Productivity is like the holy grail, the code to the meaning of life that we are all still trying to crack. It might be the one thing that companies and employees are trying to get right at the same time and in the same way.
Have you seen those articles that claim to share the secrets of the world’s most productive CEO’s? They’re the ones that aren’t designed to make you feel bad yet still do because, in each new article, the profiled CEO seems to get up 30 minutes earlier than the CEO in the last article. Eventually, you would swear that to be a CEO you just can’t sleep anymore. These articles explain that if you just woke up an hour or two earlier you too could be productive enough to be running a multi-billion dollar company!
I used to eat those up — and if we’re being honest here, I still do — but mimicking other people’s productivity hacks isn’t really working for me. It doesn’t matter if I get the brand new productivity journal or if I manage to get up at 4:45 a.m. instead of 6:45 a.m. to add that time to my day, if I still can’t use that time or those tools effectively. There are common tools that everyone can learn, but the real secret to productivity is figuring out what you need and what’s going to work best for you. These are some questions that might help you find better productivity practices for yourself.

  1. When have you felt most successful?

It’s not about when during the day you feel most successful (that comes next) but about choosing a specific point in a specific job. What is the win that you felt most proud of and how did you make it happen?
When I really thought about this question I realized that I felt most successful in the job that I hated the most (which I will not name now). Weird how that happens, right? And how I never would have figured it out if I hadn’t taken the time to figure out what makes me work more successfully.
Wanna know what it was? It was the small wins, and it was being able to look back not only on a week, but a day, even an hour and being able to see the progress I’d made. Open-ended projects and tasks make me feel like I’m spinning my wheels and not moving forward which in turn, hurts my productivity because it seems to release my procrastination animal from the cage where I keep it.
So, in what job have you felt most successful? And why?

  1. What time of day do you feel most energized?

The CEO’s that the world writes about all seem to be morning people, but that doesn’t mean us night owls are at a disadvantage. Like I said, it’s just about learning what you need so you can make it work for you. If you are a night owl and you make your own hours, start your day later.
If you don’t have that kind of power over your schedule, schedule the easier things for the time of day when you know you’re not at your best. Take care of your busy work in the morning, so when you are feeling energized and inspired in the afternoon you can tackle some of your more difficult issues or vice versa.

  1. What motivates you?

Is it the pure challenge of the work? Do you thrive on competition? Recognition? Job freedom and flexibility? Teamwork and collaboration?
Figuring out the things that keep you motivated and energized is an important piece of maintaining productivity and avoiding burnout. It’s when our motivators are mismatched and yet we are still slogging through our work that we start to feel disengaged. If you can, talk to your manager about setting up a structure to work in a way that motivates you.
If not, do it yourself! If competition is what really lights your fire, create a little (friendly) competition with your coworkers or compete against yourself. Is it recognition you need? Create an accountability system with a friend and when you both reach your goals, you can help each other feel recognized for your contribution. I think you get the idea.
Productivity isn’t a math problem with a right or wrong answer. It’s a bit of a gray area, and while we can learn from the people who have “made it,” work isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. We’re all different and that means the things that help us thrive and be our best worker bees are going to vary too. Once you do the work to figure out what you need, you can go about asking your manager and company to support it.

Nora Philbin

Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).