Getting More Done With “Oh Sh*t” Productivity

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on April 26, 2010 in: Time Management Strategies


One of my favorite scenes in the movie Apollo 13 is when a NASA engineer walks into a room full of engineers and scientists and points out that the air filters on Apollo 13 are circular in one module and square in the other module. He says something along the lines of: “We have to make these [square] filters fit onto these [circular] filters using only these…” and then he dumps out a box of stuff that could be found in the spaceship. As I recall, they eventually used part of the filter, a sock, and some tape as part of the solution.

I call this “Oh Sh*t” Productivity. It’s where you realize that the situation is SO critical that you need to do whatever you can to solve it. Right now.

In some cases, these situations are of our own doing. We made the decision to put off writing that paper in college until the last possible moment. In other cases (as suggested by the Apollo 13 movie), circumstances beyond our immediate control put us into that “Oh Sh*t” situation.

There’s something advantageous about this kind of productivity. You can instantly enter a zone where you are hardworking, creative, and intensely focused. So, is there a way that we can harness that “Oh Sh*t” Productivity and use it to our advantage? I think there is:

  • Tighten up your deadlines. Rather than giving yourself lots of time to procrastinate and then doing the work the night before, why not just hack off half the time you allot yourself BEFORE you even commit? Instead of giving yourself a 1 week deadline, give yourself a 3 day deadline. On client projects you’ll increase your cash flow (and between you and me, would you have started the project any sooner anyway? Maybe not).
  • Make an investment. Personal projects can sometimes become eclipsed by client work. While client work is absolutely critical, we can sometimes push our own business off and that can hurt us. But sometimes making a financial investment in something can prompt us to get moving. A good financial commitment to make is to hire someone to help you. They’ll show up for work and you’ll HAVE to have something to give them!
  • Make a commitment. I love it when clients say, “there’s no rush on that, Heather.” I also hate it because other things that seem more pressing can get in the way. So make a commitment. And make it hurt YOU if you can’t deliver. For example, some people offer a discount or guarantee if they can’t deliver by a certain time. Or here’s what I prefer to do: I make an appointment with a friend or I set a date with my spouse, and I set these for around the time when I want to have the project done. Then I’m motivated to finish my project before I go out (and I know that I’ll have an annoyed friend or husband if I don’t get the project done on time and have to delay spending time with them).
  • Break up the project. If you know you’re prone to procrastinating, break up your project into smaller chunks that are due in a spread-out set of deliverables. That way, you may procrastinate, but you’ll at least procrastinate on smaller sections.
  • Fake the “Oh Sh*t” moment. Create a situation in which you feel compelled to act. Perhaps you start advertising your website that you haven’t had time to build. Or maybe you’re sick of the wall in your office and you just pick up a hammer and punch a hole in the wall.

In each of these situations, we are prompting ourselves to act – to make the time to deal with the situation. I call this “Oh Sh*t” Productivity. Although it’s not the way you want to run your business 24/7, you can be sure that you’ll get a lot more done when you practice this kind of productivity from time to time.

Good luck!

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