An Often Overlooked Principle of Productivity

[4 min read]

My colleagues and I are running a workshop on productivity next week and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we have 110 registrations to date. It’s great to see students genuinely wanting to make the most of the little time they have and I’m grateful to be in a position to help them in this endeavour.

When I was thinking about this workshop, what quickly came to mind were principles like Pareto’s 80-20 rule and the Eisenhower Urgent – Important Matrix as well as a bunch of cloud solutions like Dropbox, Notability and my flavour of the month – Microsoft Teams. But after a few days of research, I realised that often overlooked is the power of our intention. Let’s look at it through the lens of Ariana Huffington (formerly of the Huffington Post, now CEO of Thrive Global) and certainly one of the more productive people on the planet.

Instead of reaching for my phone right when I wake up, I take 10 minutes to set my intention for the day — not just for what I want to get done for the day, but also for what kind of day I want to have. This affects the rest of my day. – Ariana Huffington

This sounds a lot like goal setting where we take time to think and clearly articulate to ourselves (doing so on paper has the highest efficacy) what’s important to us for the day. Taking it a step further, going beyond the intellectual idea of what I want to do by the days end and layering on top the emotional – what I want to feel by days end equips us with a clearer picture to work with. The literature supporting the efficacy of goal setting in increasing motivation, focus and productivity is clear – the more vivid our goal is, the more likely we are to achieve it (Locke & Lathan, 2006). It’s this intention that enables the Pareto Principle and the Eisenhower Matrix to be effective for us. With our goal or intention clear, we know how to distinguish between what’s simply urgent and what’s truly important. That’s probably why Ariana Huffington takes a full 10 minutes for this. And she’s not the only one.

Anthony Bourdain in his autobiography, Kitchen Confidential talks about Mise-en-place as “the religion of all good line cooks.” The “mise” represents a state of mind of being absolutely clear of what the end result should be and the steps and tools needed to get there, before any slicing and dicing can begin. Ron Friedman in a Harvard Business Review article contrasts this with how most of us start our days when we reach our work desk. Instead of starting by envisioning our proverbial dish, the tools we need and our work flow to achieve it, many of us hit the office and jump straight into checking and replying. That, he says is akin to Bourdain and other chefs alike turning up to the kitchen looking for a random pot to scrub.

Instead, when we awake for the day, or when we finally take our seat at our desk, coffee on our left, notepad in front of us, let’s complete this sentence: Come days end, I’m leaving the office with a great sense of accomplishment for [INSERT YOUR INTENTION HERE]…

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