There are thousands of books and blog posts looking for a magic pill of productivity. They offer you an endless number of time management hacks in order to help you be productive. Instead, however, they often add a lot of small tasks to your to-do list that you can easily complete to feel productive, but they won’t bring you anywhere closer to your goal. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson talk about it in their book It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work, making your brain focus on many more different things doesn’t help you produce more value.
Don’t take me wrong, time management and being organized is very important. But there is no magic pill that will do your work for you.
What is productivity?
However, I can not agree with Jason and David on what they consider “productivity”. For them, productivity is anything that people do to feel productive. Not only the “real” work, but also small meaningless time management hacks, checking Slack every 10 minutes or brainstorming new ideas over and over.
On the other hand, I understand productivity as doing only meaningful things that take me closer to my goal. For example, if I spend two hours brainstorming solutions for a problem that we need to resolve and the outcome is only another brainstorming session, it was a wasted time. If, however, the outcome is a tangible list of actionable items with ideas that I can start working on with the team, I consider it being productive.
To me, there are two important factors of productivity. And I believe that they work for most of us as they aren’t any specific time management hacks. It’s routine and creativity.
There is a lot of research backing up the idea that our brain has limited power. A group of people who could eat only radishes in a room full of freshly baked cookies spent significantly less time on solving a complicated issue than a group of people that could also eat the cookies. The researchers claim that it’s because their brain had to work hard in order to convince the body not to eat cookies and got out of fuel (source).
Taking extensive everyday decisions about what, when, where and how I work uses a lot of my brain power that can be better used elsewhere. That’s why I’m trying to avoid decisions that I don’t necessarily have to make. For example my morning routine includes bathroom, weight scale, drink water, porridge for breakfast, exercise for 6-7 minutes, shower and the only decision that I usually make is whether I take a white or a black t-shirt. It doesn’t mean though that I rush through my morning or that is boring. I enjoy it, never stress and have enough time to spend quality time with my wife.
At work, I don’t have to think about what I do first. First, I check emails that come during the night from our American colleagues and partners (I live in Europe). Then I have look at my plan for the day to see whether the emails impacted it in any way. And then we kick off the day with a quick morning standup with the whole team. I also have my favorite spot in our team space where I like to be when working. Some background music helps me focus a lot. Since I already know which music works well, I don’t need to think too long about what to listen to.
Everybody likes something else, of course. I prefer instrumental music because singing usually distracts me. Therefore I listen to soundtracks (I love John Williams), some easy classical music and deep chill house. Check my friend’s mix on SoundCloud that I listen to the most to get your own idea.Not having to think about less important things gives me the opportunity to laser focus on the important challenges that I need to address. Click To Tweet
Even though routine is so important to me, too much routine ends up being, well, boring and we know how that goes. It’s exactly the opposite of being productive.
You feel that every day is exactly the same no matter what you do. The same weekly meeting with your team when everyone feels that watching fun cat videos would be more beneficial. The same table in an open space or small office with a few 5-minute coffee breaks and discussing the report that no-one reads but has to be ready asap.
I can’t work like that. In order to avoid getting bored, I need to randomly step out of my daily routine. I need to do something else from time to time and ideally from a different place. When I used to work from home, I sometimes went to a coffeehouse for a change. In our current office at mySugr, we have cafeteria, dojo, focus rooms, phone booths and also a terrace so I have a lot of places to choose from when I want to leave my usual routine and not to work from my team space.
The thing about creativity is that your brain works kind of automatically when following a routine. That’s great for a lot of types of work that you have to do. But you also would like to be creative and strictly following a routine kills creativity quite a bit. However, sometimes creativity comes unannounced. When it happens, just let it be! For example, to write this blog post, I woke up at 4:30am on Saturday with a simple idea. My brain didn’t allow me to sleep, so I got off my bed, sat in the sofa and started writing. Waking up at 4:30am on Saturday (actually on any day) definitely isn’t my routine, but I gave myself some slack and it resulted in a quite a productive morning.
Hopefully it all made sense to you and please let me know how do you think about productivity. I’d love to hear from you and learn something new.