There are two feelings that reside on polar opposite ends of the work ethic spectrum, but they yield the same results. Perhaps you’ve experienced one — or both — of these feelings.
The first is extreme laziness that’s underscored by a lack of motivation and general lackluster feeling about life. The other is a feeling of overwhelming busy-ness and accompanying exhaustion and stress.
Although these feelings are drastically different, their result is the same: Decreased productivity.
It’s interesting to me that these completely opposite mindsets and workloads can both lead to a lack of productivity. But by closely examining the word “productivity,” we can understand why and how that’s possible.
Productivity occurs when balance meets progress. When you’re productive, you’ll feel fulfilled, happy and well-adjusted. Productivity leads to higher degrees of success and performance. Laziness and stress don’t.
So how do we break out of these ruts and become highly productive all-stars? I sat down with my good friend and colleague Brendan Burchard, whose experience on this matter is extensive. In fact, he’s coached thousands of high performers and mentored thousands of ordinary people on this exact subject. Let’s delve into what he says are the best ways to increase productivity permanently.
Productivity starts with goals
As does anything worthwhile. Real, measurable, stretching goals will help guide your course of action as you go throughout your daily tasks.
Goals will not only get an unmotivated, lazy person off the couch, but they will also align and organize the task list of someone who is stressed out. Goals are always good.
Productivity and Energy are interconnected
We’re not talking about caffeine-induced energy. No. We’re talking about Energy with a capital “E.” The type of energy that is more than just good sleep, healthy eating and consistent exercising habits (though these are all incredibly important).
True energy comes from positive thinking that’s tied to every action you take and each decision you make. Be positive, and you’ll feel productive.
Maintain focus and kill distractions
Being focused and being intentional are basically the same thing. All the work you do each day must be intentionally done. Don’t be reactive. There’s a reason so many people say not to check your emails right when you wake up: It puts you in a reactionary mindset, rather than a focused, intention-based one.
Break your day up by 45- or 60-minute blocks. Each time you reach the end of the block, give yourself two to five minutes to reset. Clear your mind. Read something. Put your work on hold. Understand that when you get back to your tasks, you’ll be fresh and ready. Maintain your focus by maintaining your intention. Does that make sense? Cool.
Now that we’ve established some of the basics of productivity, let’s talk about something that you might be wondering: How can a strike a healthy work-life balance if my life is all about productivity?
It’s easier than you think.
The absurdity of the work-life balance debate
Too many people think that striking the perfect work-life balance an impossibility. If you’re thinking that, you’re already losing the battle. I can’t tell you the amount of highly successful people that I’ve met who have a perfect work-life balance.
The average American’s life is split into three equal parts: working (30%), family time (30%), and sleeping (30%), with the other 10% filled with miscellaneous things. We all get as much family time as work time. So the problem is not time, it’s intention.
We’re not intentional enough about each portion of our lives. Many times, we become too intense about one area, which causes the other areas to slide and suffer.
Brendan told me something brilliant: It might be useful to divide your life up into 10 areas, then rate your happiness in each. He does this every single Sunday:
4. Intimate relationships (marriage, partner, etc.)
“I have most of the people I coach do this exercise,” he tells me. “They need to actually measure the balance they’re trying to strike.
If one area is off, they intentionally address it the next week, giving more intention to their interactions. Then, when they come back the next week and rate themselves, they find they do much better. They feel more balanced.”
Another important point: You’ll never feel balanced if you’re doing work that you find meaningless and less-than-engaging. So either figure out why the work you’re doing has meaning, or find a more meaningful line of work.
Take a break
Let’s be metaphorical for a second. Think about lifting weights. When you’re lifting at the gym, you give maximum effort for an extended period of time. Then, you rest. Then, you repeat the exercise. Then, you rest, repeat, rest, repeat. Right? The answer to why you rest is obvious: Your muscles need it to perform well on the next set.
Now let’s look at your work life. Do you take intentional rests to ensure that your mind is strong throughout the day, or are you trying to pump out reps all day long without a break? You need to give your brain rest to allow it to function better, longer.
You shouldn’t work for more than 45 minutes to an hour without an intentional break (one that takes your mind off work). I like to read. Brendan likes to do breathing exercises and a little yoga.
I find that my energy levels not only remain at a high level throughout the day, but my quality of work also improves drastically.
Now, let’s talk about the best practices for productivity.
Increase the outputs that matter
We call this the art of Prolific Quality Output (PQO). What outputs are most important in your field? For Mozart and Beethoven, it was writing scores. For NBA players, it’s getting shots up.
For writers, it’s writing (blogs, social media posts, books). Figure out what the most important outputs are in your field and begin to work at them. Part of your job is to figure out what your relevant PQO is.
For me, it’s communication. I need to contact, speak with and broaden my network every day, all the time. For Brendan, it’s writing. Writing all the time. Writing great content. Publishing his works and words.
Chart your five moves
High-performers think more than others before they act. If you only had five major moves to make a goal happen, what would they be? If you understand your PQO, you’ll understand which five moves are the most important. For example, Brendan’s PQO was to write a New York Times bestseller (which is, admittedly, a lofty goal). These were his five moves:
1. Finish writing a good book. Until the book is finished, nothing else really matters.
2. Get an agent.
3. Start blogging and posting to social media
4. Create a book promotion web page
5. Get five to 10 people who have big email lists help promote the book
Figure out what your five moves are, then do them well!
Get insanely good at key skills
Skill refers to a broad range of knowledge and capabilities that allow you to perform adequately (things like communication, problem solving, coding video production, finance, writing).
Again, if you know what your PQO, you can find out which skills are directly correlated to accomplishing those PQOs better. Understand too that skills are always developed. You probably won’t be that great at some of the skills right off the bat, but stick with them, attach emotion and motivation to them, and chart your progress. You’ll soon find that the development of these skills will turn into your biggest assets.
The great thing about productivity is it can be learned! It can become a part of who you are. It can be a permanent fixture in your life of success and wealth. Once you find it, you’ll discover happiness, balance and progress like you’ve never felt before. Now let’s get productive.
This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.