I work from home or a coffee shop.
OK. I work from a coffee shop. Come on; caffeine is my one vice.
Whether you work from home, an office, or your favorite legal addictive stimulate dispensary, these places provide major distractions keeping us busy but not productive.
And there is a difference between the two.
“Busy” implies that one is out of control with their life, with no clear priorities in the forefront of their action plan.
When I’m “busy,” it usually means I’m not productive. I’ve been busy before.
I’ve been busy with Twitter notifications and emails and stop-and-go traffic and Facebook and Instagram and breaking CNN news updates and Netflix and voicemails and texts, but not with anything that adds real value to my life.
Productivity happens when I focus on my most essential tasks
Focus means you are willing to say no to almost everything else other than your main objective. For me, my main goal is writing and nurturing my online business.
I say “no” a lot.
I can’t say no every single time because I’m a single parent. So that automatically implies that I have to do some things that are necessary for my family life to run smoothly. However, I say “no” to most everything else that doesn’t propel me forward in achieving my goals.
The litmus test
I have a litmus test for whether or not I say “yes” or “no” to something asked of me.
When someone asks something of me, and my answer is not “hell yes!” then I say no. This test separates the wheat from the chaff — the valuable from the worthless.
The objective is not to be idle or lazy or lay on the beach all day; the objective is to control this non-renewable resource, we all have, called time, so you can allocate it to the things you most want to be doing. Apply your hard work to the right tasks that you decide are important — that are determined by self-awareness and forethought.
Productivity is the result
Recently, I learned from James Clear, to not confuse motion with action.
I had never thought of productivity in those simple terms. Motion doesn’t lead to results; action does.
Most of us stay in motion because it makes us feel like we are doing something, but what we are doing is not taking action. Motion equates to busying yourself with busy work — checking email, Twitter notifications, answering calls, texts, and emails.
Many of us stay in the safety of motion because taking action means risking failure. Taking action means putting ourselves out there, to be seen, where failure is always the risk.
Here are some of Clear’s examples of the distinction between motion and action.
- If I outline 20 ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually write and publish an article, that’s action.
- If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, that’s action.
- If I go to the gym and ask about getting a personal trainer, that’s motion. If I actually step under the bar and start squatting, that’s action.
Clear suggests to set up a schedule for your actions and stick to it.
Six small changes you can make to increase your action column and thus productivity
- Stop multitasking — Instead, give laser-focused attention to what matters to you. Stay focused on the essentials instead of busying yourself with the non-essentials. I used to be the queen of multitasking. What that means to me, now, is giving little attention to a lot of different tasks, and none of them being done well — with purpose and meaning. Focus on one goal at a time.
- Clear your desk of clutter — Clear everything you don’t need for your primary task off your desk. If it is a non-essential, meaning you don’t need it to get the task at hand completed, it is potentially causing a distraction. You may glance at it, want to file it, or just the mere fact that it is sitting on your desk causes your mind to wonder. If you don’t have time to sort it into a pile or file it, at least get it off your desk, and go through it later. Try to make later, the near future. There is nothing wrong with making a pile of “to do later.”
- Let’s get real about your iPhone — Unless it is completely turned off or buried under a pillow four rooms away, it is a distraction. Studies have shown even if you are not checking your phone while you work, the buzz from a text, or even when your phone lights up, will make your mind wander, taking the focus off your task.
- Before bed — Choose your task for the next day. Write down three to five things you plan to get done the next day. Rank them from highest to lowest priority. In the morning, focus on the task of the highest priority. Only move on to the second goal when you’ve completed the first. Repeat. By focusing on the most important goals, you nail down your priorities and are not overwhelmed with the plethora of goals you are trying to accomplish. When I wake up with thoughts of 100 things I need to get done for the day, I get nothing done. I spin my wheels for a good hour. When I decide the night before what one goal must get done first, I tackle that with fierce focus and get it done quickly, and have more time for the non-essential goals.
- Carve out 20% of your day for the tasks you wrote down the night before and work on that task with focus for 90 minutes of your day. You can commit to 90 minutes of your day to concentrate on getting that most crucial task complete. Think about it like this, 90 minutes is 20% of an 8-hour day; even if you do nothing for the rest of the day, you will still feel a feeling of accomplishment. For those 90 minutes, I ignore my phone, my dog, my partner’s texts, my email, my grumbling stomach saying “give me food,” my bills, my everything, except the task at hand. My writing output has increased ten-fold since I have been practicing this method.
- Get sun and exercise — Sunlight and exercise boost productivity. Studies have found that sunlight helps people process faster and perform better on tests that involve mental function and memory recall. A 30-minute run also increases productivity output and helps you to focus to complete tasks more quickly.
Be kind to yourself
We all have days where it just isn’t happening. We are human, we all trip up, and are easily distracted some days more than others. That’s OK, forgive yourself, move on, and try to have a more productive day tomorrow.
When we practice focused attention and not giving into distraction, we are exercising the prefrontal cortex, making it easier to focus in the days to come.
Jessica is a writer, an online entrepreneur, and a recovering perfectionist. She lives in Los Angeles with her extrovert daughter, two dogs, and two cats.