Recently, I left the office at 5:30 p.m. to meet my wife for a date. I only checked my phone a few times on the way to meet her and not at all during dinner. It wasn’t until after 10 p.m. that I caught up with email and Slack messages from work. Going four hours without checking in, I felt like I was on vacation.
That’s kinda crazy, right? I know that being always on, constantly connected, working 24/7 is not a recipe for success. It is a recipe for stress, overload, and missed opportunity. And yet sometimes . . . I can’t help myself.
I love my job, and I like to work hard. That isn’t the issue. But I’ve also seen, both in others and in myself, that effort is not the same as impact. Creativity is tough to cultivate when pressure is never-ending. Distractions undermine focus. Sometimes my most valuable days are the ones I devote to asking myself, What should I be doing? Prioritizing can be the most difficult task of all.
The Fast Company offices include a bustling newsroom, and listening to our reporters and editors brainstorm ideas and conduct interviews is thrilling. But sometimes the quiet is just as thrilling. Sometimes when the buzz dies down in the newsroom, I smile at another thought: That silence? That’s the sound of people thinking.
This issue is anchored by an exploration of the Secrets of the Most Productive People. And as you’ll read, there are many approaches to productivity. All of them are instructive or inspiring, in different ways. Yet what connects them is the understanding that more is not always better. Our business world today is relentlessly demanding, and it can seem like a frantic race is under way. Yet the important achievements tend to result from marathons, not sprints.
So what do I do when I find myself out of breath? I have no single solution. Sometimes music helps calm me. Sometimes I’ll download a plot-loaded mystery novel and try to lose myself inside it. I try to keep up an exercise regimen, which helps to reset my clock, including a weekly basketball game where I escape in the intensity. Best of all is the time I spend with my family, which helps me put the urgencies of the office into perspective.
And when things get really grim: I force myself to smile more. To laugh. (Some studies argue that simply by smiling, we actually make ourselves feel happier; it works for me.) The mission that we’re engaged in here at Fast Company is one that I’m personally committed to. But . . . it will still be there tomorrow. And the tomorrow after. With any luck, I’ll be here too.
Click here to read more stories in Productivity Week.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2016 / January 2017 issue of Fast Company magazine.