Productivity doesn’t just increase your efficiency. If you do it right, it can also increase your income. The problem is that traditional systems get productivity all wrong.
They define productivity as the ability to do more and do it faster. But that approach just accelerates the hamster wheel we’re already on. Instead of getting ahead, our productivity gains sometimes leave us feeling frazzled, fried, frustrated.
True productivity isn’t about getting more things done. It’s about getting the right things done.
Is it just me, or is our modern work culture bleeding us dry? It’s not just our cell phones and computer screens that draw our eyes at all hours. As much as we might want to blame technology, the root of our struggle to have satisfactory days goes much deeper.
Far too often, we think, “If I just work harder, I’ll be successful.” But the hustle economy is bankrupt. In a fast-paced working environment, we suffer from a lack of clarity about what’s important to us—not to mention permission to pursue those priorities on our own terms.
A lot of productive people operate in disorganized workspaces. The problem is that they’re not as productive as they could be. The hidden culprit stealing their focus is clutter.
When I moved into my new office a while back, I was in the middle of a massive video shoot. Time was tight, and I just wanted to move my stuff in as quickly as possible.
We all know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for our bodies. Standing boosts our energy and our mood. That’s why I use and recommend a standup desk.
But there’s more to it than more time on your feet. It’s also important to get those feet moving. Our bodies just aren’t designed to sit for hours on end, hunkered over a keyboard.
Taking a Break
I’m intentional about staying hydrated during the day. At the risk of TMI, that means frequent bio breaks. I have a restroom next to my office, but I use the excuse to take ten or fifteen minutes away from what I’m doing.
My office is out back, so I go to the house and see what Gail is up to. I play with our dog. And I get another glass of water.
The truth is—we all need to periodically step away. We skip breaks in the name of “getting more done,” but when we don’t break from our work, our productivity suffers. We lose focus. We start making small mistakes and even forget things altogether.
Our bodies have a natural ebb-and-flow response to stress that allows us to work hard and then relax and recover. The problem comes when we chronically trigger those responses. We become all flow and no ebb, and you can only cheat the system so long before it becomes counterproductive.
The problem is that it can be challenging to step away when we’re neck-deep in our tasks.
How to Trigger a Break
You know how it works. We get started on a task and sometimes realize hours later that we haven’t moved away from our desk even once. Even though we had every intention of taking a break, we look at the clock and realize that another day has passed and we never paused.
Thankfully, we know this about ourselves and can take measures to ensure we take breaks. Besides drinking a lot of water, here are three ways to trigger a break and pull away.
- Schedule break time. As I often say, what gets scheduled gets done. Breaks are important enough to deserve a slot on your calendar. To make this more effective, establish an Activation Trigger that connects the time slot to a specific break activity, such as going for a walk outdoors.
- Use an app. To avoid the pitfall of losing track of time and neglecting your breaks, consider using an app. The Apple Watch works well. So do apps like TimeOut. TimeOut allows you to set your own break reminders that suit your schedule right on your desktop. The design aesthetic is pleasant, and the reminder overlays the screen. The breaks are just long enough for a recharge but not so distracting that you lose your flow. Some alternative apps to try include Stand Up! and Breaktime.
- Establish the habit. If you practice workday breaks long enough, you’ll develop the habit. But you can intentionally engineer a habit. Acknowledge the negative effects of not changing. Decide what you want instead. And replace your old habits with new behaviors.
Breaks aren’t just a good idea. They are necessary for our health and success. They are not “time off” from what’s important. They are what’s important.
The fear of missing out isn’t worth much, but FOMO costs us a lot. That’s especially true when it comes to our productivity. It’s like a powerful undertow, invisible on the surface of our work, which can pull us away in the current.
Right after I left as CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, an online periodical approached me about serving on their advisory board. I was busy building a revenue portfolio, and the role seemed like a good fit. Plus, it would garner me a lot of free exposure, which I figured would help the rest of my business.
Not so much.
There’s a lot of bad productivity advice that’s widely practiced. Because the nature of our work changes so much, you may not even be able to spot some of the time-wasters hiding in your schedule right now.
They’re secretly a routine part of your schedule… even worse, they’re behaviors that you think are making you MORE productive, but they’re actually doing the opposite.
Email is indispensable. But it can feel like a necessary evil for a lot of us. Our inboxes are flooded with information and requests from customers, clients, coworkers, friends, and family. Not to mention all the spam, BACN, and random junk.
I’ve seen inboxes with tens of thousands of emails—hundreds, even thousands unread. People feel like they’re buried, behind, and can never catch up.
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I’ve been using Evernote almost a decade now. The program was still in private beta when I started. Since 2008, it’s become my digital brain.
In the past, I used binders or file cabinets to store project papers, research, contracts, even paper-napkin brainstorms. Now all that goes in Evernote. Organization, retrieval, and sharing are easy. And the more I use it, the more useful it becomes.
Whether for personal or professional use, I’ve been almost entirely paperless for years now. But Evernote is imperfect. And for me every application is on a permanent job interview.
How productive are you? I wanted a way to help people answer that question, so a while back I designed a productivity self-assessment. I’m excited to report that more than 12,000 people have already used it!
If you want directions to a desired destination, you need at least two pieces of information: the end point and the start point. Apps like Waze or Google Maps make it easy because they automatically know our current location. But when it comes to your productivity, how do you know where you really stand?
Click Here to Take My Free Assessment!
I read a story last week about workplace productivity in decline after the election. Employees are struggling to stay focused on their work. Why?
Anxiety. The American Psychological Association conducts regular polls to track stress levels and causes. The most recent poll found a majority of us are worried about the future of the country.