Productivity isn’t about the work

More time traveling to work than being productive, sometimes 😉

I’ve spent a lot of time working and travelling recently. Inevitably there was time here and time there when I could have been working. For example, there were those times (hours!) after I’d passed through the security checks at airports and I was waiting for my flight’s Gate to be announced. That’s over an hour, nearly two, each flight.

I could have worked, but I didn’t.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have work to do, I did. Lots of it.

But, it turns out, the limit to my productivity wasn’t (and isn’t) my ability to do the work, or my productivity tools, or my gadgets or whatever… it was, frankly, my mental energy. I sometimes call that emotional energy, too, but whatever you call it, it’s the key to my productivity.

For example, Sunday involved flying to Ireland, hiring a car and driving across the country (including going the very wrong way) and finding my hotel before finding a restaurant and getting ready to deliver the training I was scheduled for the next day, about 15 Km from the hotel.

Don’t feel too sorry for me, this was one of the walks to work

To be honest, it was (physically) a bit tiring but nothing a fit man shouldn’t have been able to take in his stride – and physically I did. But because all of this was new to me I felt emotionally considerably more drained. When I sat down to do some work, it was all I could do to cover the basics (I did so, of course, I’m a pro! 😃 ) but I’d got nothing left in my ‘emotional tank’ to write or record anything other than a brief text to my wife to let her know I was okay.

In short, it wasn’t so much about the physical energy as the emotional…

How to boost our emotional energy to be more productive?

Don’t decide

There’s a lot of stuff online about us only having 30,000 decisions in us per day but I’ve not been able to track down where that statistic comes from, but assuming the idea is valid it might explain why I was so burned out by the evening. The actual number of  30k might be wrong but the general idea feels intuitively right. Everything about that day was ‘new’ and potentially challenging. And to be fair, there’s not only an intrinsic appeal to that idea but a lot of anecdotal evidence from people with who were famous for their productivity.

Steve Jobs, for example, is famous for always having worn the same things, so that he saved himself a few decisions each day. I’ve read stuff to the effect that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook does the same. I can’t speak to how true those things are, of course, but there’s no doubt they’re famous for their productivity.  From my personal perspective I can honestly say that I’m more productive if I’m not fighting with a bunch of new stuff at the same time… there’s a reason I often stay at a Travelodge when I work in the UK – they’re all the same!

So how about this for a productivity tool? Try and reduce the number of decisions you have to make. That might mean you think about avoiding too many new experiences when the stakes are high. I’m not talking about never going anywhere new on holiday, of course: I’m more thinking about the times when you’ve got a lot on, such as a deadline, and you need to be ultra-productive. Familiarity really does have something going for it under those circumstances!

Here’s an idea I tested recently on a two week tour, training a couple of hundred research scientists in nine different venues, and staying in six different places. I created a pretty detailed checklist before I set off, so that by default all I had to do was follow the instructions I’d written for myself: I’d made decisions in advance. I could, of course, do something different if I wanted to, but the simple expedient of having things set out for me made life a lot less stressful and I was much more productive.

That single tip proved to be very helpful for me, because we have a company policy of only delivering training three days in any one week, as it’s too knackering: by day four I’d be only going through the motions and be no better than any other trainer.This trip couldn’t be done that like because of the logistics – but having this list where almost all my choices were pre-made considerably boosted my productivity.

If you’re interested, the way I had that information assembled was using Evernote. That way, I could write everything in the comfort and warmth of my own office but have it easily and conveniently available to me on my iPhone and laptop all the time I was travelling. I also took the time to assemble all the information I needed into one document to save stress on the road. For example, I copied information from emails confirming addresses and so on into the Evernote note. I even included things like booking references, so that when I walked up to the Avis counter at the airport, I was as efficient as they were.

To be honest, I was so impressed by much this simple trick kept my head in the game I slightly embarrassed not to have used it more, before.

Restore in the plan

It’s all too easy to plan the journey and to plan the work – but to fail to plan the other stuff. We can more easily remember the Act and perhaps even the Inform than we can the Restore.  The solution is pretty obvious! Before you finish your planning, put time in to Restore and recharge your batteries.

And don’t just plan the work then slip in the relaxing stuff around it! Plan your Restore time with the same integrity and seriousness as everything else you plan. Yes, I know, it’s pretty OCD-sounding, but try running with it!

What about your Restore

What do you think?  Are you with me that it’s not so much (or even just) about the doing and the gadgets and the go-times… it’s more about the times when you’ve not got your mental energy up and running so that you can’t use the gadgets and so on… and if so, what do you do to recharge?

I’m serious about this – I want to steal your ideas! 🙂

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