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Read Time: 3 Minutes 04.15.2016 Leadership

What I Never Learned in School — Or At Work Either [Book Review]

Open work environments, online distractions, text messages, “notifications” — the threat of potential distractions in the workplace is huge and I have never been more aware of it and motivated to do something about it. The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey has changed how I approach work.

In the past, I have been very averse to hype surrounding productivity methods. It’s just carried a negative connotation, like I’m a machine who’s responsible for pumping out “X” amount of widgets every day and if I tweak a few things, I can make more widgets.

But lately I’ve been curious to understand more about how I work, and how others around me work.

What are the best times for me to dive into hard stuff, or what the book calls “high value” tasks? Why do I hit a wall at 3:00? Why do some days I get really frustrated with interruptions, while others I welcome them? Am I wasting time, or being productive — what’s the measure in today’s knowledge economy? All of these, and more, are answered in Chris Bailey’s book.

The more I read, the more interesting (for lack of a better word) I find it that we’re not really taught how to work well — at least, I wasn’t.

It’s kind of like budgeting. Several years ago, my wife and I decided to create a budget for ourselves after a few too many instances of having “too much month at the end of the money.” We realized that, even though managing money is one of life’s most essential skills, neither of us had been taught how to do it. There was no class on it in school.

The same seems to be true with work. We get a job, go through an onboarding of processes and procedures, mission statements, values, etc. We’re assigned a workstation and computer. We slowly but surely fall into whatever cultural norms and flows are part of that organization. We start “working” right away, learning as we go. OJT, the military calls it. On-the-Job Training.

The Productivity Project has totally revolutionized the way I see and approach work. Seriously. I’m finally learning how to work, which is another thing no one taught me in school. Or in business.

Spoiler alert: It’s not about getting more done every day. It’s about doing the things you want to get done, done well. Here are some of my key takeaways:

1. Figure Out Your Most Productive Times.

Ever wonder why tasks that seem totally do-able in the morning suddenly feel impossible after lunch? According to the book, we all have internal rhythms that influence our concentration and creativity. For me, my most productive times are from 7 a.m. to around 2 p.m. At about 3 p.m., my cognitive abilities are tapped out — but then I will get a second wind after dinner and be productive for the rest of the evening. It’s important to know what works for you and schedule your day around that. Which leads me to my next point…

2. Prioritize High-Value Tasks.

I do my best thinking in the before lunch and after dinner. That means that when there is a project that requires my full attention and brainstorming juices, it’s essential that I block off time to work on it during one of my most productive times of day. It can be easy to let those time slots get eaten up by answering emails, small interruptions or internal meetings, but if you are intentional about reserving that time for high-value tasks, your productivity will skyrocket.

3. Don’t Waste Prime Time on Low-Value Tasks.

But what about the stretch of time in the afternoon when my brain just doesn’t seem to be functioning at full capacity? Turns out, that time can be used for items on your to-do list that are equally necessary yet not as demanding. These are the activities that you need to do but that don’t require as much brain power as things like creative problem-solving or strategy. For me, that looks like answering emails, attending meetings, or scheduling campaigns.

4. Make Space for Deep Work.

I’ve discovered I need more time for uninterrupted “deep work”. I need to park my phone, and turn off notifications for longer stretches. Email and the internet are not my friends when it comes to being productive. I’m much more aware of my focus and energy, not just time (all three are components of being productive, by the way). Now, at the end of the day, I feel energized — rather than zapped — with a greater sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Rarely do I find a book that has such a profound universal application, so I felt compelled to share. We usually talk about the specifics of B2B technology marketing strategy on this blog but, in my experience, figuring out how you work best is equally essential to seeing success in this industry. I still have a lot of work to do when it comes to optimizing my own productivity, but at least now I have a framework for how to do that. Now, learning how to be more productive is empowering, not demoralizing.

So get the book and start being more productive! I would welcome your thoughts about it. Shoot me a message and let me know what you thought.

Chase Ezell

Chase Ezell

VP of Marketing Strategy With experience on both the client and agency side, Chase's strategic insight is invaluable. Chase works both with our clients to develop winning marketing strategies, as well as Golden Spiral’s marketing and content initiatives.