Letters to Editors: 5 Counter-Intuitive Ways to Increase Productivity

Cristen Iris

by Cristen Iris, originally published by Unbound Northwest


I’m going to assume that anyone interested in this article is one of those people who others describe as an overachiever but who feels like an underachiever. (But perhaps I’m projecting.) Regardless of why you’re here, let’s get down to it because the first rule of productivity is economy.

#1 Get Away from Your Desk

Just grab your laptop and go. Outside. You needn’t make this a thing. In fact, I’m writing this from a lawn chair pulled up to a less-than-Instagram-worthy folding table outside my RV. Productivity is not a fashion sport. You will, however, need to get dressed if you’re going to work outside.

Numerous studies show that getting dressed (or just putting on shoes) increases productivity, and working outside can improve your short-term memory, inspire and make you more creative, decrease your stress levels, increase your concentration, boost your productivity, and make you more aware.

So, take off your sleep uniform, put on daytime attire and a pair of comfy shoes, grab your laptop, and get your day started by working in the fresh, moving air.

# 2 Work Fewer Hours

Working outside will likely make you want to play outside, which I encourage you to do often and for prolonged periods of time. It might be hard to reframe your thinking about this (or maybe it’s just me), but it works when you commit to and trust the process:

Break your work day or week into blocks.

Set a time limit for each block.

Set a timer for each task, and work against the clock.

Focus your attention on one task at a time, and work toward play time.

As you get better at this, shorten the time you spend working each day or week until you find the best balance between work output and life input.

# 3 Stop Working Social Media

Reducing the amount of time spent working has the disquieting (or maybe you have a stronger constitution than I) side effect of making you more aware of where you’re spending time and the payoff for each type of activity.

If what you see and engage with on social media is bumming you out, making you angry, or isn’t providing measurable results, you’re spending work energy on something that isn’t improving the quality and quantity of your work. It’s a distraction from what Cal Newport calls “deep work”—the work that builds “rare and valuable skills” and pays the bills.

In Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield puts it bluntly: “The amateur tweets. The pro works.”

Ouch. But both these guys know what they’re talking about, and I for one am much happier and more productive when I follow their advice. Further, no one I’ve talked to who does the same regrets this “limiting” decision.

# 4 Go On an Information Fast

It makes sense that when we reduce the flow rate of incoming information and stimuli, we can increase the flow of outgoing work, but overachievers are often voracious consumers of information. Data is fuel, or so we think.

Without constant input, it can feel like we’re going to miss some critical piece of information, something that will improve our thinking or business practices. (But again, perhaps I am projecting.)

This is not the case. Prove this to yourself by purposefully abstaining from the consumption of digital and even print information for one week.

#5 Embrace Boredom

Pretty scary stuff working and consuming less.

But terror abates and is replaced by an uncomfortable stillness—what we often call boredom and seek to cure with activity and input.

What at first feels like boredom is actually the first stage of creativity, a cleansing and opening of the mind in preparation for intellectual analysis and creative flow. During this shift in behavior, it’s worth remembering that movement doesn’t always mean progress, and progress doesn’t necessarily require movement.

By embracing boredom and practicing skills that may appear to others to be a lack of movement, we can radically change our brains and the quality of our lives and work, so we can be more productive. And, by being more productive be more effective. These practices continue to help me achieve more while dramatically reducing the stress that comes with my driver personality type, and I’m going to assume they’ll help you too.


Photo attributions: Pixabay.com, CO0