It’s noon on a very busy Thursday at work. You take a bite of a cold sandwich while frantically responding to your emails.
You slowly chew the bite and after sending a few emails, remember to keep chewing and then swallow the food.
Your brain still feels fried after the exhausting video call meeting you had that ended like 1 hour ago. Now, you’re trying to catch up on a to-do list that’s been waiting for you since 8:30am.
Realizing you have two minutes left before your next call, you reach for your bottle of vitamin pills, pouring water into a glass to drink one.
Suddenly you realize that it’s actually been a minute since the start of your call and you’re late, so you rush to join.
30 minutes later you realize you took one of the vitamin pills out of the bottle, put it next to your computer and… forgot to drink it.
Does it sound familiar to you?
Unfortunately, that’s not a story that comes out of a workplace comedy.
That was my reality, and part of it, is probably yours as well.
The question is, when do we get into this game of trying to get more things done, check more “done” boxes, deliver more products, etc.?
Sounds like the game of Catch the Tail, where the goal is to complete all the items we’re supposed to work on from an endless/ever-growing to-do list.
That led me to ask myself: Is it worth playing “Be Productive”?
I do believe it! But, it’s not a game worth playing by the rules most people follow today.
For that, let’s first define what Productivity means and how to use its power in our favor, instead of against us.
What does “Productivity” really mean?
To understand what Productivity really means, we need to clarify some main terms that are often confused:
- Effectiveness. It’s defined as the ability to produce a desired result, even if it takes a long time.
- Efficiency. It’s the ability to achieve or produce something well, successfully and without wasting resources (energy, time, money, etc.).
- Effort. It means two things. On the one hand, it refers to strenuous physical or mental effort. On the other hand, it’s the result of an attempt to achieve or produce something.
- Optimum. The most favorable conditions or levels for growth, reproduction, or success.
With that cleared up, let me ask you this question: “What would be the effort we should exert to reach our goal in the most efficient way possible?”
In other words:
How can we achieve Optimum Productivity, that is, not goof off or kill ourselves trying to produce a result?
Let me try to answer this question with the following strategies:
1. Define a meaningful goal
The main requirement when trying to increase our Productivity is to clearly identify what is the expected result of our effort.
If we take into account that we have a limited amount of resources (time, money, energy, attention, etc.), then wandering aimlessly does not make sense (and we will come back to this later) while trying to reach a goal.
In fact, trying to achieve any goal that is ambiguous is like throwing axes at a target after drinking 8 shots of tequila. You’ll see your target blur, and your aim will plummet.
So the important thing is to visualize the target clearly and also to visualize what “hitting the target” means.
Now, here’s the catch: That one goal you defined, a goal you’d die trying to reach (if need be)?
Perhaps there is no need to be dramatic, but the essence of the question is still important and I mention it in other words:
Is that goal you work so hard for something worth pursuing, FOR YOU?… If not, then: whose goal is it?
Be careful, my friend, of putting extra effort (time, attention, energy) into the goal you are trying to achieve because there is only one thing worse than rushing and missing the goal.
What’s worse is rushing AND reaching the WRONG GOAL.
This brings us to the next strategy.
2. Two Tasks at Once
Personally, I’m a proponent of doing one task at a time (mono-tasking), rather than trying to multitask. However, there are times when a smart multitasking approach works wonders.
T. Robbins, personal development guru and one of the most energetic humans you’ll meet in his 60s, calls this strategy “No Extra Time” or N.E.T.
NET is the time you spend commuting daily to the office, exercising or cleaning the house – low cognitive load tasks – and that can also be used to feed your mind with information, in parallel.
It’s clearly something we do continuously. For example, go for a run while listening to music. However, the secret of this strategy lies in consuming information that contributes to you instead of just distracting you.
To do that, you have your choice of a buffet of information presented in formats like podcasts, audiobooks, TED talks, short articles, a few pages of a book, etc.
Why not give it a try? Who knows, maybe you’re just a few house cleaning sessions away from a revolutionary idea.
Try it and share your experience 🙂
3. One task at a time
Acting on only one task at a time (mono-task) is the way to get into what is called “the zone”, or what the Psychologist M. Csikszentmihalyi called “Flow State”.
In this state, we are fully immersed in the task at hand, feeling energized focus and enjoying every little part of the task. This is the psychological state we want to reach for optimal performance.
Have you ever found yourself in a state where you realized that hours had passed while you were working intensely on a particular task? Did you notice how you forgot about hunger or thirst, even going to the bathroom? Did you find yourself in this state after playing an instrument, playing sports, or maybe after solving some technical problem or even after sex?
If the answer is “yes“, then you are well on your way to improving your productivity.
The key idea here is: after clearly defining your meaningful goal, find those activities that put you in a Flow State. This will quickly bring you closer to your goal while working on tasks with full enthusiasm, one at a time.
4. Zero tasks at once
Contrary to what we may think, “doing nothing” is one of the most difficult things to do and one of the most beneficial in our quest for optimal productivity.
It is interesting to mention that in English, the expression “to do nothing” is actually an affirmative sentence: “Hacer nada” (feel free to argue about it).
Call me fussy but constantly “doing”, even when the intention is otherwise, sounds a bit neurotic.
So, to dispel that language mishap, I’ll use the expression “hang out.”
The point is this. I challenge you to sit or lie down for 5 minutes without any intervention from the outside world and entertain yourself. No television, no reading, no phone or Wi-Fi connected, no talking, no nothing. Just sit and exist.
You may find that it’s one of the hardest things you can “do”.
In this scenario, letting your mind wander aimlessly, THAT’S THE POINT. (I told you we were going to review this idea again.)
Between the comings and goings of a boring mind, this is where, most likely, we find our most creative ideas. Dr. Barbara Oakely in her “Learning to Learn” course calls this particular stage of the mind the “diffuse mode”.
In fact, the main ideas of this article were conceived in a time of “Do nothing” that I had to put in my own agenda.
That’s all for short article on productivity.
The question for you now is: what kind of productivity tools, tricks and strategies have you found that increase your productivity?
Let me know and let’s continue this conversation.
Keep learning and becoming optimally productive!