Somewhere along our doctoral journey, we all wish we could be more productive. But where do we start? For the purposes of this article, let’s start with a few givens:
· Productivity is about working on the right things (effectiveness), doing them in the best possible way (efficiency) and enjoying the process and outcomes (fulfillment).
· There is a formula for being productive. Miss one element, and productivity goes down; hit all four and you will experience extraordinary productivity.
· Productivity = Clarity + Energy + Focus – Distractions.
You know how the story goes. You have 101 things to do, you’re starting to stress over deadlines and growing To Do Lists, and you don’t know where to start. You’ve gotten to the end of the day you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. Maybe you tend to be disorganized or procrastinate. Maybe your issue is that you’re a perfectionist. Either way, you know it gets in the way of being productive. It’s time to make a change. Start with Why
Before you dive in, make sure your quest for greater productivity is properly rooted. If your motivation for greater productivity isn’t strong, meaningful, and part of something greater in your life, then you’re bound to struggle.
So, what is your Why? What is the overarching reason you need to be more productive? Being more productive at the expense of your energy, health, happiness, and relationships is not smart (or sustainable). Being productive and living in a way that enhances energy, health, happiness, and relationships is both smart and sustainable.
Sustainable productivity models share four common components, each of which is equally important. You need each of them in order to be your most productive and successful self.
Step 1: Find Clarity
Clarity provides answers to the important questions, like:
· What is the outcome I want?
· Why is this important?
· What needs to be done to make this outcome a reality?
· What are my priorities?
Of course, if you are stressed or fatigued, then clarity may be harder to come by. Stress negates clarity and perspective. Hence, clarity starts with taking control of your mental state and working to shift into a clearer mindset.
Step 2: Manage Your Energy
You are clear on what needs to be done, but if you haven’t got fuel in the tank then it’s unlikely that you’ll get your work done efficiently (if it gets done at all). Fatigue and low energy contribute to distraction, disengagement, low productivity, and poor-quality work. The goal of intentionally managing your energy is to maximize its return and to utilize it as efficiently as possible.
If you’re aiming for a high level of energy and productivity, do what many high-performing people do to manage their energy. Shift between periods of intense focus and productivity (for example, 20 to 40 minutes) and periods of rest and renewal (5-15 minutes). Figure out the work/renewal ratio that works best for you. Of course, if you are in a creative flow and can work for longer, go with it.
Additionally, to generate a greater sense of energy, engage in activities and work that are meaningful to you. Surround yourself with supportive relationships – they’ll remind you of your Why, celebrate your victories with you, and support you through tough times. Be sure to make this a priority.
Step 3: Take Charge of Your Focus
One of most precious resources at your disposal is your attention. By default, if you aren’t in charge of your attention, your environment and your thoughts are. Learning to control your attention and focus is a fundamental skill for high productivity and performance. To help improve your focus:
· Avoid multitasking. Focus on one thing at a time (which means stop trying to maintain a conversation via text while reading or writing).
· Don’t distract yourself. Stop compulsively checking emails or social media at times when your intention is to get work done. Avoid making the temptation worse for yourself by saying “I can’t”; rather, tell yourself you will check during your next scheduled break.
· Carve out space. Identify your focus needs and intentionally create an environment that is conducive to focus. For some, this includes having white noise available – for others, it means creating complete silence.
· Calm your body. Reflect on the fuel you put into your body and the affect it has on you. High levels of caffeine, nicotine, and sugar can jump start your day but can also derail your efforts to focus later and throughout the day.
· Calm your mind. Work on including time for deep breathing and/or meditation as part of your day. Giving your mind a minute, or two, during a busy day to just be is the gold standard for re-calibrating your focus and improving your overall productivity.
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