Why Successful People’s Productivity Doesn’t Help You (Time Management)

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Photo via Adobe Stock Images.

Did you read the latest list post about the top 7 Ways Successful People Start Their Morning? Or How about the one titled, 10 Productivity Tips That Every Successful Person Uses? These all seem like great practices. There are definitely common themes among all of them that we can learn from. So why is it that someone can read those posts over and over and still not be productive?

I've interviewed over 100 highly successful women executives and entrepreneurs in my work and through my podcast, Behind Super Woman's Cape. And what I have found about their productivity has some similarities with the common list posts. However, it is what is different that is most significant.

There are three key reasons that these posts aren't beneficial.
  1. Systems aren't one size fits all. What all of the articles neglect to mention is how these top performers have modified the well known “practices” to fit their specific needs. Despite the fact that they all might start their day with a morning routine, how that fits into their day and what they do with it varies significantly.
  2. We all aren't at Unconscious Incompetence. For many of these successful individuals, it would appear as though productivity comes “naturally” to them. This is the falacy of the four stages of competence and comparing your low competence to their high competency is detrimental to the process.
  3. It's like teaching you to drive via a DMV driver's test study guide. These posts leave out at least one important component to being more productive. How you THINK about time.

One Size Doesn't Fit All

One of my recent productivity coaching clients was challenged by the fact that I suggested she plan her week in advance every week. This is a very common tip recommended by the most successful and productive people. However, where they leave off is exactly where Jennifer (name changed for privacy) got stuck.

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For Jennifer, it wasn't practical to plan her work week at the end of the day on Friday, the time frame usually recommended for this purpose. Because of this, Jennifer just didn't plan her week at all. Together, we brainstormed a few other alternatives for her around planning her week. We thought outside of the standard box and tested a couple of different options before landing on the one that worked best for Jennifer.

When we are exposed to the same information over and over, we fail to see outside of the box in order to make the information relevant to our purposes. Don't fall into this vicious trap when you read the posts about how Successful People Stay Productive…

The Stages of Competence

Another significant problem of these list posts is that they do not taking into consideration the current level of competence.

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Often attributed to the psychologist, Abraham Maslow, the four stages of competence illustrate how someone learns a new skill or develops a new behavior.

Stage one is Unconscious Incompetence.

It is at this level that an individual does not recognize that they do not know how to do something. Alternatively, they may not see the value in the learned skill. Consider a sport that you do not know how to play and have no interest in learning. This would be an example of unconscious incompetence.

Stage two is Conscious Incompetence.

At this level an individual realizes that they lack the necessary skills and realizes that this is a deficit that they should work to overcome. You often see individuals in this category when they are somewhat committed to learning or improving or are just starting out on their learning journey.

Stage three is Conscious Competence.

When an individual has reached this level, they have a conscious knowledge of how to do things and yet it takes a lot of effort for them to execute the given skill or behavior.

Stage four is Unconscious Competence.

Finally, upon reaching this level, an individual is able to complete a skill or behavior without a high level of concentration or thought. It is at this level that it appears a behavior or skill comes “naturally”, despite the fact that it may have taken a long period of time to achieve this appearance.

If you apply the four stages of competence to personal productivity, you can see how you might get hung up on certain stages. If a specific hack or tip doesn't seem to come naturally to you, as it appears to do for those that are “really successful”, then it is easy to get frustrated and quit. After all, investing time to be more productive doesn't seem like a good use of your time if you just keep spinning your wheels and getting nowhere.

It is possible that you stay stuck at the conscious incompetence level without progressing and get frustrated with the same information being shoved at you about how to “fix” your time management issues.

I recently worked with a productivity coaching client who expressed to me that she had tried everything when it came to being more productive. Laura (name changed) was fighting with the conscious incompetence and stuck there. Unfortunately, she was comparing her failures to the successes of those who had reached unconscious competence and wondering why she couldn't just “get it”. I helped Laura to work through some of the blocks that prevented her from moving to the next stage allowing her to get increasingly more competent and productive.

When you have adequate support through the stages, you will quickly progress to where your new skills or behaviors become “natural”.

The Study Guide

Have you ever tried to learn something from a study guide without reading the main text? List posts are much like a study guide for productivity (or any other learned skill, for that matter). While they can be quick reminders or valuable to someone who already knows the material, they are often misleading to the person who hasn't read the book.

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One of the most common points that is left out of these list posts is how you think about time. In fact, I feel this is THE MOST IMPORTANT point when it comes to being more productive.

It might be the reason you procrastinate on a regular basis or why you are constantly overwhelmed. Either way, your thoughts around your time play a significant role in how you manage your time.

Our Limiting Thoughts

Sara first came to me to help her with not having the time to get everything done. She was totally overwhelmed. She was full of reasons that she never had time to work on what she wanted to get done. If it wasn't demands of managers and coworkers or last minute meetings, it was one emergency after another. She then shared with me that she would do really well with her time when all this stuff wasn't going on but she just couldn't wait any longer.

Life doesn't take a time out. Plan for life's exceptions instead of expecting life to be perfect.

I helped Sara to realize that there would always be something or other that comes up. You can't wait until everything is perfect to get things done. Instead you have to plan for the exceptions so that you are ready no matter what.

Now, keep in mind, there will always be circumstances that challenge the best of plans. A solid foundation, though, will help you to keep going even under these extreme circumstances. Just don't be the boy who cried wolf, because these circumstances are not common.

Sara learned to think differently and embrace the fact that her life was going to look a certain way. We were then able to work on overcoming her overwhelm so she could live a thriving life.

It is OK to read list posts to get new tips and ideas. Just don't depend on them to create an entire plan for your personal productivity. Always remember there are options available. If something doesn't work for you, it may just be what your competence level is at this time. Keep challenging the way you think about time and you will be well on your way to being more productive.

Learn More

Are you ready to find out what The Productivity Expert can do for you and your executive team? I invite you to schedule a 20 minute strategy session with me to better understand your productivity needs.

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Nicole Bandes
Known as THE Productivity Expert, Nicole works with entrepreneurs and professionals to help them overcome their overwhelm so they can have more time for what matters most. Having lost a child at the age of 17, it is Nicole's mission to use practical and outside-the-box strategies to help entrepreneurs and professionals make the most out of their time.Nicole has also been a featured productivity expert in Inc Magazine, Fast Company, Huffington Post, USA Today and many more.