Scott H Young

Make Productivity Smooth By Reducing Friction


sometimes, pushing isn't enough

Friction wastes energy. You probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s easier pushing a rock on a slippery surface than over sandpaper. Friction exists in your life as well. It is all the aspects of the environment that slow down your productivity. If you want to get more done you can try pushing harder or you can smooth your environment.

Where is the Friction?

When I say friction, I don’t mean obvious time-wasting activities. These are obstacles to peak productivity to be sure. However, I’m talking about the surface of the activities you need to do themselves. Friction isn’t the extra TV you watch or the needless web surfing you do. Friction lies in how you wake up each morning, how you plan your day and how you do the tasks that need to be done.

In truth, a lot of big time wasters like television and web surfing are symptoms of friction, not the causes. When you push hard against a rough surface, heat is a by-product. When you work hard in a rough environment, procrastination, wasted time and energy are given off instead.

How do you reduce friction? I think there are three major methods of reducing friction: routinizing, balancing energy and making tasks sexier.

Routinizing – Making Core Activities Habitual

Instead of trying to organize time, I think we should organize cognition. The real beauty of a habit isn’t that it saves you time but that it saves you thinking. Waking up each morning, going to the gym, making meals all require cognition. Making core activities habitual spares your thinking energy to where it is more useful.

In our information age, most value comes from creative resources not physical labor. If I come upon a good post idea, that post can generate more revenue for me than dozens of mediocre posts. Fifteen minutes implementing a solution in my life can shave off hours of labor. Routinizing core tasks saves mental power for higher level tasks that need doing.

How do you make something routine? You can start by checking out my Habitual Mastery series which pours over exactly how to form habits. Here are a few things you could consider making routine:

  • How you wake up.
  • How you exercise.
  • How you check your e-mail/RSS.
  • How you cook meals.
  • How you clean/organize.

Balancing Energy – Reducing Energy Debt

I’ve talked a lot about the subject of energy management. The basic idea is that you have fundamental energy stores that need replenishing to get work done. Too much work without recovery and you burnout. Burnout is a pretty intense symptom of friction.

Reducing friction by balancing energy doesn’t just mean taking the occasional break or exercising more. It means fundamentally changing how you do what you do.

Look at the tasks you need to do. Scan over them to see how they consume energy from you. Does the task require mental focus? Is it emotionally draining? Is it physically demanding? Does it remove you from other people or submerse you in interaction?

Now look at your typical day or week. Where are you drained? If you are shut in beside a computer all day, perhaps your social energy easily builds a debt. If you are dealing with people all day maybe your emotional energy is entering a deficit.

Recovering your energy means altering your tasks to fulfill your energy requirements. Here are a couple quick suggestions:

  • Social deficit? Try going to the gym with a workout partner.
  • Emotionally deficit? Join a fun organization. (Toastmasters is great because it is fun AND improves public speaking)
  • Physically deficit? Take the stairs up and down a few times during your coffee break instead of standing around.

Sexy Tasks – Make Your To-Do List More Attractive

Once you’ve made core tasks routine and balanced your energy, the only thing stopping you from peak productivity is your lack of desire. If your to-do list involved watching television, eating cake and sleeping, you probably wouldn’t procrastinate so much. The biggest source of friction is a tasks that are downright unattractive.

You’ve probably already heard a million times that you need to make tasks fun. This is only a half truth. I love writing articles, but it is hardly the same feeling as playing a game with friends. Instead of trying to make tasks fun, try making them sexier. Let your tasks resonate with your deeper emotional drives and completely engage you.

How do you make tasks like doing your e-mail or writing sexier?

  • Focus on the end. Figure out why you are doing the task. If your task is meaningless it can’t really fulfill your deeper drives. Remind yourself of why you are doing it and you will get it done.
  • Make it creative. I used to do janitorial work, which is far from the most intellectually stimulating job you can have. I made the task sexier by making it my goal to see what the most efficient route I could take to mop the entire area. Unnecessary creativity can make a task sexy.
  • Add an extra challenge. Some tasks are boring because they just aren’t challenging enough. Try folding your laundry by never consecutively folding two similar articles of clothing. Unnecessary? Probably. Sexy? Definitely.

Big time wasters are the symptom not usually the cause. You can get more done by cutting television or unplugging the internet, but why not remove friction right at the source. Routinize your main tasks to save thinking power. Watch your energy debt to avoid burnouts and exhaustion. Make your tasks a little more attractive so you actually want to do them. Cut out some friction and make productivity smooth.

Image courtesy of flickr


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2 Responses to “Make Productivity Smooth By Reducing Friction”

  1. Peter S C says:

    Hi Scott,

    I just stumbled across your website today. Your articles are well written and you display a wisdom that is uncommon for someone of your age.

    I’ll make a point to to visit again. All the best.

    Peter

  2. Scott Young says:

    Thanks Peter. If you like the articles, consider subscribing by e-mail or RSS up at the top of the sidebar. You can always unsubscribe and it makes following new entries easier.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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