This month I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity. I wanted to write a post about the topic but every time i sat down to write, I felt incredibly reluctant and resistant. I knew the topic was important, but it just wasn’t one that I emotionally connected to. When I write about courage, resilience, grief, joy, any of these things and I feel genuinely excited. I grab a coffee, open my laptop and get in the zone! But productivity? I found that I couldn’t even start.
Nevertheless, in the process of not wanting to write about productivity, I actually learned something very important about the topic of productivity:
Productivity is fueled by passion
When I think about the days that I am most productive, or the projects where I get things done the most effectively and efficiently, it is always when I am feeling passionate; when I actually want to work on that thing. We often seek out fancy apps and systems to make us more productive, but I think the answer can at times be a little simpler. Find passion. When I am working on something I don’t connect to, I could try every single app and system under the sun, and I still wouldn’t be productive. On the flip side, when I am working on things I love, I actually don’t need any tools or apps at all. I just get shit done and I get it done well because I actually want to.
As we know, motivation is a huge driver of productivity, and it makes sense that passion is a huge driver of motivation. So then, what are you passionate about? How can you make your tasks and projects more about these things? If you’re lying on the couch eating potato chips and feeling unproductive because you don’t want to go to the gym, perhaps it’s time to try a dance class or soccer team instead? We often assume that we need to tick certain boxes without thinking about alternative ways to get to the same outcome. How can you find a more fun and passionate way to arrive at your destination?
Ok, so right now you’re probably thinking “well that’s great Katie, but what about when I have to do shit that there’s simply no way of sugar coating?” And yes, I get it, that’s a fair point! We can’t be passionate about everything on our to-do list, and so these are my tips for you.
1) Get Creative!!
Sometimes we think we can’t find passion in certain thing, but really? So what if your passion is music and your task is our taxes. Can you blast your favorite tunes while doing your taxes? Or reward yourself with a two hour jam session when you’re done? How can you creatively try to link your passions to the stuff you need to get done?
2) Just get started!
Not tomorrow or next week, today. Just get started! Science has shown that when we think of a task or a project that we have to get done, we think about the most challenging parts of that project and we get completely overwhelmed which prevents us from taking the first step. Instead, we do meaningless “work” like check emails and run errands to make us feel like we’re busy. But something amazing happens once we get started and it’s called “The Zeigarnik Effect.” The zeigarnik effect is what happens when we’ve started something that we haven’t finished – it makes us feel a little anxious and distressed and so compels us to finish what we started. Long story short, get started!
3) Stop Multitasking
The logic behind it makes sense. I could call my husband while making my presentation, or I could call my husband and then make my presentation. Duh. If I do them both at the same time, I am finished quicker right? Wrong. Science has shown over and over again that trying to do more than one task at a time (particularly complex tasks) takes a huge toll on productivity. The brain was simply not designed to multi-task and trying to force it actually makes us slower and more prone to mistakes. So the key is prioritize rather than multitask – figure out which task or project is more important and urgent and then focus on just that.
4) Work less intensively and more intentionally
Science has shown that breaking your workload down into 90 minute work segments followed by 20 minute break segments is far more effective than tirelessly trying to stay focused throughout the whole day. Of course, the timing doesn’t have to be exact, but you get the point. Work, then break, work then break, work then break. The breaks allow us to recharge and provide us with the fuel we need to tackle the next task or project. This method also allows us to stay focused on important things throughout the day, rather than starting fast and strong, then depleting all of our mental energy and spending the afternoon hiding behind a screen pretending to do work. C’mon, we’ve all been there.
5) Three words – Bite. Sized. Pieces
This is something I use all the time with my clients. First we set the big, stretching crazy goals, and then we break the big goal down into mini goals – or what I like to call Bite Size Pieces. Breaking projects and tasks down into bite size pieces achieves two things. Firstly, it makes the project far less daunting. Instead of seeing only where you are now, and comparing it to that distant vision of where you want to be, all you have to do is look to the next step – the next bite size piece. The next bite seems a lot manageable and makes us feel more compelled to get going. Secondly, the actual process of breaking down the project forces us to think carefully about the required steps and resources and, by default, helps us create a plan. And plans are important!! You might veer off the plan, and that’s ok, but having a plan in itself makes us feel more clear and confident to start working. So as my husband always says, plan plan plan plan… and then be flexible!
And as proof that these tips actually work, well, I just finished a writing a blog post in record time on a topic that doesn’t even excite me. So there ya have it – get creative, get started, stop multitasking, work intentionally and break it into bite sized pieces!
Cheers to a productive day, week, year and life!