What’s the key to a healthy, happy, and productive life? Ironically, it’s being productive. That may sound like an easy answer — when you’re working smarter, not harder, you’re achieving your personal and professional goals.
That leads to a feeling of accomplishment, but you’re also able to attend to your health and well-being. That means you’re able to achieve balance and feel calmer, putting you in a better position to help others.
However, maximizing your productivity is easier said than done — especially when life throws curveballs like the current COVID-19 pandemic your way. But if you can change the way you think about your daily tasks, you can increase your productivity once and for all.
1. Identify your passion.
Jon Bon Jovi was quoted as saying, “Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate.” Being passionate is good for your health — it releases the brain’s two most potent neurotransmitters, dopamine and oxytocin. It keeps you energized, focused, and motivated to consistently excel. Passion can also lighten your workload; you’ll spend more time on what you love rather than waste it on unnecessary or unimportant activities.
According to Deloitte’s Center for the Edge report, passion is more important at work. That’s because passion relates to how excited workers are by challenges — and how willing they are to seek them out. It impacts how they learn, build skills, and solve problems, and it can even shape their careers. “[They] help themselves and the companies they work for develop the capabilities to constantly learn and improve performance,” Deloitte Insights’ analysis explained. “Rather than a one-time performance bump, [passionate workers] deliver sustained and significant performance improvement over time.”
How can you find and maintain your passion? France Bridges suggested in a previous Forbes article that you can “focus on pursuing what you are interested in and take care of yourself.” Beyond that, cultivate the skills that will make you feel more fulfilled. Connect your short-term work with your long-term ambitions to fuel immediate interest and motivation.
At some point, if you feel your passion is waning, take a break so you can reflect on your values, celebrate what you’ve accomplished, and give yourself time to rest and recharge. Reconnecting with your purpose isn’t about running yourself ragged; it’s about remembering what you’re willing to run yourself ragged for.
2. Choose to be productive, not busy.
“Productivity put simply, is the name we give our attempts to figure out the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort,” Charles Duhigg writes in Smarter Faster Better. “It’s a process of learning how to succeed with less stress and struggle.”
He adds that being truly productive is also “about making certain choices in certain ways. The way we choose to see ourselves and frame daily decisions, the stories we tell ourselves, and the easy goals we ignore.” Additionally, he explains that it includes the sense of community we build with our teammates and the cultures we create as leaders.
But how, exactly, can you get there? In my experience, you first need to admit that not everything can be a priority. Is everything on your to-do list still important? Sure, but you need to identify what’s essential and necessary. That’s where your time and energy should be spent. Most of the time, these are the tasks that bring you closer to your goals and help you avoid penalties. These are the activities that have stringent deadlines, affect your ROI, or carry negative consequences if they don’t happen.
As for everything else? Delegate it or automate it so you’re being productive with your time, not just keeping busy. Someone else can likely take over those tasks so you can focus on the things only you are capable of — and are most passionate about.
3. Do less.
While this may sound counterproductive, it’s true when it comes to productivity. In fact, according to a 2014 study, long weekly hours — as well as long daily hours — don’t necessarily yield high output. After working more than 50 hours a week, productivity per hour falls. After 55 hours, however, productivity drops so much that it’s pointless to keep on working.
Other research shows that working too much is linked to health issues including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health problems. The simple reason is that the human body and mind just weren’t designed for full-throttle eight-hour days or 50-hour workweeks. We need time to rest and recharge, thanks to our circadian rhythms.
But how can you really do less? A great starting point is to do what we discussed: Focus only on your priorities, and remove everything else from your schedule. After identifying what deserves your focus, make sure you’re giving it 100 percent of your attention. That means no more multitasking. Eliminate distractions, and work in 90-minute blocks throughout the day, with a break in between.
Last but not least, say “yes” more strategically. For example, if you already have your calendar booked for the next week, don’t take on any additional work or accept invites until you have the availability. This way, your calendar won’t get filled with less important items, which allows you to focus on your priorities and leave room for spontaneous opportunities you’re passionate about.
4. Detach every evening, and reattach every morning.
How you start and end your day plays a huge role in your productivity. Just imagine how your day would be if you overslept. You’d jump out of bed and feel “off” the remainder of the day. Think about the times you stayed up well past your normal bedtime working on a project. Exhausted, the next day was a wash.
Instead, establish an evening routine that will set you up for success. This includes planning out the next day, reflecting on the day you’ve had, picking out your clothes, and preparing your meals. You should also spend quality time with your family and do something that gives you a chance to relax and detach from work, such as reading.
As for your morning, don’t just leap into your day. Spend a couple of minutes easing back into a work mindset by reviewing your goals, priorities, and calendar so you know where your attention and focus need to be — these may also get you excited and inspired. If that doesn’t work, keep things simple by following Benjamin Franklin’s daily routine by asking, “What good will I do today?”
Maximizing your productivity is a skill that the most successful people have mastered. It’s possible as long as you know where you want to spend your attention, energy, and time. That knowledge will empower you to set boundaries so you aren’t overwhelming or overextending yourself — and you’re doing exactly what matters.