“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.” – Muhammad Ali

Cup of tea? Quick email? Just pop the washing on. Ooohhhh look, there’s a sale on! If you’re letting sneaky little time thieves steal your productivity, you’re not alone. Scientists and academics have spent decades studying human behaviour in an attempt to unlock the secret to being more productive, but unless you have a few years free to trawl through the studies for tips, let me save you some time. There are just three things you need to do to unleash the full power of your productivity…

First, let’s get a handle on the actual issue here. Surely spending a little time on pleasant distractions can’t be that bad, right?! Is productivity really such a problem?

To be clear, we’re talking about distractions, not breaks – breaks are brilliant, they actually boost your productivity. In fact, according to the time-tracking app, Desktime, the most productive people work for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17 minutes. So by all means stretch it out, meditate, take a power nap, grab a coffee, do a little yoga… whatever helps you recharge.

But distractions are a different kettle of fish. Whether it’s break room chat, online shopping, party planning or doomscrolling socials, distractions cost time and money.

According to Clockify research, the average employee experiences as many as 56 disruptions per day. When you take into account that it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus after an unrelated interruption, it’s little wonder that the average office worker is only productive for two hours and 23 minutes each day. Assuming an eight-hour workday, that’s 5 hours and 37 minutes of each day spent doing… well, something else. And with such a close correlation between productivity and profit, that’s quite an eye-opening stat… especially if you’re an employer!

Now that we’ve done the math, you can see that productivity (or a lack of it) really is a challenging issue. So how do we fix it?

How to Boost Your Productivity

According to research, 86% of employees say they’re most productive when they work alone from home… while 71% say listening to music makes them more productive… and 53% say they’re less productive when their work environment is too cold. There are literally thousands of different variables that can impact workplace productivity.

A lack of engagement and motivation is the big one – according to Gallup’s State of the Local Workplace, 85% of employees are aren’t engaged at work, resulting in $7 trillion in lost productivity. Engaged employees show up to work more and do more work, with highly engaged businesses seeing an 81% difference in absenteeism, a 14% difference in productivity and a 23% difference in profitability.

From Maslow’s Needs theory and The Pomodoro technique to The Hawthorne Effect, 90-minute work increments, following the 80/20 rule and silencing all notifications, there and literally thousands of approaches, philosophies, tactics and hacks aimed at solving the productivity predicament. But overcoming problematic productivity isn’t rocket science – it simply boils down to these three things:

1. Creating the right habits

Habits account for about 40% of our behaviours on any given day. That’s a big chunk dedicated to something we may not be aware we’re doing, even though it pretty much dictates our life. According to James Clear, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, “What you repeatedly do ultimately forms the person you are, the things you believe, and the personality that you portray.”

It’s time to master the art of showing up for yourself by creating new, more productive habits – and, according to James’ ‘Two-Minute Rule’, it should take less than two minutes to do. Commit to two minutes on task without distractions. Take two minutes to make a list of actionable items for the day. Start your day with two minutes ‘eating the frog’, working on your hardest task first. Spend two minutes stretching at your desk.

By committing to just two minutes of a new habit, consistently, you’re taking the smallest action that confirms the type of person you want to be. Incrementally you’ll build the behaviour change you’re after as a new habit forms… and – you guessed it – you’ll end up sticking at it for a lot longer than two minutes. As personal development guru Jim Rohn said, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

Showing up for yourself also means getting into the habit of setting boundaries that allow you to be more productive. Don’t let time bandits suck your precious focus – unapologetically screen your calls; speak to your team about blocking out time where you’re not to be disturbed; manage expectations by adding a response time to your emails so you’re not tempted to multitask – try “I check my email twice a day. Once at 10:00 a.m. and once at 3:00 p.m. Email received after those times will be read the following day.”

Effective boundaries are a challenge to set, but defining them, communicating them and staying true to them is essential for your productivity.

Saying ‘yes’ to time for you undoubtedly means saying ‘no’ to someone else. As billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” So get comfortable with having brave conversations – as difficult as they can be, sometimes they’re the only way to keep your boundaries intact, and your productivity at full power.

When you set boundaries and learn to have brave conversations with other people when their behaviour impacts you, showing up for yourself becomes much easier.

2. Connecting with your intrinsic motivation

Money doesn’t motivate everyone. Neither does power. Nor a fancy title. Your biggest motivator will be completely different to someone else’s, and if you can tap into that intrinsic motivation, you’ve got yourself the greatest productivity driver of all.

Someone who uses their downtime to work on their passion project, or spends hours perfecting their guitar riff, or takes a poorly paying job because they know they can make a difference. Those people are intrinsically motivated. It’s about being driven by what you really value in life, what’s really important to you. When you intentionally connect with the person you want to be and the way you want to live your life, your motivation becomes intrinsic. As Aristotle once wisely said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

Bestselling author Dan Pink talks in detail about intrinsic motivation in his book Drive and in his TED Talk on motivation (there’s a good reason it’s had over 28 million views!). Dan believes that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the deeply human need to direct our own lives (autonomy), to learn and create new things (mastery), and to do better by ourselves and our world (purpose). Science has proven that tapping into these motivators produces much greater results than any other incentive – this great little video illustrates the concept, and is well worth a watch if you have 10 minutes spare.

So what’s your intrinsic motivation? As a leader, what really motivates your team members? Find that out, and you’ll also have found the solution to your productivity problems.

3. Learning how to be disciplined

Being more disciplined with your time is one of the keys to being more productive. As the great Benjamin Franklin said, “Lost time is never found again” – so get good at managing it!

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (one of the most transformational books you’ll read), believes that to effectively manage your time, “the key is to not prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” His Urgent v’s Important matrix is an excellent exercise to help you see which priorities you should be scheduling into your day, while his ‘Big Rocks’ paradigm shift is a brilliant way to help you see how you can achieve the big things on your to-do lists while also managing the little things.

One of the biggest productivity killers is multitasking. It just doesn’t work. I am guilty of this in the mornings when getting my son ready for school and myself ready for work, trying to unpack the dishwasher, drink my coffee, feed the dog, make my breakfast, make his breakfast, pack his bag, tidy the house, get us dressed… this relentless stop and start of all the tasks is replicated in the workplace, and it’s insanely inefficient. Your brain is simply not wired to multitask – as Susan Cain explains, “what looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent.” Learn how to focus!

Technology is another factor that can make or break your productivity. While digital tools like email, collaboration software and even social media have become essentials for some businesses, they’re also a temptation too far for many. One survey found that 56% of employees can’t make it through the day without checking their social media, while most people check their phones 58 times a day – 30 of those during working hours. Add in the digital distraction of emails and instant messages, and you have an average knowledge worker checking in with communication tools every six minutes. Not much time left for focused work!

The upshot? Every workplace is filled with distractions. But being purposeful and aware about what you’re doing will help you make better choices and be more disciplined about steering clear of them. And as leadership guru John C. Maxwell said, “small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

Of course there are plenty of tips and hacks that will help you work more productively too. Scheduling focused work for when your energy is at its peak, taking effective breaks, chunking your time, batching easy work for efficiency, silencing notifications, using noise-cancelling headphones… the list goes on. The trick is finding out what works for you and being ultra-disciplined about doing it.

Habits + Motivation + Discipline = Productivity

Those pesky little time thieves don’t stand a chance if you create the right habits, learn how to tap into your intrinsic motivation and stay disciplined about managing your time. Do that, and not only will you unleash all that brilliant productivity potential, you’ll be happier and more satisfied to boot.

In the end, being productive isn’t about working longer hours, it’s about making those hours really count. As our friend Jim Rohn says, “You don’t get paid for the hour, you get paid for the value you bring to the hour” – and with your new, super productive workday, your hours just got a whole lot more valuable.

If you’d like to unearth your intrinsic motivations and create habits that will give your productivity a boost, let’s have a conversation about how I can help. Simply get in touch and we’ll organise a time to chat.

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I’m an experienced career coach and mentor here to help you improve your mindset, motivation and momentum. I believe everyone has the power to change their lives. It starts with taking responsibility.