There are countless sites and blog posts dedicated to productivity; it’s even the most popular category on the BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas blog. But what are we talking about when we talk productivity? Is it improving focus, or just getting more done? And why is it that we still feel the need to spend our time (which could be spent productively) reading about other people’s productivity habits and looking for lifehacks to make us more productive?
Here’s what productivity is not: It’s not about forcing yourself to work until midnight and rise at 5 a.m. every day. More time awake does not equal more stuff done.
Productivity is not multitasking. Sometimes, you can’t avoid trying to do two things at once. But if you’re busy writing one thing and talking about another, you’ll wind up spending more time trying to do two things at once and going back and fixing them than you would if you gave things the proper attention in the first place. Focus provides clarity; this applies to activities, priorities and thinking.
Finally, productivity is not about doing everything, but doing what is important. Because no one can do everything, and that’s okay.
There’s a real stigma around relaxation, be it actually using the vacation days you’re allotted, or stepping out for a break to take a walk and recharge. We think if you don’t look like you’re doing something, you must be lollygagging, and that toxic mindset is itself counterproductive.
If you’d been walking for two hours, you’d stop to rest, right? So doesn’t your brain need a rest after working for two hours? It does, so start building breaks into your day to recharge your mental energy. It’s usually a lot easier to focus after coming back from a break and letting your brain think about something else – or nothing at all – for a few minutes. Plus, a lot of “Aha!” moments come during mental downtime, like when we’re driving, walking, washing dishes, or just being.
Then Do Stuff
Of course, the flip side is disciplining yourself to actually do something after taking a break. But this is a matter of discipline, not work ethic. The best way to establish good habits is to start piecemeal, and getting started is always the hardest part. If you’re really having trouble doing anything or starting a certain project, work in digestible chunks.
Sometimes getting things accomplished requires delegation and collaboration for the best result. Collaboration can create the “mental break” cycle you need to re-visit more stagnant activities and finally see them through to completion. Teamwork works. Experiment with what helps you to be most productive and satisfied with your efforts, find the sweet spot, and stick to it.
But Only Do Stuff That Matters
Almost everything is unimportant – even the Harvard Business Review says so. Trying to do everything results in achieving almost nothing. The workaround? Look at everything you do. Chances are, about 20 percent of your effort achieves about 80 percent of your results. This is the Pareto Principle, and it works the other way: 80 percent of efforts achieve just 20 percent of results.
Determine the few things that get results and make those priority tasks. The Harvard Business Review suggests writing a list of your top six things to get done, then crossing off the bottom five and scheduling a 90-minute block to work on just the top item. Every time you go to check social media or email, write down what you’re about to do. Of course, this means avoiding distraction, and that again comes down to discipline and working piecemeal. You might not do it perfectly the first time, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at getting in a routine, blocking out distraction, and focusing on what’s actually important.