Saturday, February 26, 2011

Finding the Root Cause of a Productivity Problem

P7310014I did our taxes this week, which is cause for tremendous celebration for me.

Doing taxes is a real grind, especially sifting through all the bits of paper and receipts that I keep over the course of the year. Since my writing income puts me in the self-employed category, the tax rate on my income is higher (bleh).

I write off as many of my expenses as possible and keep all my writing-related and promo-related receipts in an envelope. The envelope is bulging by the end of the year…and then comes the fun part of sorting through it all.

Each year, I take the tax time opportunity to also go through all the non-writing-related papers I’ve collected—statements, invoices, etc. that fill the desk. I file some and shred others. It’s a very time-consuming process that I’ve struggled with for years…just because of the sheer volume of paper that we’ve got.

Yesterday, while I was shredding the umpteenth statement, I had a sudden brainstorm. I didn’t need these statements—clearly. It was a nightmare to shred or file them all. Why not just contact all the various institutions and ask them to discontinue their mailings? Why not just get whatever information I needed online?

The reason I’ve been stuck with that time-consuming chore for the last ten years is because I never thought about the root cause of the problem…the unwanted paper.

On the same wavelength, I’ve noticed the last few weeks that my mornings have been less-productive than usual. Instead of really taking a minute to figure out why, I just kept on trying to make up my lost time later in the day.

After I figured out my paper conundrum, though, I started thinking about what had changed in my schedule to cause such a disruption to my writing in the mornings. I realized it was the number of Twitter messages and emails that I was getting…and the fact that I was responding to them first thing in the morning instead of getting my work done. I never used to check messages first thing in the morning, but somehow I’d fallen into that trap recently.

So now I put off checking and responding to messages until later in the morning—and it seems to be working out a lot better for me.

It’s amazing how I can just blindly stumble along with a problem before I make time to figure out what’s actually causing it. And addressing the root cause always seems to work.

Is there anything keeping you from being productive?