Productivity is not a clearly defined concept. Sure, from a pure time and output equation, we can probably calculate it easily, but the output part is the hardest thing to quantify.
When we think of productivity, we usually think of blasting through that focussed work, with no distractions and high amounts of energy. But productivity can mean different things to different people. If you’re a creative artist, then productivity will be different for you than it will be for, say, an accountant.
Productivity – Type, Task and Timing
So, here are the different types of tasks that probably find their way into your day. You may see them all in one day, or they might show up sporadically. But if you are aware of them, then you can plan your day accordingly to get more out of the time you invest at your desk. I will hone in on one type of project (in this case, writing an article) to give examples of the different types of tasks, but also to show that one broad activity can have each type of productivity embedded inside.
Type: Brainstorming/Creative Productivity
Task: Brainstorming ideas for an article, and writing a stream of consciousness.
This is where you need big ideas. It involves broad thinking and trying to think ‘outside the box’ as best as possible. It is sometimes about challenging your current logic to come up with a new theme, and also linking vague things together, like examples that explain your idea in the right way.
Other tasks might be strategic planning, writing marketing copy, or anything else where your ‘status quo’ thinking will get in the way
Timing: Believe it or not, this type of thinking is best done when you are a bit fatigued. Your creative brain is often regulated by your ‘logic’ brain, and when you are fatigued, that ‘logic’ brain doesn’t work as well. Brainstorming is akin to daydreaming, and most people’s minds start to wander late in the day as they get tired….. this might be the best time to brainstorm.
Type: Focussed Problem-Solving Productivity
Task: Editing the original stream of consciousness.
These tasks require some problem solving, but with some more rigid rules. Maybe in this case, you are trying to bring down the word count, so you just need to cut it down succinctly. In my case, I would have printed a hard copy of the original draft and now write comments and changes in pen.
Other types of tasks might include going through spreadsheets to check for errors or better ways of doing things or writing up a roster at work. All these things have some guidelines and need your attention as you can’t do them on auto pilot.
Timing: This is the highest energy activity you can get, because is requires focussed attention and it requires your ‘thinking brain’ to be active. Both of these require huge amounts of energy. So whichever time of the day you have most energy – this is where you need to make this happen. You also want to shut out distractions – paying attention to other things not only interrupts your focus but also requires extra energy you don’t have. Music may or may not help you in this circumstance.
Type: Focussed Auto Pilot Productivity
Task: These are those tasks where you just need to motor through and shut out distractions. They may not be difficult or require much (if any) thinking, but without focus, you find that they take a lot longer to finish. To keep the analogy going, now that the article has a vast array of comments and red pen, it just needs to be re-typed with the changes. No extra thinking – just get it done.
Other tasks might be data entry or report writing where you end up copying and pasting a bunch of things.
Timing: This can be anywhere in your day, really. But it requires a fair amount of energy to stay focussed and not get distracted by trivial things. So you might place this in the second most energetic part of your day. Shutting out distractions will most certainly help you get it done quicker, but at the same time, it probably won’t increase your errors, and it will be easy to get back on track after the distraction. Listening to music is not a problem.
So there you have it. You may not have stopped to think about what productivity actually means, but by understanding what sort of tasks are most productive at which times of days, you can get more quality work done in less time – which is our goal for everyone.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. His insights into performance science and its application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.