Let's talk about increasing productivity


Block time off your calendar. Stop multitasking. Make sure you organize your to-do list the right way. Put your phone on airplane mode. Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard at least some of these tips as ways you can “increase your productivity.” Within the bigger picture, they can work to your advantage if you implement them consistently.

But this type of productivity advice doesn’t necessarily ensure that the quality of your output is high or that what you are “producing” is going to have a positive ROI. Additionally, one-off productivity tips won’t keep you from burning out. So, is increasing productivity even the right objective?

The short answer? It’s not. The long answer? We dive deeper into why that question is misleading below.

Photo by Fernando Hernandez on Unsplash

Increasing productivity is thinking in terms of quantity not quality

As humans, we often get in trouble by thinking in terms of quantity rather than quality. While that approach might be sustainable for machines, it isn’t always sustainable when it comes to being productive at work. Quality of work is what moves you forward while only prioritizing quality bogs you down.

You’re better off spending two hours fully submerged in writing that thought leadership report for 2023 instead of five semi-productive hours where you’re only half-paying attention to the task at hand.

Yet, this dynamic is a common problem. Roughly 40% of American employees work more than 50 hours per week, with 20% clocking more than 60 hours. We live in a productivity-centered society, which explains why we’re constantly searching for ways to be more productive, do more, and increase quantity at all costs.

But once we shift our attention to finding ways to create higher quality work, then spending long hours at your desk doesn’t have to be your reality. Gary Keller puts its best in his book, The One Thing

“The people who achieve extraordinary results don’t achieve them by working more hours. They achieve them by getting more done in the hours they work.”

In his book, Keller goes on to explain that productivity goes beyond mustering up the willpower to work long hours a day in and day out. Instead, it’s more about learning what to prioritize, knowing how to plan your day, and being able to say “no” to what isn’t important.

The question doesn’t account for productive downtime

By now, most of us know that blind productivity inevitably leads to burnout. However, studies suggest that taking breaks can lead to higher levels of productivity. Why? For starters, our energy levels aren’t always high. Our body goes through energy cycles throughout the day. This means carving out time for rest is vital to maintaining productivity long-term.

In other words, ‘how can I be more productive?’ doesn’t consider how productive restful breaks can be. Though it might sound counterintuitive at first, sometimes working less is more productive.

This differs depending on energy levels, lifestyle, occupation, and a litany of other variables. But especially in highly creative fields, sometimes working less is taking a step back is when the winning value-driving ideas arrive. No sixteen hours of half-baked work necessary.

Probably one of the biggest indicators of what being flexible with downtime can do for your productivity levels is the overwhelmingly positive research results that indicate our recent shift to a remote work setup is a much better option for employees with their productivity levels increasing.

The problem is, that working less doesn’t happen by mistake. In fact, in some cases, it may take some intentional planning. Whether you pencil in some time off on your Google Calendar or use a tool like Sunsama to keep up with your weekly tasks, carving out time to be idle is a beneficial and necessary component of being productive sustainably.

Here’s how you can plan for more downtime with a tool like Sunsama:

  • Archive tasks for later
  • Create tasks and schedule them ahead of time within the dashboard
  • Set automated end-of-day reminders so you remember to step away from work

Being busy is too often mistaken for being productive

In the midst of juggling work, life, and attempting to find harmony amongst it all, it’s too easy to mistake being “busy” for being productive. It’s impossible to multitask with our limited mental bandwidth, yet we do it often only to end up filling a work day with busy work.

Busy workers default to assuming working eight or twelve hours each day will help them accumulate progress. But truly productive people understand that a long to-do list isn’t an indicator of increased productivity.

Instead of trying to find ways to be more productive, think about what work takes priority in terms of impact and importance. Along with the addition of constraints, like establishing set hours around how long you’ll work on a project, you’ve got yourself a winning productivity strategy that’ll get you further than trying to do everything all at once.

For example, I use Sunsama to set daily workday constraints. I know I want to end my workday day at certain times each day and set up automated reminders to keep me on schedule. With those constraints in place, I’m forced to prioritize my to-do list, eliminate busy work, and concentrate on the most important task at hand.

Do more with less

In our constant pursuit of productivity, it isn’t enough to simply wonder how one can be more productive. Rather, it takes a more nuanced approach to how you do your best work.

That is, creating productive habits and applying them to your day-to-day work life can be the difference you need to propel you to produce not only more but better quality work. This way, you aren’t constantly burning out and spreading your focus on too many tasks that keep you stuck.

But as with anything worth pursuing, it takes crafting an approach to productivity that works for you.

For that, there’s Sunsama. Start organizing your week with more intention and less busywork.

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