Staying focused and being productive can feel like alchemy. We have productive and unproductive days, but it often feels like there is no rhyme or reason to when we are switched on and when we are just bleh. However, there are ways to increase your strike rate and have more productive days.
Early in the startup/entrepreneurship cycle, you can rely a lot on the fear of failure to keep the productivity engine running and good old burning the candle at both ends. Unfortunately, using this method results is burn-out and that's not a long-term recipe for success. For me, this method lasted about 2 years before my eye twitches, lack of sleep and anemic social life started to manifest into general malaise.
Enter the Productivity Trifecta
Although I still rely heavily on caffeine, I have sought out ways to reduce my cortisol levels while increasing my focus and productivity. I have been working on this stuff for a while, but like any good book will do, The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, crystallized some of my thoughts and provided some valuable takeaways. His discussion on the 3 components of productivity struck a chord with me.
A lot has been written about time: "time is our most limited resource", "no time like the present", "how did it get so late, so soon?" No arguments here, but time management is overrated. Yes, time should not be wasted and yes, time should be valued, but time management does not equal focus or productivity. Unfortunately, many productivity articles equate time management with being productive and it's not the case.
The most important thing about time is that we all operate at our highest at different times of the day. Figure out what times of the day you are at your best and protect that time. For me, this is in the morning about 9am -11am and from 8pm -10pm. I can be productive at other times of the day but these windows are gold for me.
I have met morning people and I have met night owls, but I have never met a mid-afternoon person. I heard that somewhere and it's great because it's so true. Our energy seems to plummet in the afternoon, but have you ever stopped to consider why?
For me it's usually some combination of the following: too much coffee in the morning, that donut I ate at 10am, staying up late watching Game of Thrones and drinking craft beer the night before or the crispy chicken burrito I ate for lunch. I can usually survive the morning doing something productive, but post lunch I might as well have a siesta (a highly recommended activity).
Now this is not groundbreaking, but your energy is a critical component of how well you focus and accomplish your goals. With a high level of energy you can see the world more clearly and attack your problems more creatively. . Managing your energy requires a combination of:
- Sleep - #1 for a reason. Sleep is by far the most important part of managing energy. Sleep well and the other 2 areas below become a breeze.
- Sometimes this can be no food, but eating well is critical to maintaining energy. There are a few books written on the subject, so I am tol
- H2O - Costs nothing, gives energy.
- Exercise - If you are not moving your body in some way, odds-on that you are borrowing energy from somewhere else. The piper will require payment.
If you don't manage the above well and are still operating at a high level, chances are you are relying on:
- Caffeine - works great, but use it wisely. At best, you are robbing energy from later in the day. At worst, you are disrupting your sleep and creating a caffeine downward spiral where you are making up for lost sleep and using caffeine just to function.
- Adrenaline - I am not a scientist and not sure if I am using the correct terms here, but my experience was this: I worked 70 hour weeks starting Avalon dependent on something coursing through my veins and it resulted in me not sleeping, not exercising and generally feeling terrible. Whatever that substance, it had some serious negative effects.
- Self-deception - if you are not sleeping, eating well or exercising and you feel like you are productive, there's a solid chance you're kidding yourself.
Read Pt. 2 in the Focus Series for more information on managing your attention. Essentially, you need to protect your attention from the distracting shiny objects that are all around you. You can do this by understanding how your brain works, setting a motivating vision and building a system for yourself to know what you need to do to achieve that vision. After all, if you spend all your energy on doing a lot of the wrong things, is that really productive?
Your Productivity Trifecta = Time x Energy x Attention
If you are looking to increase your productivity so you can do exceptional work, build something lasting and still enjoy the other aspects of your life, remember this equation. It’s a powerful combination.
Figure out your personal productivity trifecta and your ability to focus on success will soar. We are not always going to manage all three areas perfectly, but that isn’t the point. Knowing how you operate at your best, checking in with yourself from time-to-time and throwing in a crutch on occasion (see coffee and lots of it) is as close to productivity perfection as anyone can expect to achieve.