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How To Fight The Productivity Killer

Before sitting down to write this email, I followed an exact routine as I do every workday:

I wake, shower, then dress in a business suit. I leave my apartment, and take the lift down to the ground floor.

But I don’t get off like everyone else. I stay in the lift and continue down to the basement floor.

I get off and walk to a storage room that I have the only key for.

Once inside, I strip down to my boxer shorts, I sit down and I write….

Then, once I’ve Finished writing, I’ll put my suit back on and head back upstairs. I’ll enjoy a nice lunch and then have a leisurely afternoon.

Okay… perhaps that’s not exactly the truth…. 

…I don’t even live in an apartment block.

But in all seriousness,the ritual I just described was actually the daily writing routine for novelist John Cheever during the late 1940s.

As it turns out, many highly productive and successful people have structure and routine as indispensable tools of their craft.


I have a somewhat different take on this…

I don’t have any strange rituals of my own to tell you about. 

I certainly don’t write in my pants.

But here’s one thing I DO try and do every single day…. I define what I DON’T do.

Here’s why…

How much of your working day do you spend productively? 

I’m not talking about physically sitting at your desk – I’m talking in flow, laser-focussed, fully engaged in the task at hand? 

80%? 60% on a bad day? 

Even less?

Now let’s turn that on its head – how much of that time, which you’ve earmarked for work, do you spend distracted?

According to a Harvard study, the average person spends a frightening 47% of their working day disengaged or ‘mind wandering’. 

That’s 18 hours a week!

In fact, that’s 969 hours per annum, so by the end of the year you’ve spent well over an entire month achieving absolutely ZERO!

And it’s easy to see why…

You receive an email and pick it up immediately – by the time you’ve responded, deleted some incoming spam and attended to some ‘interesting’ click-bait…

That’s 20 minutes worth of distraction time.

And that’s before adding in your smartphone and social media which lights up your brain’s pleasure centre like a Christmas tree, adding a dopamine-surging addictive quality to being distracted!

The problem is we are wired this way as a survival mechanism. 

Our ancestors needed to avoid becoming too task-focussed in case they missed that sabre-toothed tiger sneaking up behind them. 

Unfortunately this evolutionary characteristic now enables an entire planet of technological ‘predators’ to grab your attention with gamified content and flashing lights.

And it’s not just faceless ‘tech’ – we are living on a planet full of people putting their entire lives out there, clamouring for your attention and creating new, time-sapping social ‘norms’…

‘Like and follow me!!!’, ‘Click to read more!!!’

We’re not stupid, we’re just wired this way. 

BUT, if you want to maximise your productivity and avoid dragging out your working days long into overtime, you need to outsmart your inbuilt attention kill-switch.

Takeaway Tactic

Use a ‘To Don’t’ List.

Most of us start the day with good intentions and a list of tasks to maximise productivity. 

This is great, but unfortunately bad habits and distractions tend to derail these intentions. 

You can fight back by creating a list of things you won’t do today.

For example, this is my list:

  • I won’t look at my phone for the first 60 minutes upon waking
  • I won’t look at email or take any meetings or calls (unless critical) for the first 2hrs of my work day
  • I won’t have my phone in my eyeline during the working day (it’s in another room/desk draw)
  • I won’t begin a new task until the current one is complete
  • I won’t finish the day without spending 10 minutes to plan out the tasks for tomorrow

5 simple ‘not to do’ actions that  make a BIG difference to my focus and productivity.

Try it for 7 days.

You probably don’t need more time, you just need to protect the time you do have.

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