How to be More Productive (Without Driving Yourself Crazy)


Written by Dan Callahan

I am a Senior Technical Advisor to CGNET. Formerly, I managed our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses, and provided consulting to many clients over the years. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

June 24, 2021

Someone complained to me that they could not seem to find the time to accomplish a particular task. In other words, they wondered how they could be more productive. We all know that you do not “find time”. Everyone’s day lasts for the same 24 hours as everyone else’s. And unless you have mastered traveling at close to the speed of light, there is no way to make time slow down. So, what does that leave us with? We must understand how to be more productive.

Let me start by saying that I throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear the word productivity. There was a time when people wanted to justify personal computers by arguing that they made people more productive. I can even recall the study a colleague was conducting to see whether it was more productive (meaning timesaving) to backspace and re-type a word or highlight it, delete it, and insert the new word.

We’ve come a long way baby as the ad (almost) said.

Here I do not want to focus on productivity in an Alfred P Sloan time and material study context. I want to go with a less restrictive definition. We are more productive when we get more stuff done that matters and at a lower stress level than would otherwise be the case.


Some Tips on How to Be More Productive


First let us understand that there are many ways to be more productive. If you doubt this do a web search on “productivity hacks” and see what kind of results you get. As you will see, there are lots of tips on how to be more productive as well as any number of apps that promise to help you in that regard.


Commit to a Time


One reason why it can be difficult to find time to do something is that the task is something we would rather not do. A basic part of the 24 hours a day rule is that you will accomplish only what you set aside time to accomplish. If it is important enough to do it is important enough to schedule time for. So, I advise setting aside a specific amount of time each day or each week to accomplish the task that has so far been slipping away from you. How much time you set aside is less important than establishing the habit of spending time on this task on a regular basis.

  • Geeky aside #1: in Outlook on the Web, you can drag a task onto your calendar, and it will set aside a time to complete that task. It is handy even if only because you do not have to re type the task into the event title.
  • Geeky aside #2: you can have Outlook set up what it calls “Focus Time” for you. The idea is to set aside time to focus on whatever tasks are important that day. When you set Focus Time, it sets your status to “focusing” and blocks notifications. This will help you focus on your work.


Hold Yourself Accountable


Another way to be more productive is to hold yourself accountable to another person for the task. Pick someone you know and trust and tell them what you intend to accomplish. Be sure to tell them by when you want to accomplish this task. Give this person permission to ask you how you were doing in accomplishing this task.

Here is a story on why this matters. I know someone who has trouble working out. They want to work out, but they find that it is easy to postpone or cancel a session at the gym. This kind of person does much better if they are meeting a friend or a trainer at the gym. They know that someone out there is expecting to see them at the gym. Somehow, it is harder to let another person down than to let themself down by not following through on their workout appointment.


Take Some Time Off


While you are scheduling yourself be sure to include a few minutes at the end of every hour that you can use to goof off. It might seem counter intuitive, but it turns out that we are more focused if we give our brains a chance at a little downtime on a regular basis. I like to scroll through Twitter or watch a YouTube how to-video during my 5-minute break.


Stand Up to Be More Productive


Or sit down. Do something that is not like how you spent your last 55 minutes. If you have been spending most of your day sitting in front of a computer, stand up. Go to an easel or whiteboard and try sketching out answers to the problem you are trying to solve. if you force your brain to engage in a different way then it is possible that you will be able to see a solution you could not see before.

There are lots of ways to make yourself be more productive and focused. Let me know what some of your favorite techniques are!

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