If you’re an author or a publisher, you perform brainwork for a living. Your brain is your “factory.” When stress and distractions pop up, that factory can become less and less efficient. It can be valuable, then, to take a moment to reflect on the ways that we manage our thoughts and attention.
What Is Productivity?
Before Bailey offered his suggestions for how thought workers like writers and publishers can become more productive, he zoomed in on a definition of what productivity actually means.
First, he offered several common, yet flawed, definitions of productivity. He said some people equate productivity with efficiency. This definition is not acceptable to Bailey, however, because one can be efficient about the wrong things, and that leads away from, not toward, productivity.
Another popular definition of productivity is “getting more done.” Bailey believes this is a limited way of looking at productivity because a person can feel like a lot of work is flowing in and out—perhaps emails are being forwarded, plans are being coordinated—but little real work is moving forward in a meaningful way. People who are “getting more done” in this way, Bailey said, are doing nothing more than playing the role of a traffic cop.
Productivity Is About the Important Stuff
If the meaning of productivity can’t be captured in any of those commonly held definitions, what exactly is it then? After considering this question deeply, Bailey came to the conclusion that productivity is the art of getting more important stuff done. You, as the leader of your own life, get to define what “important stuff” really means.
Bailey suggested that we should view productivity as accomplishing the things we intend to do. These things may not be “things” at all; that is, not the objects that we produce, but the objectives, physical or strategic, that we accomplish. Such objectives could be having a businesslike day, helping develop a supportive culture among colleagues, or doing nothing at all. Sometimes, Bailey noted, the most important things you can do are unwind, do nothing, disconnect and recharge.
So being productive equates to working with intention. If that’s the case, how can one achieve this goal? Bailey offered two helpful exercises: the Rule of Three and managing your attention.
Productivity Technique 1: The Rule of Three for Working with Intention
Bailey offered what he calls the Rule of Three as a simple, powerful technique to help writers and publishers work more productively. The concept is simple, really. At the beginning of the day, Bailey suggested, make a note of three accomplishments that will make the upcoming hours “a good day.” Take three to five minutes in the morning as the workday begins and ask yourself, “By the time this day is done, what three things do I want to accomplish?”
Your note should capture the three most important objectives you intend to achieve that day. A Rule of Three list may include small and not-so-small items, concrete projects and abstract goals. Bailey’s personal list, for example, at one point included such items as (1) finish creating a slide deck, (2) apply for tax ID number, and (3) have fun catching up with my friend at lunch.
A Rule of Three list differs from a to-do list because to-do lists capture the minutia of a day. This is a more curated list, prioritizing three, and no more than three elements.
The Rule of Three allows you to work deliberately and with intention, as opposed to moving forward on autopilot, or behaving reactively to whatever chaotic elements may arise. The Rule of Three can help you work with less stress and guilt. When you don’t work with intention, it’s easy to let doubt fills the vacuum.
The Rule of Three can be flexible. You can modify the list on the fly as the day passes by weighing it against new opportunities and changes that arise.
One of the reasons that the Rule of Three seems to work, Bailey believes, is that our brain is wired to think in threes. He said this list allows us to “tune into that frequency.” Stories have three parts: beginnings, middles and ends, for example. Winners receive three medals at the Olympics. We grew up hearing a preponderance of stories that center around threes, such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and Alexandre Dumas’s classic The Three Musketeers.
Bailey also suggested that you can use the Rule of Three for making accomplishment lists every week as well as every morning. On Mondays, for example, ask yourself what three things would make the upcoming week a good one. Refer to the list daily and see if you can make those three things happen.
Productivity Technique 2: Managing Your Attention and Interruptions
The second way writers and publishers—any thought workers, really—can be more productive is to stay on top of managing their distractions. Bailey said that today, the typical person works on average for only 40 seconds before being interrupted by something. 40 seconds! Those interruptions could be a text or an email or an in-person distraction.
“Things take twice as long when we’re connected to the Internet,” said Bailey.
But to really accomplish important projects, we often need to achieve deep thought. If we’re constantly interrupted after only 40 seconds, we miss out on the productivity that comes from reaching that state where we can think meaningful thoughts.
Performing in this sort of productive flow state can only happen if we cultivate concentration. The only way to truly become immersed in our work, Bailey said, is to “clear the brush out of the way that distracts us.” This can be achieved by determining which interruptions we can control, and which ones we cant.
For the distractions we can control, we need to address them ahead of time and implement processes and tools that make them go away.
For example, we can apply VIP filters to our emails and disable those constant instant-messaging notifications that pop up automatically on our desktops and smartphones. Bailey suggested looking at the Internet as a nicety and not a necessity. We should log off from the Internet to avoid procrastination on social media and use tools that can block out news feeds.
Be Intentional, Be Productive
When we do brainwork for a living, out success demands being productive. Taking time to come up with a Rule of Three list and managing our attention allows us to work with intention and not only get more done, but accomplish the goals that are really meaningful in our careers and lives.
The DBW Daily is the go-to newsletter for staying up to date on the biggest issues facing the book publishing industry and indie authors. To get all the top stories and think pieces from the past 24 hours in your inbox every day at 8:00 AM, sign up for the DBW Daily today!