Where Are You the Most Productive?

Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of 37Signals and author of Rework. At a recent Ted Conference, he spoke on the topic of “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work.” (Thanks to ChurchCrunch for bringing this video to my attention.)

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

Jason’s presentation got me to thinking, Where am I the most productive? Big surprise: it’s not at the office. Evidently, I am not alone.

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Why is this? According to Jason, it’s because of “the M&Ms.” No, not the kind you eat, silly. Nor is it because of Twitter, Facebook, or blogs—what he calls the modern equivalent of a “smoke break.” Instead, it’s because of managers and meetings. Both can interrupt your work and make it nearly impossible to do real thinking or engage in significant, creative work.

While I think Jason probably over-argues his point, I think it is worth considering his question. Where, when, and how you are the most productive? More important, how can you intentionally build more of this space into your life?

I have three times when I am the most productive:

  1. Sitting on an airplane with my laptop, my Bose headphones, and a playlist of my favorite instrumental soundtracks.
  2. Alone in my den early in the morning, with my feet propped up on my recliner, my computer in my lap, and a steaming cup of coffee at my side.
  3. On Sunday evening after a relaxing weekend, while reviewing the previous week and planning for the upcoming one.

I also try to schedule time in the office every week, where I shut my door, go offline and work on specific projects. Borrowing a phrase from Jason, I call this “The Alone Zone.”

What about you?

Question: Where are you the most productive? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://twitter.com/ThatGuyKC K.C. Procter

    I’m most productive at home sitting at the kitchen table with my MacBook, headphones plugged into SimplyNoise.com and all social networking sites shut down.

    While I liked Jason’s video I agree that he seemed to over-argue the point. That being said it gives me food for thought in prioritizing meetings at work.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com mnm

    >>my Boze headphones<<

    It's Bose, like nose and rose — not like bozo.

    I'm most productive from 3am to 8am at home — before I drive to my office.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Of course!

      Thanks for this catch. I have changed it.

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    The opposition always complains when a president goes on vacation, not realizing that presidents probably think most clearly when they’re playing golf.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      True enough!

  • Anonymous

    I get most of my plotlines and ideas when I run. Something about the solitude, the beauty of the day (usually), the rhythm, and absolutely no media opens up my mind.

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Michael,

    I feel any time I am alone I am most productive, wherever it is.

    Recently I’ve taken to meditating during 1-2 hour walks each day. The ideas that hit me are usually clear, effective and automatically actionable. I set to making the thoughts concrete as soon as I return home.

    I also create quite a bit at the home office early in the morning and late at night. The quieter, the better.

    I feel the only thing blocking instant productivity is some blockage within our being. Usually this comes in the form of distractions, created on both conscious – not being able to unplug, for instance – and subconscious levels.

    Thanks for sharing and have a powerful day!


  • Jason Cross

    I am often most productive at a coffee shop or similar that is a little “out of the way” where few people recognize me (I serve in a visible staff roll at a large church). I think the “noise” gives me something to tune out and helps me focus on the project at hand. Because the “noise” does not require my attention it is not distracting like “noise” at the office often can be.

  • Pitch Joseph

    My opinion on the topic…

    I think we need to define the word productive. What’s the scope of productive? Does it include making decisions in a meeting as a leader? If so, then we are doing work while at work.

    But if the scope limits itself to thinking and implementing ideas, doing the work hands-on etc etc then it really depends, there are people who are more productive at work and forgets about work when they leave the office.

    Then resumes productive work when they get back to the office.

  • Mary Kay

    Thought provoking, Michael. My most productive time is first thing in the morning, just being alone with God.

    Reading the comments, I wish I could find airplane time quite productive, but I don’t. I guess people bumping into me one way or another, having a purse dropped on my head from the overhead bin, etc. is just way more distraction than I can block out. It seems sad, too, that so many of us don’t find time at the office very productive.

    And I wouldn’t have taken you for an introvert! Learn new things all the time.

  • Dwright

    I am most productive:
    1. Early AM, alone at my kitchen table ,writing in my journal.
    2. Lounge chair at the beach with my journal.
    3. Starbucks

  • http://www.validleadership.com James Castellano

    I find my most productive time is when I am engaged in another activity. It is easy for me to switch from one thing to another. I am least productive when I am not engaged. I become lazy and uninspired.

  • http://www.momentsofgracelotr.com Anne Marie

    My bedroom where my writing/computer desk is or in good weather out on the balcony with my laptop. Listening to music in the bedroom is a good motivation to keep going but I have to be in the right mood to listen.

    God bless, Anne Marie

  • http://www.lamourtrainingsystems.com/ Jimmy Lamour

    My best creative time is when I am “in the zone” with my headphones on listening to some of my favorite tunes on the computer. The songs help me relax and bring my thoughts together. I find that that type of muscial noise or running water is when I have done my best work.

  • http://cashole.co.uk/homebusiness Laszlo Hajmasi

    i appreciate your posting on this topic as i was searching for this. also your writing style is much better than some others i have visited

  • Vincenzo Vecchio

    I totally agree with you. I’m NOT productive in my office..
    I have found to be productive in open air spaces, such as outdoor coffee shops or public parks (with wireless internet connection :) )
    Probably one of my favorite places is Starbucks. The only problem is that we don’t have Starbucks in Italy! :)

  • http://www.johnnymarsh.net/ Anthony_Puttee

    I’m an ‘Owl’ so from about 8pm til the early hours of the morning are where I”m most productive. Every now and then I’ll wander down to the cafe’ for a couple hours to change up the environment.
    Rework is one of the best biz books I’ve read hands down. I recommend the audiobook voiced by Jason himself. Great post Michael.

  • http://twitter.com/barrykahan Barry Kahan

    I always dreamed of how great and productive I would be in a home office. Now I have one and often need to get out to get anything done! The dogs, the phone, email, the refrigerator, snack drawer, UPS delivery,………… that is a good start.

    Love the mornings with the cup of coffee to get day started. Sometimes if only to just sit an think. The quiet brings my mind alive. Great post!

  • Gchalfont1977

    I am also a night owl. :) I am most productive at night when everyone else in the house is sleeping. It’s amazing how much I can get done…

  • Sundi Jo

    1. Vintage Paris coffee shop. A hole in the wall coffee shop with a comfy leather couch. Yesterday I went there to write. I plugged my headphones in, listened to some Eric Clapton and worked on my book It was so relaxing!

    2. In complete isolation, except for my dog sitting next to me dishing out moral support.

  • http://twitter.com/lancecashion lance cashion

    I’m the most productive from 5am-9am and from 6pm-10pm. Therefore, I naturally gravitate toward those times when a task requires cerebral and creative intensity . During ‘normal’ work hours, I’m better off performing multiple tasks where my ADHD can be unleashed to great advantage. This is the time when I deal with emails, phone calls, meetings, clients, prospects, support tasks for my team and tasks that need short but intense focus (less than 15 minutes). In fact, from 8am-11am and 1pm-3pm, my schedule is sectioned into 15 minute activities. It works for me and I use a stop-watch with an alarm to keep myself in line.Jason makes some interesting points and I learned a couple things. I think he’s a bit anti-meeting for the sake of being anti-meeting. There are so many variables in a functioning organization, taking a hard line on meetings is silly. Short, static meetings can benefit the organization a great deal. Face to face communication needs to happen for multiple departments to remain in concert. I perceive meetings in a tonal sense, you need them to create harmony and unity but too many can frustrate your players and keep them from bringing forth the quality sound that you hired them to produce. I know organizations that are Meet-A-holics and their entire existence is consumed by meetings. When I visit with my friends at these places, they have very low moral. They talk about everything and actually ‘do’ very little. Jason needs to speak with these types of organizations.

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  • http://twitter.com/criznale Crystal Renfrow

    I must say that I absolutely *loved* the TED video. Jason Fried described my office life to a tee. I work for a major hotel chain as an administrative assistant to managers. There are days when I can hardly get anything done. But, that’s why I love “No Talk” Mondays! All of the managers take the day off and it is now officially the day when I get the most done.

    At any rate, I am the most productive in a Starbucks coffee shop. Even with all of the people who go in and out while I am there, I somehow shut it out of my mind and work away uninterrupted to my heart’s content.

    Thank you for this post.

  • http://www.embracepositivepassion.com Georgiana

    Definitely being alone allows a person to focus on a project without any interruptions. I find that I can focus more intently and work at my own dedicated pace with no distractions. It’s great to have to meetings and contemplate ideas together in collaboration but it’s even better to plow away and actually check off the completed tasks from my daily to-do list! :-)

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  • Anonymous

    I actually am most productive in my office. My corner of the church is kind of tucked away and quiet. I get lots of stydying done in there. If the area becomes too noisy however, I duck out the door and head to the local coffee shop. I get a lot done there too. And drink a lot of good Columbian coffee…

  • Jim Chrzan

    Let me a bit of a Devil’s advocate. Yes, when it is time to get creative as a writer, alone time is key. However, we run great meetings–short, to the point, with everyone assigned action items. Also, with all the older employees working from home, the youngsters do not have mentors. This is sadly lacking today. Yes, our employees do call spontaneous meetings, own projects and come up with great solutions. Disagree with you here.

    Also, doing everything off-site leads to conference calls with speaker phones (ugh!) or worse, a “go to meeting” scenario with people misdialing, using wrong codes, etc. 20 minutes wasted waiting for folks to call in!

    Also, interestingly enough, hard to build camaraderie with a staff when they don’t really know each other. We even discovered three people working on the same story without realizing it, because they never ran into each other in the hall and had a casual conversation.

    These “bumped into Tom in the hall and he told me…” are priceless interactions we could not live without.

    Glaxo formed innovation hubs where work accelerated because of less e-mails. Have you even seen the chain of e-mails trying to get three people together for lunch? What a waste of time!

    I do not disagree with everything you said, just think there is another side of the coin, and (as a manager) I definitely advocate people coming in. Morale goes up, people do not feel so isolated, brainpower grows exponentially. Also, the look on a customer’s or employee’s face, body language, etc., cannot be conveyed by e-mail or instant messenger. Horrible misunderstandings have arisen resulting from terse e-mails.

  • http://www.gospelofkingdom.com Gregory Scott

    Michael-When I first watched the video I thought it was over the top. Then the more I thought about it as I was at work this last week, the more I realized how right he is. I’ve noticed that the more people I’ve hired in my office the less it seems I get done, and I think it is because I get interrupted more helping them solve problems. So, how do you find the balance between being a problem-solver and teaching your people to solve problems on their own? In your position, I’m sure you’ve had to deal with this.

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  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    Wow, so true! The office is the least productive environment in my life. Great speech; he made some excellent points. Very insightful. Bosses, take notice!

    Joshua Hood

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  • http://www.kellenfreeman.net Kellen Freeman

    I know it’s not the best approach, but deadlines make me productive. I can have all the time in the world to work on something, but if I have no set schedule, it will remain unfinished for a long time. It doesn’t even have to be a very important deadline. For example, if I have to finish something before a show I like on TV comes on, then I’ll have it finished before that show comes on. But if that show wasn’t on that night, I probably would just let it drag out.

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  • Tracy Bumpus

    I worked from home for ten years until about two years ago when I took a new job and now work in a cube farm office. I got SO much more quality work done at home than I do here. I miss it.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Ouch. That’s got to hurt, Tracy!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Why do you think that is? Typical reasons? Do you have an insight?

  • Mike C

    I have a quiet office that usually allows me to be productive. A quiet coffee shop is a nice alternative to help spark some new ideas and eliminate the distraction of projects scattered on my desk.

    Some days, I like to leave work early to pick up the kids from school. This gives both my wife and me a break from our normal routine.

    After we are all home, I continue my work day from the kitchen table. The kids often do their own thing, decompressing from a day of algebra and other classes. They inevitably end up back in the kitchen for a snack or some other activity in the hub of our home. My work productivity drops to near zero. But the productivity of family time soars. Being present at those busy times at home is some of my most productive time for something very important to me – family.

  • Simcha Simpy Green Gluck

    Great Post – Jason made a wonderful point about systemically designed working spaces, and Michael I really appreciated you taking it a step further noticing that maybe there can’t and shouldn’t be one magical place to work.

    This seems similar to the commonly talked about idea of having multiple streams of income, as well as multiple streams of education. The more times you roll the die the more likely you are to be pleased with the results.

  • The Insights Shed

    Looking down the list everyone’s describing the times when they are in a ‘beta’ brain state. This is the one that occurs when you’re in autopilot mode and this state allows more connections to occur in your brain – with the end result that you get ideas! We have the fun job of getting people into that state when it matters because workshops can be effective if run properly!

  • Claire Fitzpatrick

    It depends on the type of work. As a chiropractor who sees patients, by default, I am most productive at the office. As for internal work, I cannot do at my office. I’m in the library at home for that, and mornings work best for me.

  • http://tonygrogan.com/ Tony Grogan

    I definately get more done at home. I work in a “factory office”. Cubicle made from storage cabinets. Constant traffic and factory noise. Not very condusive for productivity, especially not for a design position. Same situation for 6 years, don’t expect change in future. But I have worked in a cube farm before, I’ll take the factory floor any day! Most of my serious design work is done, between 11pm and 5am, at home, while family sleeps. Just can’t get it done at work. Now, if I could find a way to get paid for all those extra hours…

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’m most creative when I’m home alone. Sometimes I get my best ideas when I’m not trying to work.
    Deborah H. Bateman

  • Mark DeJesus

    Funny this article brings up an interesting point. I do find myself most productive at a coffee shop with a fresh cup, some headphones on and my laptop.

  • http://marknoldy.com/ Mark Noldy

    Exception: Teachers have work days (not work moments).

  • Tom Tonkin

    #1 and #2 at the Kitchen table at 10:00 pm and 6:00 am respectively and #3 in our carriage house which is detached from our home. The funny thing is that if I were to move my office into the carriage house, it would no longer be a productive area :) Thanks for the posts.