Productivity has pretty much been a buzzword in the technology sector for decades. It appears in companies’ operational plans, employee motivational materials, monthly economic reports and individual goal-setting documents. Anywhere it shows up, the consensus seems to be that there should always be more of it, and that we should do whatever it takes to achieve it.
Depending on what we think productivity is, there can be some big problems with that idea – particularly when it comes to individual goals and our attitudes towards work. The leader’s reflexive drive to achieve, the ingrained American work ethic and the sense that we always have to prove ourselves by endlessly outdoing our personal best can lead us into an exhausting cycle of increasing efforts and diminishing returns.
If “more is always better” is our mantra, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and burnout. So what do we do about it? My answer: Pay less attention to the “more,” and more attention to the “better.”
In human terms, productivity isn’t just about putting in more hours and generating more end product. That’s a robotic view suited to an assembly line, where the only goal is delivering more parts per hour or day. Personal productivity is really about putting resources – thoughts, effort, and energy – to their most effective use in achieving the specific goals that you value. Personal productivity is your own measuring stick, not anyone else’s.
Having narrowed down what personal productivity really is, it’s time to talk about how it happens. Over the next ten days, I’m going to outline ten tactical steps that help to maximize that productivity – and we’ll begin at the beginning, with step one.
1. FIND YOUR GROOVE
Guess what: You’re not a machine. No matter what you’ve achieved, no matter how much you know, and no matter how hard you work, you’ve got your own personal limits, needs, and natural rhythms. Even if you’re used to pushing yourself 24/7, we both know that there are certain times and circumstances where you’re able to achieve your very best, and to do it easily. Other places and times – not so much.
Do you know what these are? If so, have you written them down so as to clearly define them? It could be something like:
I do my best work in the mid-morning, between 9:00 and 11:00 am, working by myself in a clean, brightly lit environment.
I work best in a team setting, in an open workspace where I have all the tools I need close at hand and plenty of people to brainstorm with.
I work well in short, focused sprints, with no outside distraction, followed by breaks where I can exercise, refocus my thoughts, or distract myself with something energizing and inspiring.
The possibilities are limitless. Your actual optimum set of circumstances is completely personal, and specific to you. Your challenge is to understand where, when, and how you do your best work – and then optimize your means of routinely placing yourself in those circumstances.
Does it mean getting up early every morning to hit the gym? Taking your lunches at Starbuck’s? Turning your desk to face the window? Switching off your phone? Time-shifting your workday to match your natural sleep schedule?
Almost certainly, finding your groove involves changing something. If your work involves fixed office hours, an inflexible boss, or colleagues that depend on you, there may be limits on the changes you can make. Still, it’s worth the effort to change what you can – and at least try for the rest wherever possible. Remember, what worked for you even just a few years ago, may not work for you today. People aren’t machines and your best path to productivity will change and evolve over time.