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Getting to the Root of Productivity

Everyone wants to be more productive. How to get there is the subject of countless articles and blog posts, promising to share the secrets of successful people and show us how to eliminate unproductive habits. But wearing the same black turtle neck every day and declaring war on distractions means shifting the focus externally and away from the personal roots of a productive life.

The most profound, and most difficult to implement change towards greater productivity is simply this: do more of what you love and less of what you hate. Trying to get more done so often means trying to do more of something that we actually hate doing. It should be no surprise that this typically doesn't work out. Figuring out how to do more of what you love isn't easy, of course, and will require reflection, creativity, and courage. However, the end result is that the productivity hack is built in right from the beginning: you already want to do what is it that you need to do.

Another all too common form of self sabotage is the mindset that we bring to our work day. It turns out that believing you won't get something done is a perfect way of making sure you don't. On the other hand, simply believing that you are a capable and productive person has a magical way of creating more output. This might sound a little out there, but studies continue to show that optimism is positively correlated with success. There are plenty of techniques, like mindfulness practice and personal coaching, that can help shift mindset, though it ultimately boils down to a choice: who do you want to be today?

Most of us have trouble being realistic about the amount of work we can get done in any given day, week, or month. Metrics show that average employees only get about three hours of actual work done in a given day. While that's a bit better than the fifteen minutes per week estimate that Peter gives in the classic Office Space scene , it's certainly a contrast from the eight hour or longer non stop marathons that many of us envision being the pinnacle of productivity. And guess what? Taking frequent short breaks to at least move around a bit is a great way to increase both your productivity and your life span. Returning to mindset considerations, understanding this reality means that we can stop beating ourselves up for not adhering to impossible expectations and start celebrating the true victories that our best days already represent.

When we've accepted that our capacity to spend time accomplishing core work in a given day is much more limited than usually assumed, the next question is how to maximize what fits into that time. While optimizing your workspace and eliminating distractions is all well and good, there's one really basic thing that often gets overlooked in productivity hacking discussions. Sleep is the secret sauce that makes every part of waking life better, and most people aren't getting enough of it. The essential and irreplaceable deep rest we get while sleeping is too easily sacrificed in the name of doing more. By taking care of the mind and body at this very basic level, our capability for productive work time is boosted along with so many more benefits.

Ultimately, productivity isn't a simple equation of knowing what to do and what not to do; it's about finding a unique route to individual fulfillment. Maybe it means spending Saturdays on the job to make sure your startup is crushing it, or maybe it's about figuring out how to spend fewer hours at work so there's more time for family and fun. By focusing on things that we can control, like the work we choose to do and the mindset we bring to it, productivity doesn't have to be an uphill struggle against insurmountable forces. Now, go do something great!