Failing My Way To Success: My Failed Attempts At Productivity

There was a time I thought I could never succeed at anything, a time when I could not even clean out my own inbox! I felt that if I could not get the little things done, there was simply no hope for me to reach any big milestone. My room was in constant chaos, my backlogs at work had gone through the roof, and my personal to-do list was a mile long. I felt like such a complete failure!

My feelings of failure were exacerbated by my failed attempts at being more productive. I experimented with several productivity tools, and failed. I later learned that it was never about the tools nor the systems.

It was all me.

I’ll tell you more about that. But first, allow me to talk about my failed experiments with productivity.

Two planners to separate my professional and personal affairs

Back when I still held a 9-5 job, I had a strict rule of not bringing any of my work home. To keep things segregated, I kept two planners – one for work and one for my home. The goal was to achieve a work-life balance, but it never worked out that way. Having two planners kept me from being flexible. There were personal items I could easily scratch off my list while at work without taking more than a minute of my time. The same thing held true for my work-related tasks.

I tried to create a separation that didn’t need to exist. Work and personal life have a way of overlapping, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply the reality of life.

Color-coded entries on my planners

The idea was to organize tasks under different categories. The colors were supposed to help me quickly associate specific colors with different categories. Hence, I assigned various colors to different legends. The colors were also supposed to help me identify just how far along I was to completing a task.

Instead of streamlining the process, this system only complicated things for me. For starters, I had to carry around several colored pens. In an era where we’re used to carrying around smaller and fewer things thanks to technology, this seemed counter-intuitive. It was inconvenient too! 

Worse, I had to keep tabs of everything the colors represented. This was more difficult than it seemed. I had to pull out my copy of legends frequently, and I often used the wrong colors. It came to a point where I just avoided my planners altogether. All-in-all, my productivity efforts became out of whack.

Productivity apps on my gadgets

After my failed attempts at pen and paper, I decided to take advantage of what technology had to offer. I tried this app called ‘Things’. I liked that it was cheaper, and it appeared to have everything I needed. The web app was well-designed, and its user interface was easy to understand. It also came with an iPhone app, which was the true hook for me. Unfortunately, the early version of the app didn’t offer an over-the-air sync. This became a problem when I was away from my Macbook for too long. This flaw was a deal-breaker for me, as being able to input stuff or cross off items from my to-do list while I was out and about was essential to my productivity.

Moreover, the productivity app resembled the system prescribed in David Allen’s book ‘Get Things Done’. Probably this generation’s most influential work on productivity, GTD has undoubtedly helped many people. Nevertheless, its highly structured system is not for everyone. There is a reason it’s generally avoided by creatives such as writers, designers, and musicians. Plus, right at the system’s core lies the “next action”. If you aren’t careful, your life could easily become just a series of things to get done. At least that’s what it felt like to me in my early days of trying out GTD.

It was all me

After my failed experiments on productivity, I finally learned what it meant to fail one’s way to success. Upon close examination, I realized that the tools and the systems weren’t the problem. The problem was, I simply did not understand myself well enough. Without proper introspection, it was impossible to figure out a system that would work for me.

For one, I finally came to terms with the fact that routine tasks were a point of weakness for me. The whole “I need to be good at the smaller things before I could succeed at bigger things” way of thinking turned out to be faulty. The bigger things arena was where I excelled, and I wasn’t cashing in on it.

I had all the makings of an entrepreneur – creativity, initiative, and risk-taking, to name a few. I enjoyed tackling the bigger picture and always excelled in strategic thinking. My propensity to get bored stemmed from my knack for creative thinking. While this made it hard for me to stick to routine tasks, my creativity helped me come up with ideas that would eventually fuel my entrepreneurial success. What I thought of as a weakness was actually an untapped strength!

A startup investor and mentor once said, “If you’ve remained on a corporate job for more than 25 years, you are probably not the person we’re looking for.” Successful founders all have a burning passion to create things or to be on the driver’s seat carving their own path. The same passion keeps them from sticking to a traditional corporate job for too long.

Meeting success

Gaining a better perspective on the real me helped me reevaluate what was wrong with my productivity efforts. For one, piling up my to-do lists with unnecessary stuff was debilitating. It kept me from focusing on the bigger picture. It also made me realize that I was never going to be productive in my current profession because I was at the wrong job. And as I mentioned earlier, our professional and personal lives tend to overlap. Finding a field that you’re good at will not only make your career better but your home life as well.

When I finally fulfilled my potential as an entrepreneur, I never had to create a work-life balance because work became my life – in a good way! Even while I was at home, I was thinking of all the great ways I could improve my business but not in a stressful way. I was so much happier, and it showed in the way I was treating the people around me.

As for my productivity, being my own boss helped me ace it mostly because I also was able to share my passion for my new career with others who worked with me. I delegated all the everyday tasks I wasn’t good at to people who excelled in following a structure or routine. It’s created an ecosystem of workers and tasks that lead to amazing results. With my strategic mind at the helm, we were all bound for success.

I experimented, failed, and finally met success. You can make that happen for yourself as well. Always keep in mind, there is no such thing as an overnight success.

The One Key to My Personal and Business Success (and my Sanity!)

Throughout my 20s, I was laser focused on building my business. This meant all my resources were poured into my venture. There was one thing I wasn’t willing to sacrifice though, and that’s the quality of food I’d eat.

You hear it all the time – stories of entrepreneurs living off dollar pizza and ramen for years on end just so they could get their business off the ground. I was never one of those people. I valued my health way too much. Plus, I believed that the better I felt, the more I’d get done.

The irony is that I missed one important point – that our health goes beyond just our body. We have to mind our mental health too.

 

While I was willing to pay extra for food, I wasn’t as willing to splurge on other things. I’d do just about anything to keep that extra penny. I’d wait for hours until a taxi would pass by because I refused to pay higher Uber rates. Paying for cleaning and laundry services was beyond me, and don’t even think of making me pay for a virtual personal assistant. I chose to do everything on my own.

I thought I was making the best choices. I even took pride in my prudent lifestyle. But then it all caught up with me. For a few months, things got out of control. My dirty laundry piled up, I’d run out of groceries, and my home was in complete chaos. I almost had a psychological breakdown! Just the thought of doing something as simple as taking out the trash gave me anxiety attack.

I knew I had to make a change. It simply wasn’t working anymore.

The Key to Leadership Success

In the world of business, people are often told about how delegation is an important key to leadership success. According to Harvard Business Review, delegation benefits all the players in a business – the managers, the subordinates, and the organization as a whole. All the same, research showed that almost half of the participating companies were seeing a lack of delegation skills in their employees. Several leaders hold on to their instinctive tendency to protect work, which then fuels a constant state of overextension.

I am a solopreneur offering women’s wear via an e-commerce store. I own a dropshipping business, which allows me to run a solo operation.

To give you a quick background on the kind of business that I run — dropshipping is a type of business model where the retailer sells products without the need to have goods in stock or to work on logistics. Customer orders and shipment details are simply transferred to either another retailer, a wholesaler, or a manufacturer who then takes charge of shipping the products directly to the customer. With the logistics covered, all that I (the retailer) have to do is market and sell the products. I maintain an online store and advertise my products on social media channels. I also respond to customer inquiries and concerns.

At a glance, you’d think my business would not benefit from delegation. I thought the same, but boy, was I wrong.

It took a life crisis that bordered on a psychological breakdown for me to finally make a real CEO move – I started delegating certain aspects of my daily life! Because it meant spending money on something I would normally skimp on, that took a lot of courage and willpower on my part. But boy oh boy, did it change my life!

 

The Most Important Resource

It all started with realizing what my most valuable resource is. And no, it’s not money. It’s definitely not the few pennies I save from suffering through daily indignities. My most important resource is time! Ironically, the more I acknowledge this fact, the more money I end up saving.

Case in point, I started allocating the hours I spent waiting for a taxi to other more productive and income-generating activities. Because the marketing I do actually amounts to more sales, my time is pretty valuable. It was simply foolish to sacrifice hours of my precious time for a few dollars of savings on a taxi ride.

Now more focused on saving time rather than a few dollars, I’ve started to delegate many of my daily tasks. This boss move eventually propelled my business to new heights of success — and earned me more profits! I now also have resources to do more of the things that I love, like travelling and volunteering. Success, after all, is about living a fuller and more meaningful life.

Here are some of the tasks I’ve started to delegate:

1) Laundry

I have completely delegated my laundry to a service that includes pickup and drop off. It’s a far cry from the days when my laundry would pile up to the point where I’d have to devote a day just for the task. This used to bring me such anxiety; I still shudder from the thought of it. Now, I even have a virtual personal assistant contacting the laundry service for me. I just breathe better now.

2) Food Preparation

It’s funny how I’d care about my health so much I’d only eat healthy food but then get too caught up in my daily tasks causing me to go for hours on end without food. Well, this foolishness ended a while back. Thanks again to this lovely thing they call delegation. All it took was a few clicks on an app. I am now signed up with a food preparation and delivery program that makes sure I eat right and on time. My virtual personal assistant did a great job finding a vegan delivery program that makes sure I get the proper amount of calories and that I actually enjoy my food.

3) Household Cleaning

I have OCD, and I’m a bit of a germophobe, so I spend way too much time cleaning my home. If this task were to bring in profits, I’d be much richer for it. Hiring a cleaner is probably one of the most cost-effective things I’ve ever had to do. I also feel happier and more relaxed in my home now, I just can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.

4) Business Operations

I didn’t realize it, but the thought that my business is a one-man show unnecessarily restricted its growth. Now that I have a virtual personal assistant taking care of the smaller tasks like responding to customer queries and complaints, I’ve just had more headspace and time to focus on the big picture. This resulted in a more put-together and successful marketing strategy. I’ve even branched out to other product lines! The returns are unreal.

Delegation has become a crucial ingredient not only for my business success but for my sanity as well. I’d prescribe it to anyone.