Yet dive into this content and you’ll find yourself swimming in a pool of ‘hacks’, ‘how to’ guides and decisive listicles in random quantities: 15 ways to Increase your productivity at work, 10 ways to Become the most productive person around, ‘21 tips to becoming the most productive person you know’ ‘17 easy ways to be insanely productive, 89 Productivity Hacks to Crush Procrastination.’ Each one offers a unique addition to the rolling list of brilliantly random suggestions.
An article in the Entrepreneur advises, ‘start your day with a green smoothie’ and ‘take a walk or eat lunch away from the office’ whilst a website called Robin Sharma suggests you ‘sell your TV’ or ‘drink more water.’ Okay, so maybe you should get some advice from a more definitive productivity guru; one of those bestsellers whose blog posts are shared by millions and who tour the country for conferences, book signings and events. Well even the bestsellers can be wildly contradicting.
Whilst Tim Ferriss tells us that ‘there are only 24 hours in a day’ and that we should take a three hour lunch break, Grant Cardone is busy telling us that we can multiply time by dividing the day into 15 minute segments. Contrary to Ferris, he insists that we can’t waste a second with ‘white space on the schedule.’ While Daniel Goleman wrote a book entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence released an article in response titled The Importance of Daydreaming.
The landscape is a little dizzying to say the least. So before you set up an ambitious to-do list of beverages to consume and apps to report to, get smart about working smarter.
As I’m sure we’ve all guessed, ‘being productive’ isn’t a ‘one stop shop’ or decisive ‘how to guide’ on how to be better. The secret to productivity is a process.
Up until now we haven’t thought to develop a process for being productive. The question of ‘how to be more productive’ has historically been reserved for businesses and nations, the concern of strategists, managers and leaders. Yet today we’re taking on the problem of productivity as individuals. As work styles are becoming more individuated and hierarchies flatter, we have more autonomy to decide how and when we work the best.
Productivity, as described in the Oxford Dictionary is ‘the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input.’ As individuals we're striving to achieve more with the time and energy we put in ie. work less and achieve more.
Research has shown that working longer can actually reduce the amount you get done. It’s not surprising that working 24 hours a day can have weak returns.
And there is no shortage of listicles for this cause either: How working less could help you achieve more, How to work less and achieve more, 23 ways to work less and achieve more, 8 ways to achieve more by working less, How to do less and achieve more, How successful people work less and get more done 6 rules to work less and get more accomplished. Then of course, the 2009 book by Fergus O’Connell simply titled Work Less, Achieve
So how can we cut through the ongoing suggestions and get some result on our personal productivity? What is the real secret?
Change and innovation are about experimenting: trying new ways to do things. Just over 100 years ago a man called William ‘Pa’ Klann went on a trip to the UK where he saw a new approach production. On returning stateside he told his pal Henry Ford all about it. Together, they went on to produce the first large scale Assembly production line. The time it took to build a car went from 12 hours to just 93 minutes. They produced and sold so many cars that everyone and their sister was driving a model T. As we all know, this breakthrough laid the foundations for the mass consumer industry that is the foundation of modern America.
Unfortunately, getting everyone in a tech start-up to line up and each do a line of code on a parade of macbooks isn’t going to get us very far. Like companies, the right solution for productivity varies from person to person. However, what we can see is a basic process for innovation. A three step process to be precise:
Step 1: Experiment
Step 2: Observe
Step 3: Adapt/Implement
Luckily work, for most of us, has evolved from manual labour. We no longer work as machines but as sentient, intelligent and creative beings. Yet unluckily, finding ways to rear these qualities is a challenge.
Being productive today means accounting for the various needs that contribute towards our overall wellness. As we know, simply working more to get more output isn’t an effective equation. In reality socialising, exercising, daydreaming and going on long walks can all be better vehicles to productivity than pushing through to the early hours.
WeWork is an organisation that have a good grasp of what it means to be productive into todays working landscape. They’ve had a whirlwind of success for creating workspaces where people can be happy, healthy and productive. Yet their process isn’t so different from that of Pa Klann and Henry Ford. Devin Vermeulen, creative director of WeWork describes their process in Metropolis Mag:
“We shift things around and watch traffic patterns so we can learn from it,” says Vermeulen. 'He explains that WeWorks design teams rely on data—observational and quantitative research—to inform their design decisions. To test seating options, for example, they’re developing a QR code system to allow employees to provide instant feedback on the furniture. Researchers stake out select WeWork locations to glean insights on how to improve the flow and vibe of social interactions.’
In other words they experiment, observe and adapt/implement. The same process applies to improving work today. The process for uncovering our own personal productivity is no different.
Step 1: Experiment
This is where the listicles come in handy. Collectively we have been generating data on best practices. Reading these articles give us a wealth of ideas for how we can improve our productivity.
A few years ago I had no idea what highly successful people did with their mornings. Now you could say I know too much: The Morning Habits of Highly Successful People, 23 Morning routines of the Most Extraordinarily Successful People, 10 Ways Highly Successful People Fuel Up in the Morning, The 3 Morning Activities of Successful People, What 16 Succesfull People do During their morning routine.
Select a couple of things and start experimenting.
Step 2: Observe
The next step is just as simple. Give it a test run. Research has shown that it takes an average of 66 days to form and break a habit, so when you’re trying something out give it a chance to work. Then observe the results, find a way to keep a record of how your new morning routine is improving your day or your week.
Once you have a morning routine that works, stick with it and see how other parts of your day could be more effective.
Step 3: Adapt/Implement
If you’re not seeing results, go back to the listicles and pick again. If it’s working, stick to it and make it part of your everyday routine.
Mark Zuckerberg famously wears the same grey shirt everyday to save time and energy on choosing what to wear. Maybe it’s the energy saved on picking a shirt to wear every morning that he uses to continue to innovate. He may stray into other shades of grey or even a V- neck in the future but who knows.
So the secret to productivity is not the ultimate life hack. It is a process. ‘Teach a man to fish...’ and all that. Step out of your comfort zone and go fishing.
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