One of the recurring issues many people seem to have during these times of pandemic, is a sense of low productivity. Beyond the most obvious concerns related to these times I found many clients and people I know have been struggling significantly with not feeling productive enough.
I also have found being productive more challenging and have oscillated between periods of very high and very low productivity. It puzzled me to know why that might be the case for me and many others and what are the variables for productivity. What follows is a combination of ideas I found from experts on the subject along with my own thoughts and current understanding.
Productivity can be defined as the ability to engage with whatever activity we intent to develop or complete. Also as the action of producing a result that is significant for us.
Productivity has traditionally been linked with job performance. While productivity at the workplace is certainly very important I prefer to look at productivity as encompassing any area in our lives: wether we act and follow through to an acceptable standard on any endeavour we chose to.
If we see productivity as not only related to work but related to any parts of our lives, as the active choice of acting on what matters to us, then we can practice productivity as frequently as we want to making it more likely we will be able to be productive at work as well.
We can understand a lot about productivity when we look at what happens when we are being productive:
-Normally what occurs is that we have strong clarity or vision about what we are going to do.
-There is a high motivation to do the task as the outcome we imagine is compelling enough.
-And there are no disruptors or barriers to our engagement with the task.
We can say productivity happens naturally when these 3 elements are in place: clarity of intent, motivation and lack of barriers. Realising why something works sometimes, can allow us to understand why it doesn’t work sometimes.
I have found that the expert’s strategies to create better productivity, which can be very effective, are there to compensate for the lack of one or more of the previous 3 conditions for productivity. Let’s look at those 3 pillars of productivity closer.
-Clarity is having well defined idea of what is it that we intent to do and about how to do it. The opposite is confusion or vagueness of intent. We establish what we want to action and what are the steps to do it, wether our skills/knowledge/resources are enough or wether we need support from others or from resources to complete task. Interestingly this clarity seems to be present very obviously at the workplace (what is expected from us to do and hopefully how), but sometimes not so consciously when applied to our personal lifes.
-Motivation is about why we should follow up on our intent, what are the perceived consequences of engaging and completing the task. Usually actions here we perceive highly positive rewards/wellbeing or highly negative punishment/feelings are the ones that will activate efficient engagement better.
-The barriers to productivity are potentially of many types, lets divide them in two main types: internal and external.
External barriers involve any input that disrupt our action: sounds, light, temperature, visual stimuli, and demands from others or occurrences that require us to divide our attention. They are the easiest to address and fix as they are easier to identify.
Internal barriers are more challenging unless properly identified and addressed. These are some of the most common:
Intense emotional states: high anxiety, low/high mood, boredom, confusion...
Addiction to distraction: the ability to focus in one task has a lot to do with our ability to shut down distractions, its a growing phenomena that people are getting more dependent nowadays on temporary stimulant distractions (internet, phone…)
Physical discomfort: our internal felt sense, will foster or hinder our productivity.
In any area that we want to be more productive we can look at how clear we are about our intention, why should we follow through or not follow through on it (motivation) and what is preventing us from engaging satisfactorily with it. We can work around/through most barriers as long as we can clearly identify them.
Psychologically what seems to influence more productivity is motivation, emotional state and how well we manage distractions. As these factors are likely to fluctuate in all of us from day to day and from minute to minute. Experts recommend to develop a routine that facilities productivity.
The more we have a productivity routine as a habit the better we can deal with the changes in motivation. emotions and distractions.However if we find that one or several of those is consistently disrupting us we should look at it as psychological issue that deserves an exploration that this blogpost cannot reach.
The productivity routines that experts recommend vary but what they have in common is that they aim to cement in us sustained focus. Many authors talk about prioritising well (recommended to Google Eisenhower Box, for more on this), after having written a to do list that ideally involves our days, weeks and months oriented towards a goal in mind. They also agree on identifying well the resources we need to complete task (being other people, information or items). Last but not least this routine needs to have clear time limits that allow us to produce yet allow proportioned recovery time.
Special mention to one frequent internal barrier not mentioned before: perfectionism. The idea that what we are going to do has to be flawless, is most of the time unrealistic and hinders greatly productivity. It creates emotional blocks and distress as its unsustainable. Perfection if it exists is subjective. A much healthier and constructive aim is to achieve high standards, which normally comes from perseverance, experience from successes/ mistakes, and enjoyment from the task at hand.
In whatever area that we successfully develop consistent productivity we will find abilities “unlocking”richer performance characteristics that allow for more advanced outcomes: some of them are creativity, innovation, flow, excellence and peak experiences.
Going back to the issue of low productivity, in the light of what allows for good productivity I find that cause most relevant to these current time is internal: low motivation towards the task, unsettled emotional state (unrelated to task) or addiction to distraction. if we identify any of those or other as impairing our efficiency we will take a firm next step towards improving our productivity: identifying the real barrier as opposed as the more vague “im just not productive enough”. The strategies proposed by experts will be really effective once we have addressed those others issues but will not fix them just by employing more rigour or discipline. Please share any thoughts you might have about this topic or get in touch if you’d like to book a counselling session.