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Productiveness is a tough one to nail down.  If it were something you could grab, it’d be like trying to catch the Golden Snitch (that little gold ball with wings that Harry Potter tries to catch when playing Quidditch).  At least that’s the way I see it.

But there’s a bunch of evidence [and science] around productivity.  How can we make it better?  How can we get more of it?  There’s so many different ways to increase your productivity – at home, at the office, or just in general.  But two foolproof ways to increase your productivity are to:

  1. Silence the Distractions

  2. Take a Break (or 2 or 3 or 4!)

Silence the Distractions

I’m not a very focused individual unless I choose to be.  That’s why I try not to watch a lot of television – I get sucked in… like a tractor beam.   As soon as I see movement paired with LED lights my attention is taken away from the task at hand.   And once I lose focus, it’s not like I can just jump back into what I was doing previously.  To get back into that “flow” of focus requires work.

Compare it to running.  Starting a sprint is tough work.   Those first few strides require the most energy because you’re getting the entire body moving forward.  Then, once you get going, it’s easy to keep going (easier I should say…).  But moving quickly or stopping altogether is really tough at that speed.  And even after you stop, nobody wants to start another sprint after already doing one!

But that’s what we do to our brains!  We focus on one task at a time and then switch quickly to another, and another, then come back to original task wondering what we were doing in the first place.  We’re literally having our brains run [really hard] in circles.

But how do we cut those distractions out altogether?

We can’t.  We live amongst distractions and always will.  You could be on an island with literally nothing and distraction would still be with you.

It’s not about eliminating distraction, but identifying it and putting it to rest.  Think ‘search and destroy’.

Take music as an example.  I listen to a lot of music (it’s actually a lot of the same music really.  I’m what you call a “track-killer”).  But when I am reading or trying to write content I simply cannot have music on.  If I do, I’ll sing the lyrics every five minutes or so and then lose my train of thought.

If it takes you away from your goal, your mission, you need to cut it off.  As one of my coaches says, “you have to kill the noise.”

It’s not about reducing the distraction; it’s about pinpointing the culprit and getting it out of your way.  Don’t let those little things beat you down and take away your precious time.  Cutting off that temptation and staying intentional about seeing the task through is the way to go.

Make a very small goal and go after it until it’s done!  Turn the phone on “Do not Disturb” and try and give all your attention on what you need to get done in the next 5 minutes, and the next 5 minutes, and so on.

When you can take the things around you and minimize their pull or neglect them altogether, you are simplifying the task and that makes it much easier to finish.

Take Breaks

I know that there are some days that I just need a nap.  I’ve checked out from being a human and I’m simply no help to anyone unless I get some sleep.  My muscles ache and my joints are creaking.  It’s time for a power nap at that point.

The brain enjoys power naps as well!

Check out this piece from The Atlantic,

“… the brain is a muscle that, like every muscle, tires from repeated stress. Many of us have a cultural image of industriousness that includes first-in-last-out workers, all-nighters, and marathon work sessions. Indeed, there are many perfectly productive people that go to the office early, leave late, and never seem to stop working. But the truth about productivity for the rest of us is that more hours doesn’t mean better work. Rather, like a runner starting to flag after a few miles, our ability to perform tasks has diminishing returns over time. We need breaks strategically served between our work sessions.”

The brain needs freedom.  It is designed to be creative, to exercise emotions and feelings and wonder and awe!  Yet, we try and turn it into an engine.  It’s much more than that.  We need to participate in things that we enjoy and where are minds can play.

That looks different for everyone because not all people enjoy the same things.  Nonetheless, the principle stands true!  Take some time where you can just play.

Consider it a mental recess!

Try these tips out and then let me know what happens.  I’m curious to see if these two tips help all or if it’s just me!

“If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others? How do they do more, achieve more, earn more, have more? If time is the currency of achievement, then why are some able to cash in their allotment for more chips than others?

The answer is they make getting to the heart of things the heart of their approach. They go small. Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.”

– Gary Keller; The One Thing