The Secret to Productivity is Not a Secret

Life can feel like it’s always a race against the clock — so how do you do it all? Time is valuable, so don’t waste it. Those who get a lot accomplished each day aren’t any better than you, they’ve just made the effort to form productive habits.

Productivity is a measure of efficiency — basically output per unit of input. It’s determined by dividing average output per period by the total costs incurred or resources (capital, physical, material, and human) consumed in that given period. Being productive and making good use of your time is crucial for success in any aspect in your life, but especially at work. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but what matters is how you use them. Being productive allows you to get more done during your day, which gives you more free time for other things that make you happy such as family, friends, recreation, hobbies, side projects, etc.

So HOW do you do it?

Get going

Sometimes starting is the hardest part for people to deal with. They imagine the difficulties they could encounter and jump ship before it’s even sailed.

Bluma Zeigarnik, a Lithuanian-born psychologist described the “Zeigarnik Effect” in her doctoral thesis in the late 1920s. The Zeigarnik Effect compels humans to finish tasks that they’ve already started. When there is unfinished business and a Zeigarnik effect is established, people experience intrusive thoughts about uncompleted tasks which can lead to anxiety, while completing tasks means peace of mind.

This “effect” isn’t just an idea, it’s proven. According to Greist-Bousquet & Schiffman (1992), people have a need to complete a task once it has been started because there is a need for closure. Once you have begun, you are very likely to finish. So get started!

Plan your day in advance.

In Brian Tracy’s book, The 100 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws of Business Success, Tracy points out that it takes only about 10–12 minutes for you to make up a plan for your day. This investment of 10–12 minutes will save you time of approximately two hours per day, or a 25 percent increase in productivity and performance.

For example, think about all the time you’ve spent wandering up and down the aisles at the grocery store trying to remember everything you needed, then got home and realized that you forgot the ONE THING you went there for. The whole situation wouldn’t have happened if you had just made a list. Now take that idea and implement that into other areas of your life.

Tracy claims that every minute that you spend planning your goals, your activities, and your time in advance saves ten minutes of work in the execution of those plans. Therefore, careful advance planning gives you a return of ten times, or 1,000 percent, on your investment of mental, emotional, and physical energy.

The true cost of distraction

In this day and age, we have all types of distractions at our fingertips. It’s so important that we be diligent and make an effort to avoid these distractions and get in our own “zone.”

“There was Mozart, of course, he could, it seems, work on several compositions at the same time, all of them masterpieces. But he is the only known exception. The other prolific composers of the first rank — Bach, for instance, Handel, or Haydn, or Verdi — composed one work at a time. They did not begin the next until they had finished the preceding one, or until they had stopped work on it for the time being and put it away in the drawer. Executives can hardly assume that they are ‘executive Mozarts.’” — Peter Drucker (management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation.

Let’s admit it — you’re probably not Mozart.

photo from nytimes.com via Post Typohtaphy

Once interrupted, it can take a long time to get back into your focused, productive mindset. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it take an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.

Mark’s research found that people switch activities an average of every three minutes and five seconds. The research also found that about 50% the interruptions were self-inflicted. For example, someone switching tabs to check Facebook as opposed to a coworker walking over and starting a conversation

Dedicate chunks of protected time to take care of your necessary tasks. Put away your cell phones, social media sites, or whatever it is that takes your time. Distractions don’t just waste time while they’re happening, they disturb you for up to a half hour afterward — assuming another distraction doesn’t happen within that time period.

Stop multitasking

While it may feel like you’re doing more, studies show that multitaskers are less productive. By multitasking and leaving a task unfinished to focus on something else, you are simply diverting your attention from one task to another and that new task becomes an interruption. Interruptions don’t allow your brain to fully focus on the new task because you have left the previous one uncompleted.

Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is a great tool for anyone who struggles with productivity.

“The common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance. Why? The pernicious effects of something researchers have dubbed “attention residue.” It is caused by frequent task switching and interferes with our ability to perform at our your best.” — Cal Newport

Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

“To produce at your peak level you need to work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task, free from distraction. Put another way, the type of work that optimizes your performance is deep work. If you’re not comfortable going deep for extended periods of time, it’ll be difficult to get your performance to the peak levels of quality and quantity increasingly necessary to thrive professionally.” — Cal Newport

Make your first activity of the day the most important and do not move on until you complete your task. Set aside blocks of time where you can remain uninterrupted and stay truly focused. The key to productivity is working in focused periods of time, while avoiding multitasking and disruptions.


“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort “ — Paul J. Meyer

Being productive is all about being mindful and setting intention each and every day. You don’t accomplish on accident. Begin to challenge yourself to see how much you can accomplish and you’ll only continue to grow.

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