Building a Business: Are you Being Productive or Just Getting Things Done?

Although Texas is technically open, the world is still far from “normal” and the consequences of the pandemic have already begun to sink in. Personally, beyond my typical brunches and happy hours, my previous grand gesture of a full Saturday Starbucks work session is completely obsolete. Four months ago if I needed to write out a few essays about a new book that i’d read or finish a project, I would take an entire Saturday 8am to 4pm and spend it in a coffee shop submersing myself in the material until I felt confident that I’d produced enough. By produced “enough” I mean that my personal threshold of productivity was sufficed and I considered the day productive.

Post-pandemic, emulating this style of work has been nearly impossible. After reading the book “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, I was convinced of an argument that i’d previously considered somewhat intuitive. Deep work, a term coined by Newport, is “professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” In other words its the act of concentrating on difficult subjects for prolonged periods of time. In my case, my deep work time had been something specifically accomplished outside of the home, and now with the inability to do so, I’ve been feeling less than productive. I was technically getting stuff done, but going to bed with that nagging “I should have done more” feeling. Implementing three strategies has helped me figure out a plan to “go deep” and be productive in a post COVID- 19 world.

  1. Create the Perfect Ecosystem for deep work

Placemaking has been one of my favorite things to do during the time I’ve had at home. In order to emulate my favorite work environment, a semi-busy Starbucks, I figured out a great coffee recipe and found coffee shop ambiance sounds on Youtube (Yes, that is a thing!). As the owner of Gold Soul Candle Co, I also made a coffee scented candle to help trigger my memories of some of my most productive days. The concept is that you don’t necessarily need to be in your most efficient work environment, you simply need your subconscious mind to believe that you are in your most efficient work environment.

2. Read one book very slowly

I love to read. A consequence of spending my high school years as a policy debater and going to graduate school has been my ability to read very fast. In fact, between my deep work time I would clear my head with a book and finish in two days. Mentally this made me a bit anxious because I would look at how far i’d gotten with my projects in comparison to how many books I’d read. That’s when I realized just how much our concept of time is biased by our own experiences. I decided to pick one book that I was really interested in and force myself to ration my time with it. No bingeing. This helped me to keep pace with my projects and dodge the mental anxiety I had concerning time.

3. Learn something new every day

The ultimate key to being productive vs getting things done is understanding the value of learning. The lack of productivity feelings results from getting things done that are late, unnecessary, or inefficient. Avoiding doing things late is easily solved with a good calendar system, however, it takes time and research to truly understand what systems are unnecessary or inefficient in your business. The solution is to research as much as you can about the areas that you struggle with productivity the most. Oftentimes, there are plenty of proven strategies and techniques you can use to improve the efficiency of your operations and remove unnecessary work.

The difficulty of feeling productive in a post-Covid 19 world, can be offset by implementing these strategies that are targeted at retraining your mind and how you view work. I believe that the key to success is attaining the perfect blend of focus, time, and effort. The first strategy aims to trigger your focus based on the link between your environment and your subconscious mind. The second strategy gives you control over how you mentally perceive time. The third strategy allows you to create that “productive feeling” by removing wasteful and time-consuming steps in your processes. Most importantly, allowing yourself the mental freedom to constantly change how you view work will allow you to consistently innovate and be productive rather than simply getting things done.

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