) do I need to send them? I need to create those. Next, exactly how many investors am I going to email and which ones specifically? I also need to prioritize and gather each investor’s contact information, and the list goes on and on. I hated this part and dreaded doing these little tasks because I felt like I was spinning my wheels, doing so much work before I could even get to crossing off just one of my main tasks for the day. Not only was this very demotivating, but it is where I found myself getting distracted most often. I didn’t just have one task to do, but a lot of tasks that I hated doing so it was much easier to get distracted by Facebook or TV. Soon enough, I was way behind schedule and never meeting my goals.
In short, I was like a knight going out to slay a Dragon with neither a map to define my journey nor the sword I needed to slay the beast. I was not prepared to say the least. Of course that would not do, so I resolved to create my map and take up my sword. This is how I did it:
Solution #1: Draw Your Map the Day Before
In order to counter the unproductive feelings I had waking up without a plan, I started writing down my goals the day before. And this time, I went into as much excruciating detail as possible. Now, not only do I list my main goals, but I have also started listing out every task I need to complete and all the materials I need to prepare in order to reach each goal. By doing this, I wake up feeling prepared, relaxed, and confident in my game-plan. I have defined the monster that is today’s work and I am ready to attack it with purpose and a sense of direction. I don’t have to waste any mental energy (which is precious in the morning) on wrestling with what to do and how to do it. It’s simple, but effective, and it’s the same principle behind what your mom was always trying to teach you when she told you to set out the clothes you are going to wear the night before – Always Be Prepared. That means getting what you need before you need it.
For example, whereas before my goal might have read, “Email interested investors,” now my goal reads “Email 3 interested investors: John Doe, Mike Smith, and Harry Williams” and it is accompanied by a list of the materials and information I need to accomplish this goal.
Additionally, I will only allow myself to write down three major goals per day. Those three are my top priority and get done first. I like three because it is easily remembered, feels manageable, and keeps me more motivated than a long laundry list of tasks. Of course, I also have a section for “Bonus” tasks that I can work on if I complete those three main goals, but the success of my day and sense of accomplishment depends upon whether or not I get those three things done.
Solution #2: Take Up Your Sword
But it’s not enough just to have your map ready the day before. I have found that I am also much more productive when I have my sword sharped, polished, and ready to go in the day before as well. What I mean by that is have all the tools and materials you will need to complete the day’s main goals ready the night before. In light of that, I have started building in two hours at the end of my day that are solely dedicated to creating and preparing the materials and tools I will need for the next day’s goals. For example, if I need to send an informational PDF to interested investors tomorrow, then I will create that PDF at the end of my day today. I will also have gathered all the contact information I will need the day before as well. That way, when I wake up, I have everything that I need to email them ready to go. There is only one task to accomplish, not some long, multi-step process where it is so easy to get distracted.
Moral of the Story
So, the moral of this story is that if you want to slay the dragon, you have to draw your map and have your sword ready to go the night before your quest. Be prepared and have a plan for what you are going to do the day before you need to do it. Decision making consumes a lot of mental energy, and the more decisions you can take off your plate in the morning, the more focused, effective, and efficient you will be.