5 things you need to know about productivity

What’s up? Productivity is a set of good habits acquired over time by repeated practice and reinforcement. Some involve personal effort, others, good systems and yet others, leveraging technology cleverly.


Productivity is a habit, not a gift. You need to cultivate it.

Whenever you meet and work with productive people, you ask yourself: “Why can’t I be like that? It’s good to be as gifted as she is.” You can, but only when you stop seeing productive people as being endowed with special traits. Productivity is a set of good habits acquired over time by repeated practice and reinforcement. Some involve personal effort, others, good systems and yet others, leveraging technology cleverly. Here’s a list that you can use.

Here’s a video summary of this list. (Click on the tabs to read more and watch another video.)


Start with a morning routine

“Ritual focuses attention by framing: it enlivens the memory and links the present with the relevant past. In all this it aids perception. …It can permit knowledge of what would otherwise not be known at all. …There are some things which we can not experience without ritual” (Douglas 1966)

Rituals are not restricting. Having a go-to schedule cuts down on time and energy that could be frittered away in thinking up what to do. All productive people begin their day with a routine. This clears the mind of clutter and sets a positive tone for the day. Effective morning rituals usually include some form of exercise or stretching, meditation or mindfulness and a proper start to the day’s meals.

Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” have been around for several decades; three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages –they are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritise and synchronise the day at hand.”

Measure your productivity with metrics

There are numerous methods for creating and achieving goals such as the venerable SMART strategy (goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). Think hard though, about setting metrics when you set your goals, as this will help you both define and achieve them.

You can easily appreciate that regular review of metrics allows you to obtain information about how you are progressing towards your goal. You can adjust your strategy at the time when adjustment is most effective, rather than after the fact as response to failing to meet your goals. It doesn’t matter that much how you set your goals as long as defining goals with specific outcomes in mind and then measuring progress to their completion.

Whatever you choose to track progress on, it should show you where you are in relation to your goal at any minute of the day. A simple spreadsheet will work well in this regard.

Take control of interruptions

Limit the number of interruptions during your office hours by batching questions and documents for review and signature. There is no such thing as multitasking. It’s always single tasking with rapid task shifting. There is an energy cost for each episode when disconnecting  from one activity and moving on to the next. The effort involved in redirecting focus is the same whether the new task lasts five seconds or five minutes. Aggregating questions and documents for the doctor and presenting them in a batch reduces the switching overhead to a single event. As an additional benefit, office staff also have fewer interruptions.

Don’t aim for perfection, good enough is good enough

Seeking perfection can create paralysis that hurts productivity. Procrastination is a device that perfectionists use to defer action. “Good enough” should be the guiding principle and the path to successive iterations towards an ideal goal. Waiting to launch until a perfect product is achieved can, in today’s world of rapid change, be the path to failure.
A hidden cost of perfectionism is that it’s much harder to delegate. Insisting on perfection from subordinates who may not be able to achieve these standards, can be very demotivating. People will just clam up when asked to reach performance standards that are beyond them.

The power of power naps

Power napping is the key to productivity. The brain has remarkable powers of plasticity — the ability to form new connections and ideas. Plasticity seems to improve during sleep. Losing sleep certainly can limit your brain functioning, As the day goes on, your brain tends to stumble. A short nap smooths the glitches, so you can function for the rest of the day.

Nap for 10 to 15 minutes. One power nap is usually enough to get through the rest of the afternoon. Naps longer than a half hour may actually leave you tired and drained.
BONUS: Video by Dr Mike”]

“Doctor Mike” gives you some excellent advice in this snappy, funny video.

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