There might be some productivity-minded part of you that scoffs at the whole idea of reading about how to be more productive. After all, why would you read about doing when you could do?
Well, you can tell that part of you to stop being so addicted to being right and acknowledge that you can work smarter, not just harder. And when you can tap a multitude of perspectives of how to work smarter, you can get extremely productive.
Alice Boyes at Psychology Today has done that by gathering the productivity insights of a range of psychologists. Let’s unpack a few here.
“Without realizing it, I spent years trying to be productive in the most unproductive way,” says Susan Newman, “sitting at a desk for hours.”
Now she de-tethers by getting away from the office. She finds that moving around–be it to grab a cup of coffee, water a planet, or take a walk, makes her sharper. While it runs against what Anne Marie Slaughter calls “time macho” culture–“a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you”–more and more research shows that if you spend less time doing, you can get more done.
L. Kevin Chapman starts his productivity quest by closing the door to his office. While he likes to welcome colleagues and students, closing the door ensures that he stays on task. The next move: scheduling the tasks he wants to avoid. If he puts the put-off tasks into his schedule (and sets reminders on all devices), he is sure to tackle what needs to get done. “Action precedes motivation,” Chapman says. “These small steps facilitate more action and lead to me feeling accomplished.” And apps can help, too.
“Plan exercise breaks,” advises Craig Malkin. “Stress leads to binary (either/or) thinking, distractability, and procrastination.”
We know at least one company that’s putting that into practice. Why does stress relief help you get better work done? You’ll stay sharp, Malkin says, and you’ll boost your capacity for creative problem solving. That’s because creativity is a mammalian trait–and the protective parts of you won’t let it come out unless you feel safe.
We’ve discussed how where you work affects the work that you do, like how if you’re cold, you’re being physically distracted from the task at hand. Similarly, what you associate with your environment affects what happens there.
That’s why you should work in a place you associate with work, says Amy Przeworski, like an office building, library, cafe, or maybe a coworking space. If you need to keep your attention on something for a long time, it’s going to be hard to do so in a place you usually relax in–ever notice how you can’t work as well in the family room?
“Your surroundings set the stage for your focus,” Przeworski says. “If they are associated with work, you will focus on work.”
The space can also make your work a pleasure–that’s how Susan Cain sidesteps writer’s block. The Quiet author trained herself to love writing by “always writing in a beautiful cafe while drinking a latte and eating a chocolate chip cookie”–that’s one sweet way to love your work.
Kristine Anthis says that while you can’t always decide what projects you take on, when you do–like your college major or if your boss lets you select from a range of assignments–go after what you’re most interested in. It worked for her.
“Being passionate about what I do means that juggling the demands of teaching, writing, mentoring students, conducting research, and serving on committees is not necessarily always effortless,” she says, “but certainly gratifying.”
It’s also how you know if you have a career–or just a job.