Productivity is not just about how much you can produce of something within the time given. It is about making the best possible use of that time. And many improvements come from the choices you make, not the tools you use. 

When governments talk about productivity statistics, they tend to talk about simplistic measures such as how much of an item is produced per hour/per person/per whatever. The underlying assumption being there is only one thing for the allocated ‘human resource’ to do and improvement comes from figuring out how to do more of it for less cost within the same timeframe. But the messy real world we live in is one filled with choices. There is rarely just one thing to do. To be more productive is often as much about what you choose not to do or changing what and how you do something than simply doing more of the same.

Possibly one of the quickest productivity boosts that could be applied to a lot of people would be to stop looking at your mobile phone, particularly during meetings and social events. It reminds me of a quote from Peter F Drucker, from an interview with the chief executive of a large company:

“During the hour and a half I was in his office every month, there was never a telephone call… One day I asked him about this. He said ‘My secretary has strict instructions not to put anyone through except the President of the United States and my wife. The President rarely calls – and my wife knows better… I have yet to come across a crisis which could not wait ninety minutes.'”

Whilst events may move at a faster pace than when that quote was first published, thanks to our global connectedness, I still believe it holds true for most activities. Subjects such as mindfulness have been growing in popularity in recent years. But, for many, simply learning how to digitally switch off and be present in your physical surroundings would be a good place to start.

When I was at Microsoft, we were encouraged to attend personal development courses covering productivity and creativity. In the UK, the courses were run by Nicholas Bate of Strategic Edge. Over time, I have found the techniques shared incredibly useful. The courses are normally only available to companies but Nick is running an open session this year in March. If you are looking to evaluate your productivity and creativity levels, I’d recommend attending. Nick’s one of the most pragmatic coaches I know. For example, a quote from his book ‘Do what you want’. It recognised the reality facing many people in the current economic environment – that job security is becoming rarer and the best outcomes occur when you take control of your situation:

“You cannot change the world and what is happening around us. But you can change your mindset, the way you think about the world and approach the predicament and turn it to your advantage”

One of the best tips I got from Nick was to keep a journal. We are pre-disposed to focus more on negatives than positives. Keeping a journal helps keep things in perspective. In recent years, I’ve been through a couple of very difficult life phases that I haven’t talked about publicly. And looking back, I realised that, at some point, I stopped keeping a journal. That was a mistake. I fell back into the habit of dwelling for too long on negatives out of my control.

This year I am attempting to write 100 words a day. Standalone, any subject, fact or fiction, but a story in 100 words. It’s aimed at improving my writing and getting me back into the habit of writing regularly. And yes, it’s another of Nick’s tips. I am a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing …well, just about anything. And given I am currently in a scenario that involves writing a lot of words, I need to start being more productive, both in terms of speed of output but also introducing more variation to improve story-telling. And this blog has also been far quieter than I’d like…

So, this post turned out a bit more personal than planned. But, if you think you’re in a bit of a rut. Or not achieving the outcomes you’d like. Then consider taking a course in personal productivity to give your year a kick-start. If you’re in the UK and are interested in Nick’s work, his open course is being run at the Magdalen College, Oxford University on Thursday 23rd March. You can find out more and contact details at the Strategic Edge web site.


  • The Effective Executive by Peter F Drucker, first published 1967
  • Do What You Want by Nicholas Bate, published 2012
  • Strategic Edge web site

p.s. This is not an advert or sponsored post. I was not asked by Nick to promote his course and am not being compensated in any way.


Behaviour, Blog

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Very good advice, and I appreciate the personal angle. It’s easier to understand and accept. Maybe I’ll try the story-a-day approach.

  2. Thanks Dan! …and, truth be told, am struggling to produce something daily 🙂 but working on it. Even as simple as having an idea and turning it straight into a paragraph is proving interesting. Just reading back over a couple from the start of the month that I’d already forgotten I’d written about has proven helpful with developing the ideas further.

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