If the word “productivity” makes you think about spreadsheets, timers, and goal setting and other tools you may have read about, you will probably enjoy this post. I think it’s less about technique than philosophy, and, as such, I found it helpful.
Monique Valcour (@monique valcour) an executive coach and keynote speaker who contributes to the Harvard Business Review, has recently written about how to stay focused, which is intimately related to being productive.
I pulled some helpful ideas from her article, which I summarize here. They’re simple, but simple isn’t always easy. They require some effort on your part. Still, I think it’s important to give them a try before deciding that improving your productivity is doomed to failure.
The first idea I picked up on is that you should not assume that the techniques that have worked for others should work for you. As Ms. Valcour puts it, “Assuming that others’ preferred productivity strategies should work for you can yield frustration and a sense of defeat.” If you’re struggling, the best thing to do is to show yourself some compassion, then move ahead by trying new approaches and seeing how they work.
If you’re getting frustrated with a project, go get a breath of fresh air or take your work to a new venue. (In my opinion, nothing feeds the lack of a sense of progress more than trying to get work done while others are chatting away around your cube. But I guess that’s what they make noise-canceling headphones for.) Of course, you need to be tuning into the signals you’re getting from your body.
Try setting smaller goals. Ms. Valcour says, “… focusing on the process of work rather than the output is a powerfully facilitative perspective shift for many.” One of her clients describes doing and feeling better if she sets a goal like “work on project” or “make progress on project,” rather than “finish project.” (I have found this to work for me.)
To make progress, “… it makes sense to engineer your workflow for ease and progress.” If you buy into the ideas of Theresa Glomb of the University of Minnesota, then you practice the art of the downhill start. That is, you figure out what you need to do to get going easily. It can be anything as long as it works for you. (I like leaving my desk cleaned off and organized. Ms. Valcour suggests dividing your project into small tasks that, when completed, give you a sense of accomplishment.
Ms. Valcour is a big fan of meaningfulness, and I agree with her. She believes your productivity strategies won’t motivate you if they don’t have meaning for you. She recommends reframing a task in terms of how it is related to your core values.
Another technique is to consider what allowing yourself to get distracted distraction will cost. If you think about by watching YouTube videos, (my personal rabbit hole), ask yourself how that might be preventing you from doing starting or finishing something you want to do.
One of the most useful parts of her article, in my opinion, was its closing paragraph. Her message is that achieving focus is a work in progress. Rather than beating yourself up for getting distracted, take a look at what you’ve accomplished and “set yourself up for a smooth downhill start on the next day’s targets … “