Type ‘productivity’ into Google and the response is overwhelming – there are endless tips on how to boost it, apps to help you hone it and courses you can sign up for that claim they will change the way you work forever. And it’s not surprising – we all, ultimately, want to be more productive, whether in our personal lives or at work. But we are bombarded with so many demands now that for many people, trying to find new ways to manage this workload and become more productive has in itself become just yet another task to try and tick off your list.
So, with this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to give you my thoughts on productivity – not simply to add to the growing pile of advice that is already out there, but instead to help you to cut through it all a little.
It’s all about relationships
There are lots of great tips about being more productive out there that focus on your relationships with other people – some experts suggest that you should try to encourage peer-to-peer feedback to stimulate debate, or that you should spend more down-time with your co-workers, socialising together and sharing ideas together in an informal way to spark creativity.
But the long and the short of all of this is something that I’ve learned over the years – simply that if you’re not being productive, then get out there and spend time with other people until you are. Talk, build relationships, work together, play together and just stimulate your creativity by enjoying being with other people for a while. There is nothing more invigorating to us as human beings than interacting with others – and I’ve always found that being with other people the simple spark I need to kick start my own productivity.
Just do what you’re doing
Another theme that often crops up in terms of productivity advice is around taking breaks, prioritising and cutting the number of tasks you do. I would hone this all down to one very simple piece of advice: just do one thing at a time.
When you think about it, there is actually nothing else you can do – but it doesn’t stop us from trying. The myth of multi-tasking is one of the most invasive and damaging obstacles to productivity there is – the belief that we can effectively do more than one thing at a time puts a huge amount of pressure on us, and usually means that we spread ourselves too thinly, lose focus, and fail to complete all of our tasks. We spend our days doing things, while at the same time planning for the future and reflecting on our past actions. I’ve found my most productive days are those in which I pick just the two or three most important things I need to do, and then do one, then the next, and then the next, focusing completely on each one at a time. It’s a simple technique that in some ways draws on much of the advice around mindfulness that is out there at the moment – just focus on what you’re doing now, and focus on it intensely until it is done.
Have fewer meetings
There are also a lot of tips out there about more productive meetings – standing up while you have them, walking while you have them, or just making sure that the people who are relevant to the meeting are actually present. My advice is simply to have fewer meetings.
This is actually complementary – not counter – to my earlier point about relationships and interacting with people. It’s about making sure that every single interaction you have with people is a valuable, productive one.
Over the years, I know that the chats I’ve had with someone while I’m buying a coffee, or on the train, or in the break-out area of a conference, have been so much more productive than the formal meetings that many businesses are so consumed with having all the time. So, before you book a conference room, just ask yourself this question – would anyone apart from you or the other person care if you didn’t hold the meeting? If the answer is no, then it’s probably worth looking again at whether you really need it. Again, this isn’t about having less face-to-face interactions, it’s just about having more productive ones.
And that, for me, is the ultimate secret to productivity.