There is no lack of conversation about what drives productivity. Do we drink more coffee? Should we take multiple short breaks? Do we need to have longer lunch breaks?
I think productivity comes from a combination of how we think, our habits, and our surroundings. As St. Francis of Assisi once said,
"Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."
Here are seven mantras I find helpful to drive my daily productivity:
The most highly productive people wake up really early in the morning so that they can get an early start. But that does not mean you immediately have to dive into work. I don't wake up at the crack of dawn to tune into news media, write emails, hop on social media, or to dive into work-related matters. My dawns are my time to connect with myself. Most mornings I try to practice some form of meditation. And that helps set the promise of a new day: focus, creativity, and positivity. It’s a way to get charged. Only after that do I start thinking about my priorities.
I set priorities for the beginning of the day the night before. These priorities are not only based on the importance of the goals but also based on the prospect of completion.
If we want to be productive with our time and manage it well, we need to spend our time working toward achieving smaller goals with a series of small tasks. Setting smaller goals for ourselves offers us positive reinforcement when we achieve them. It feels good to know that I am accomplishing something. It helps keep me motivated and encouraged at working toward my bigger goals and aspirations.
The first step to get better at managing our time is to understand how we spend our time. French Nobel laureate philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson argued that the management of tasks is actually management of time—which is actually management of consciousness. The most critical question is, "Am I currently using my time in the best possible way?"
There are many activities that can easily take up a large amount of time from our daily schedule. If these activities aren't producing anything tangible, and they are instead just eating up our time, then perhaps it's a wise move to consider re-prioritizing the schedule.
By placing hours over results, we distract ourselves from asking if we’re using our minds in the best possible way. Guarding our time comes down to being able to say no and express priorities, which means that we need to be disciplined enough to know when to say, "No, actually, I can’t do that now."
Repetition is how we develop good habits in our life, choosing to do the right thing even when we don't feel like doing it. As an example, waking up at the same time creates predictability, and that predictability helps to release abilities. Along with clear thinking, being productive requires skills. And mastery comes from enthusiastic and repeated, devoted practice. Sustainable daily productivity comes from structure.
Working longer hours, especially when we are tired, actually makes us less productive. There have been hundreds of studies done on the need for and benefits of sleep, naps, and frequent rests throughout the day. Suffering from sleep deprivation is a lot like being drunk. A person that lacks the necessary amount of rest is less likely to perform and be effective while working.
To be productive, we have to have an adequate amount of rest. When we are tired, it impairs cognitive ability and judgment, and you increase your chances of making large mistakes.
Multitasking increases the possibility of mistakes, which decreases productivity. When we perform too many activities at one time it usually increases our stress levels. Multitasking often leads to over-stimulation of your brain function.
If we are working on a project or assignment and we are constantly interrupted by coworkers, phone calls, or social media, we risk forgetting details required to comprehensively finish the task at hand. By having too much information inundate us at the same time, our brain cannot differentiate between what is important and what isn't, negatively affecting our memory.
When we remain focused on one task at a time—meaning we are being mindful of the present—we find the results to be a greater success than if we were to attempt to multitask.
On a daily basis, I try not to:
- Accomplish more than three major tasks
- Have more than three meetings
- Focus on multiple projects
For example, it is mostly on Sundays when I write.
Being overwhelmed with too many things to do at once is a choice. I should know; as I have been there. Creating a mile long to-do list makes me less productive. This may sound counterintuitive, but I have found that for me, the fewer number of tasks I try to do, the more productive I become with the tasks at hand.
Working with a small, focused, and competent team also goes a long way. A smaller team means more time for yourself and for your people.
Learning how and what to manage is something that we need to continually work at on a daily basis, and that eventually develops into the habit of being productive every day.