Two seemingly conflicting themes have been coming across my reading lately. One is that working harder and getting rid of distractions is the key to success. The other says that taking frequent breaks, working shorter hours, and limiting time checking in on devices is the key to productivity. So which should we follow for a more successful life?
According to Timothy Ferris, and incidentally other notables, it is possible to do both (1). In fact, both of these concepts are saying the same thing. They have just been, in my opinion, interpreted wrong. If you put 100% of your brain power into each thing you are doing while you are doing it you will do that thing better and get more out of it. This applies to work and downtime with equal importance. The problem is, we divide our attention between too many things and end up getting nothing done. Not even relaxation…especially not relaxation.
In Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, she points out that in order to lead a fulfilling life, a third metric of success is needed in addition to the conventional measures of money and power. This third metric is made up of four pillars, well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. If this is the case, it seems that taking care of ourselves more and working less is key. However, she also points out that companies which value quality downtime for their employees actually end up being more productive and therefore more successful (2).
In a lecture on productivity he gave for the Bulletproof Training Institute, Dr. Mark Atkinson also stresses the importance of both work and downtime. He cites a personal example about the difference between working hard in a conventional manner–long hours spent sitting at the desk staring at your computer with no end in sight–and working focused for 90 minutes and then taking 30 minutes off to do something unrelated like going for a walk or meditating. He used the later while writing his last book and noticed a remarkable difference in his productivity. He states that it actually took him less time to do more while working less (3).
What does this mean? Hard work is important, but productivity is more important. It is possible to work hard all day and get nothing done. I’m sure you know what I mean. This is called busy-ness, not productivity. This is where stress and feelings of inadequacy stem from. You are exhausted at the end of the day and have nothing to show for it. Contrariwise, when you have a productive day, you feel inspired an energized at the end of the day. How do we get more of the later?
Work less. Do more.
When you’re on, be on. Flip the switch. Sit down, organize yourself, and bang it out. Put all of your focus into one thing at a time. Unless your task at this minute is to check your email, don’t check your email. Limit your distractions by closing your office door or giving your colleagues some other sign that you’re relentlessly focused and do not wish to be disturbed.
Turn your notifications off. It takes us 67 seconds to recover focus after each email notification (4). I’m going to go out on a limb and make the assumption that it takes a similar amount of time to get back on task from each text, tweet, instant message, and whatever other beeps, chimes, or buzzes are going on. Schedule uninterrupted time for you to sit down and go through email once or twice a day. Otherwise, don’t check it. I make it a point to check my social media, email, and other such messages only after I have completed my MIT’s for the day.
Get your MIT’s done first. MIT stands for Most Important Task. Basically, pick one thing that you have to get done today and do that first, before anything else so it gets done. Prioritize these so your MIT’s are bringing you closer to your goal, not just daily tasks that need to be done for housekeeping. I’m not sure who to give credit to for this acronym or the concept behind it, but here is a good description of how to implement it into your life: https://betterhumans.coach.me/the-mit-solution-how-to-identify-one-key-task-each-day-to-make-consistent-progress-825aa60ec7ab
When you’re off, be off. Leave work at work. Leave your phone in your coat pocket during dinner. Don’t check your email when you are away from your desk. Show up completely for your friends and family. Get some sleep, for the love of Pete! These things will increase your productivity because they allow you to switch off and recharge. They will also enrich your life by giving you actual connections with real people. Your brain may even be able to come up with new and creative ideas because it has had the chance to look at things a little differently. Use this time to refresh, recharge, and reconnect.
Stop multi-tasking whether you are on or off. I remember when I was in the workforce, with an actual job where I wasn’t the boss, I had an evaluation in which I received a lower mark because I didn’t multitask well. I actually thought I did multitask well, but that is beside the point. What I am saying here is avoid multitasking. Mindfulness experts actually tell us that it is actually not possible to multitask, that our brains do not work that way. Whether it is true or not, in order to increase your productivity and enjoyment in life, do one thing very well and then move on. Whatever you are doing, do it with 100% focus.
Following these tips will allow you to do more in less time while also getting more out of your downtime. It’s a win in all directions. Of course, like everything else, it takes practice. You also have to prioritize the tasks that are most important to you and be rigorous about sticking to those priorities. Doing more isn’t always best, quality also counts. Maybe reevaluating and course correcting might be in your best interest if your efforts aren’t bringing you closer to your ultimate goal.
With all of this in mind, and because I’m losing my mind, I am going to admit that I am not in a position right now to publish this blog daily. While my readership has increased since starting, I have stopped doing many of the things I need to do in order to recharge. I have not been reading as much, or listening to podcasts, or doing my meaningful movement every day. I have not been going to yoga class at all. These are things I need to do in order to walk my talk as a wellness coach, and I feel that the quality of my writing has suffered as a result. I am still going to focus on writing for outside publications, keep this blog up as a weekly, create my new website, launch my business, keep up with my school work, spend quality time with my family, and be the best damn wellness coach I can be. This was a lovely experiment which I’m glad I did, but I am going to work smarter and give myself (and my family) the downtime I need and deserve. So, I will see you on Monday lovely people!
If you found this post helpful, please hit the follow button. For more motivation delivered straight to your inbox subscribe to my newsletter here. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram by clicking the appropriate links above. I am now taking new clients! If you would like to schedule an appointment email me here. Please share this with your friends right away while you are thinking of it. If you find this useful, there’s a good chance your friends will, too. Thanks for reading!
(3) Dr. Mark Atkinson. Bulletproof Productivity System. Lecture at the Bulletproof Training Institute. https://www.bulletprooftraininginstitute.com/productivity-class?inf_contact_key=267652b8cfccf6721e78b9ac4fc6e9d8e5e2f8705f2cb3013893bb93bb22f26d
(4) Jennifer Senior, “How Email is Swallowing Our Lives,” New York, July 31, 2013, www.nymag.com.