There’s a lot of literature out there on how to be more productive. It’s full of tips and tricks, like making to-do lists, possibly while you’re watching TV (per a recent post on Dumb Little Man). But over the years, I have found that the best productivity “trick” is to actually get better at what you do. That is, you recognize what kind of craft you are practicing, practice to get better, and watch things take less time.
Chefs, for instance, can whip up some eggs pretty quickly. A professional tailor can finish up a button in less time than it takes most people to find their scissors. I have noticed these things myself with writing. When I would first be assigned a 1000 word article, I would write a draft, hit word count, and see some ridiculous number like 1600. This is pretty hard to hack down without changing the entire focus of the piece. But over time, I’ve gotten more efficient about this. A 650 word column winds up being, in the first draft… about 650 words. You just know what it looks like. And you know how to write those words faster.
At least that was my experience on Friday. I was minding my own business when I got an automated call from Costco informing me that the Similac I’d purchased there a month ago was being recalled. I looked up the story, and found that it was because of potential bug parts from the factory. This sounds gross, but I also know that food has lots of bugs in it, and babies put gross things in their mouths anyway. So I decided to write a column about it for AOL News.
One problem: I don’t have childcare on Friday afternoons. I figured I’d write the piece over the weekend, but then Sam got distracted playing with various things from the floor (many no doubt more gross than bugs in the Similac) and so I cranked out the post (Bug Parts in Baby Formula: What’s The Big Deal?) It got a fair amount of attention, and I’m happy to report that for a while if you Googled “bugs” and “Similac” together, you’d find me.
Sometimes I get a little tired of blogging every day, in addition to various other things I write. I know that my readership here is growing, but sometimes it’s easy to shove blogging to the bottom of the list. But then I remember that writing a short essay every day is practice for the times when I do need to write something fast. If I weren’t blogging, I couldn’t do that.
What particular skills in your profession do you need to call on in a pinch? How do you practice those skills? Think back — what are some signs that you’ve gotten better at these skills over the years? If you want to be productive, you can fold laundry while watching TV. But maybe that time would be better spent getting better at what you love to do.