Becoming a More Productive Human

Don’t let “trying to do it all” be the reason you get none of it done — or done well.

The world is full of admirable people who are seemingly “doing it all.” Whether it’s a master multitasker boss babe or a powerful CEO juggling several businesses, we are constantly being reminded of people that are achieving more than we are - and it makes us stop and question if we will ever reach that level of accomplishment. 

The reality behind these individuals is likely not what it seems. Nobody is capable of actually doing it all and doing it well.

Even the most successful people require assistance and planning, and know when to say “no.” Prioritizing is crucial for everyone — even serial entrepreneurs, working moms, and other superheroes. 

Although work ethic, discipline, and purpose are key aspects to leveling up your productivity, here are some additional best practices you can implement to grow in this area:

  1. Achieve deep work by avoiding contact shifting

When our to-do list is overloaded, it is not our natural instinct to focus on one thing at a time. We want to touch a little bit of everything to feel like it’s all moving forward. This is actually one of the biggest mistakes we can make, as it significantly reduces our ability to focus deeply and do good work. 

When focusing on one task, the worst thing you can do is “contact shift.” This is when anything, even something quick, distracts you from focusing on what you are currently doing. When your brain focuses on one thing and then suddenly something else, shifting back to your original focus is exhausting and unproductive. 

Some of the worst situations you can expose yourself to are:

  • Separate and/or unresolved issues. This could include checking an email, Slack notification, or text message in the midst of deep work. The result of these distractions is shifting your focus, becoming aware of a situation that you may not be able to resolve in that moment, and then having a hard time coming back to focus (and probably being more stressed about whatever was left unresolved).
  • Anything that is emotionally arousing. An example of this would be taking a break to check Twitter, reading something that causes some form of emotional stress, and then attempting to get back to the level of focus you were previously at. 

When we switch from one task to another throughout the day, there is a cognitive pile-up that occurs and kills our human capacity to think, which fatigues our brain. This then makes it even more difficult to focus on one thing at a time. 

An ideal time to maintain deep focus before shifting onto another task is typically 60-90 minutes, to ensure previous tasks are out of your mind and to give yourself enough time to reach and maintain focus.

  1. Utilize time blocking to ensure deep work and focus

As humans, we sometimes overestimate the amount of work we can take on,  and then later don’t know how to handle getting it done. This leads to an endless cycle of feeling like you aren’t accomplishing anything. Sure, you are working constantly and putting in the hours, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your time is useful, which only leads to a larger workload later on. 

Instead of letting your to-do list drive you, be realistic with the time you have available that day, week, or month, and make a plan based on what you know you can get done during those time blocks. Prioritizing, planning, and goal-setting is key for time blocking, to make sure you can block off time to work on what is most important and save the rest for another time. 

Additionally, giving yourself a clear start and finish for accomplishing something provides an imaginary deadline that is naturally motivating.

Of course, sometimes your intended plan can get blown up with urgent matters and emergencies. Accept that this is a reality; it’s important to be able to constantly reevaluate how much time you have remaining in the day and adjust your priorities accordingly. Take control of your day instead of letting it control you!

  1. Avoid dead ends/cold starts

While deep work often results in completion of tasks, it’s not uncommon for us to get stuck on what to do next towards the end of our time on that task. Because this is inevitable, it is important to avoid dead ends and cold starts. 

Leaving off at a dead end means stopping your task completely when you are stuck (which is easy to do). This only leads to procrastination of the task in the future, because you know it will be a hassle to get unstuck. 

Instead, problem solve: leave off on a task in the middle of some form of tangible progress, so that you know exactly where to start when you come back to the task. This maintains the momentum of your work and reduces the risk that you will want to avoid finishing it.

  1. Do less, do better, know why

When people say you should learn how to say “no,” here’s what they’re talking about: if you are truly living into your priorities and productivity mindset, you should have a good idea of the things you should and shouldn’t be focusing on. 

Yes, there are some things in life that we just have to do. However, we often have more ability to say “no” than we think we’re allowed. Instead of trying to do it all and accomplishing nothing, do less — and do it with more purpose.

  1. Make sure the things you do are connected to value

A common misperception people have is that you need to be passionate about something in order to stay motivated. The reality is, doing things well and finding value in them is more about the discipline you have and less about the actual task at hand. 

The reality is that as you get better at something and develop more skill, the passion grows with it. The more productive you are, the more purpose you will find in whatever you do. 

  1. Quit social media for 30 days

This one may seem ironic, as you likely are reading this blog because of social media. The goal behind quitting social media for 30 days isn’t necessarily just to take a break, but to learn how you can utilize it for the betterment of your life — like, you know, learning how to be more productive. 

Social media has enabled us to never have to be bored again. This is a problem because we have largely lost our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. 

Listening to your boredom gives you a natural push towards connection, hobbies, and overall purpose in life. Instead of relying on social media to keep you entertained, figure out what is important to you or you enjoy doing, and fit technology into that. 

You do not need to quit social media forever, but being more productive requires the ability to know when social media is contributing to what you want in life, and when it is not.

The bottom line

People often expect instant feedback or results, so these practices for productivity do not come naturally. Still, the more these intentional habits become normalized, the more we can all achieve. 

Being more productive is not just good for your work life; it’s a skill that trickles into your overall well-being and happiness, making you feel more fulfilled, satisfied, and accomplished day after day.

These tips are true not only for individuals but also for business entities. Being in a work environment that encourages productivity is much harder to achieve than most think. Incentivizing, threatening, and demanding doesn’t always succeed at getting the job done, but providing your team with the tools and freedom to be productive as individuals is how your business as a whole can win. 

Contact us at Only Co. if you are interested in discussing how you can increase your productivity — both for your individual team members and for the structure and setup of your business.


Lex Fridman Podcast, Episode #166 

Deep Work by Cal Newport

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