When we talk about productivity, we always talk about the “getting it done” side of things. We talk about to-do lists and “productivity hacks” and how to sacrifice sleep for the betterment of the project.
Productivity has more to do with what you don’t do.
Too often, people focus on how to cram more into less. Society’s definition of “productivity” seems to be heavily focused on the execution side of things, with minimal focus on the preparation, the rest, and the quiet that can ultimately create a much more productive way of life.
Think of your brain as an engine. An engine can only run so long before it needs two things: fuel, and rest. In our culture, we refer to this “fuel” as “coffee,” and often flaunt our abilities to keep our engines revving at full speed without ever giving them a rest.
The big secret?
If you want to be more productive when you’re working, you need to prioritize a bit more downtime.
1. Slow Down to Speed Up
Have you ever heard that phrase? It means you end up saving more time on the back end if you do your due diligence on the front end. Case in point: If you are holding an egg and you need to throw the egg away, sure, you could toss it across the kitchen and hope it lands in the trash. If it goes in, great. You saved yourself three whole seconds. If it doesn’t, you just created a five-minute clean up for yourself. Slow down, walk the egg over to the trash can, do it the right way, and then keep moving. Slow down to speed up.
Too often, we forget this rule in business. We think everything has to be done right now. Everyone’s priority matrix is filled with immediate deliverables. We over-promise, under-resource, and run ourselves empty because we fear taking a step back in the beginning. Instead, we jump in and get started with a sense of urgency, not realizing the failure until we’re drowning in the deep end.
Before you run off to the races, take a step back. What’s the goal? What actions are actually going to move the needle? Focus on what’s most important, get your mind right, and then get to work.
2. Prevent, Don’t React
Whether we’re talking about personal health or maintaining a positive relationship with your clients, the same theory holds true: Preventative medicine works a whole lot better than something reactionary.
Instead of burning the candle at both ends until your body shuts down, make time as you go along to take a step back and ask yourself a few simple questions:
- How do I feel?
- What does my body feel?
- When can I make time for that?
And I’m sure your reaction to that is, “Well, I don’t have the time!” OK, yes you do. You make time for a lot of other things, you can make time to take care of your most important asset: yourself. Nothing is more valuable than that. If you don’t have your body and your well being, everything else will suffer.
Keep tabs on your body each day and each week, and when the warning signs start flashing, listen. Learn to prevent the engine failure instead of crashing and then wondering where you went wrong. Take a moment—it doesn’t have to be forever—and give your body what it needs. Clear your head and then re-approach the work. You will be so much more effective.
3. Make Time to Do Nothing
This holds especially true for the creative types—you need time to let your mind wander. If you are constantly in “Do” mode, you aren’t allowing yourself the freedom or spontaneity that may result in a brilliant “Aha!” moment.
Even still, time spent doing nothing does an amazing thing to the mind. Think of the toy cars that have to be pulled backwards to be wound up, and then when released they go shooting across the dining room table. The longer you pull them back, the further they go. When you take a step back and allow yourself to regenerate, you will inherently bring more excitement and drive to your work when you do return.
This idea of “time spent doing nothing” is one of the hardest things for overachievers and driven individuals. They can’t help but turn this time into a sweatpants version of a normal workday. That’s not the point of it. The point is to, quite literally, do nothing. Even for 30 minutes to an hour. Go for a walk without your cell phone. Read a book for leisure (When was the last time you did that?). Go out for lunch and don’t make it a business meeting. Do something that has zero relevance to a task that needs to be completed.
When you come back afterwards, you will feel so much more energized to do what needs to get done.
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