The Most Important Productivity Hack Cannot Be Automated

Tired businesswomanThere is a misconception that highly productive people are automatons: regimented, dogged, and ready to work up to and beyond the call of duty no matter what. The truth is that the most productive people know when and how to stop, and how to get reenergized once they do.

Here are a few ways to inject some humanity into your productivity:

Stop before you crash

We’ve all experienced the frustration of an overheating computer with too many applications running, too many tab windows open, and too much memory in use. And we’ve all been aggravated when the system crashes and we have to waste time rebooting.

When we’re preventative about our computers (letting them sleep and cool off), they’re less likely to crash. The same is true for us. By taking time to recharge before we think we need it, we can prevent system collapse, which is way more difficult to recover from.

Don’t wait until you crash and need a full reboot; recovering from that level of fatigue is too time-consuming. Create time to power down, whether it’s mid-day break or a mid-career sabbatical.

Observe an offseason

There’s a reason professional athletes have a long offseason; there’s no way they could compete at an elite level 365 days a year.

We can’t all take a lengthy offseason the way professional football players do (unfortunately), but it’s still possible to carve out our own personal offseasons.

Maybe it’s making sure that your vacation times are set in stone, and that your colleagues and clients know you’re out of reach then. Maybe it’s committing to taking a weekend day off every week, to decompress from the workweek and recharge.

Or maybe it’s a part of your daily life, and something as small as giving yourself an hour before bed each night to read, watch TV, or decompress with your iPhone and laptop put away until the next morning.

Examine your patterns

Your boss or clients may ask you to complete certain tasks in a routine or standardized way; some of that’s probably unavoidable, and there’s definitely a need for routine and structure within a productive life. But while we’re conditioned to believe the best way to be productive is to value routine over anything else, it’s equally important to face our lives and work with flexibility.

Take time to examine your patterns and routines. Ask yourself why you do tackle your day-to-day tasks in a certain way. Being analytical about this process may help you see a new, faster, or more efficient way to get things done. Embrace the routines that work for you. Don’t be afraid to jettison the ones that don’t.

Check your zeal level

We’re all going to have to tackle some grunt work — tasks that we’re less than enthusiastic about — from time to time. But it’s important to make sure those tasks don’t become all consuming, and don’t dictate your mood or the level of excitement with which you face your life.

If you can’t muster a sense of zeal or excitement about where your work is headed, it might be time for a course correction. Stepping away from work — whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a week — can help you target the aspects of your day-to-day work and life that are dragging you down. Simply having the room to breathe may allow you to reframe, refocus, and more forward.

To learn more about how to prioritize the right things, check out my 3-day time management workshop.


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Mike Vardy is a writer, podcaster, speaker, productivityist, and CreativeLive instructor.