Or: Why You’re Probably Not Using the Productivity Planners
(This post is a case study in how to stifle a good idea, using my own products as an example. It ends with a general take-away, so feel free just to skip to that.)
Laurie, my good friend and neighbor, provided some of the best feedback for this blog and my planners that I’ve yet to receive. The thrust of the feedback goes like this:
I really like your blog, but I downloaded some of your planners…and they’re really intimidating. My mind just doesn’t work that way.
The planners actually started from very simple concepts about productivity:
There are times in which we have more productive energy than others. Use those times to do your productive heavy lifting, and schedule other stuff around those periods. Lastly, try to figure out why you’re in those periods and see what you can do to extend or amplify them.
That idea is simple. It has that “this is so stinking obvious – why didn’t I think of that” quality about it that makes it very easy to apply in the actual contexts in which we live, work, and play. It’s no wonder that it went viral and that post continues to be my most read post.
And Then I Stifled It!
At the time I should have been riding that wave, I did something that stifled the spread of the idea. I made those ideas complicated, foreign, and fundamentally hard to think about by creating planners around those ideas.
At the time I thought that abandoning the broken business planners that we pick up in our office supply stores would really help people learn how to start managing not their time, but their productive energies. Instead of giving them a bridge from a familiar idea to an unfamiliar one, I nuked the familiar and gave them something unfamiliar.
This had the net effect of showing people what’s wrong with normal planners without giving them a solution that actually worked for them. What people needed was a way to integrate that idea into their work flow – they didn’t need to have to completely reconceptualize time and learn how to use another planner. As much as I’ve railed against arcane systems, you’d think I wouldn’t turn around and promote one of my own.
The Return to the Basic Idea
If you’ve downloaded the Productivity Planners and they make sense to you, then keep using them. I’d appreciate any feedback about how it’s worked out for you.
If you look at them and know that there’s no way in hell that they’ll actually help you, give them a pass. You won’t hurt my feelings – as you can tell, I’ll never know. I’d rather you be creating something awesome instead.
That said, I do think the basic idea is right. Focus on that. Figure out when your productive peaks are, plan for them, and guard them as much as you do your money. The truth is that they’re far more valuable than your actual money because they are the essence of how you make money.
If the Productivity Heatmap helps you chart these peaks for a few days, then use them. I suggest you try it for 5 days to account for variations – I know for a fact I’m more productive on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays for reasons that I should spend more time talking about.
If you’re worried that I’ll stop working on that series of planners, don’t. At least, don’t yet. If you’d like to see continued development and support, though, make sure you let me know either via commenting or email.
What You Can Learn From This
If you’ve captured an idea that works and latches on to people, help that simple idea throughout its transmission life-cycle instead of trying to make it bigger, better, and stronger. Once that idea has enough people thinking about it, see where you can take it.
Second, don’t try to make something that’s for everyone: you can’t. Some people are going to get it, others aren’t. Focus on those people who get it, and use them as the bridge to those who don’t. Don’t try to use the idea as the bridge to those people because they didn’t get it in the first place.
Lastly, if you have a good idea, start sharing it sooner rather than later. You don’t want to sit around fixing something that’s not broken only to see someone else get the pure idea out. They get the credit and you get to trash your work and hate yourself for awhile.
This last section will be old hat for those of you who have read the brilliant book Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin. Yes, I’m an academic, and I feel obligated to reveal my sources of inspiration and insight.
Laurie the neighbor says
Hey Charlie – I saw your post when I got on the site to print off some planners today. Yes, I’m still using the planners and here’s why: when we talked about the planners you told me how I should use them and you emphasized the important basic concept — that I needed to identify the times during the day and week when I am most productive and then schedule my tasks accordingly. You also said that on the weekly planner I should write down everything on my mind that I needed to get done. I did this and then went through the list and circled the most reasonable day to do the essential tasks. I’m more productive at the beginning of the week, so that’s when I scheduled the important stuff. I used the weekly planner to fill in the daily planner, but I didn’t use the ID and code and some of the other boxes. Perhaps my tasks are too simple to necessitate their use (at least in my mind). I filled in the daily schedule with the tasks I was focusing on that day according to time (I’m more productive in the morning). I have to tell you this has been working for me this week. Putting tasks on a daily schedule has allowed me to see that I have only a few things to do first thing in the morning and it’s been easy to just get them done because I know that once I do I can move on to other things without having the list in the back of my mind. Also, writing down scheduled events has been surprisingly useful. What a simple thing I have been overlooking when making my daily list.
The planners are a little intimidating, and no, my mind does not work that way, but the challenge has been good for me. I thought it was important to let you know that your explanation of the basics helped and that using the planners has made my seemingly endless list of things to do much less intimidating.
Naomi Dunford says
HA! This is too funny. We’ve been talking about me printing the planners and I finally got my new printer to print in color. So I came today to print them out for the very first time. Hilarious.
In other news, I just want to totally second your second point — about not trying to build something for everyone. Havi and I have been dealing with this recently with Self Promotion for Wimps.
Normally I’m totally fine with negative feedback. Hate me? That’s cool, you’re entitled. But this stuff has been getting on my nerves for some reason. We’ve been getting a lot of emails — I know you sent one too — saying that we should offer the course at night. I agree, sure. But why was it bothering me so much?
I finally realized that it was pissing me off because I knew I’d get just as many emails if we offered the course at night. From parents who have kids to look after, from people who work nights, from people who say, “I work all day, I don’t want to come home and have to do this!”
But customers can’t ever really know that they’re not your only target. They’re providing their own (very legitimate) feedback that says, X would work better for me. They don’t know that X sucks for a lot of other people. Same went for our release date. “Can you offer it in two months when I have more money?” Problem is, in two months everyone will be bitching that it’s too close to Christmas and they’re broke.
OK, now I’m just rambling.
My point is, you’re right. You can’t please everybody. 🙂
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..Fear, Failure, Opportunity, Success, and Po Bronson
@Laurie: Thanks so much for letting me know it’s working for you. You’re right about the ID and code thing – that was for freelancers and others who might want to categorize things a bit differently.
The scheduled events thing is something that used to trip me up, too – I’d assume that I could get just as much done that day without thinking about the fact that I’d be in meetings.
You’ve made this dreary morning a lot brighter. Thanks!
@Naomi: I think the launch date was perfect, for many of the reasons you specify. What I meant to say, in my email about the time, was that the people who would most benefit are probably not going to be able to attend, not necessarily that you should absolutely move it. Wimps generally are going to be at work, and they’re generally not going to have the gusto to sneak a call in, so they’ll find that a very easy way to bail and say why they couldn’t do it.
But I do get what you’re saying. Give me a shout on how the planners are working for you.
It’s interesting seeing your thought processes with the planners, Charlie. As you know, I’m more of an instinctual girl myself so planners aren’t my thing, but I do want to say you’re spot on with what you’ve learned from this exercise. Especially that you can’t please everyone. It;s the first rule of marketing really. You can’t be all things to all people. But it’s also a rule that we can easily forget when we want somethign to succeed and we want people to like it and benefit from it.
I think there’s lots of people who’d say “Keep them planners coming!”
Some really good points. In my own exerience, I bough a really nice day planner and used it for a while…but I got away from it. Quite simply, the forms it came with were too complicated. I really didn’t need a daily schedule with hours…my work wasn’t organized that way. But since it was there, I tried to use it, and rather fell on my face.
I still use a day planner, but with my own, very simple forms. Basically just to-do lists, and a list of open projects. The real power of the system came from keeping REFERENCE material handy.
@Kelly: Oh so true. I was like “what if I created some planners around this idea” more than “what if I tried to get some people to really use this idea.” Should have under-featured it. Thanks for the encouragement for the planners – I think you’ll like the next series.
@EMotivate: Great insight on the reference materials. My daily task list helps me think about what stuff I’ll need to get the job done, so I’ll pack or prepare those things. Then when I’m done, there’s not that “what am I doing now & how do I do it” lag that leads to Twitter and internet diversions.