Magic for Increasing Productivity and Peace of Mind

I will probably repost this in my personal blog, because it is relevant, but it is also very relevant for library staff as well (and I have been too busy to post much here lately).

From the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time is a concise guideline for being more productive with less stress.

Burnout is one of the major causes of unhappiness in the workplace or in life. Trying to do too much is a good way to leave one’s self running on empty.  It screws up efficiency, it creates stress, and it is just not a good idea.  Everyone from productivity experts to therapists to zen masters agree that multitasking is a bad idea.

Tony Schwartz provides the followng guidelines:

1. Maintain meeting discipline. Schedule meetings for 45 minutes, rather than an hour or longer, so participants can stay focused, take time afterward to reflect on what’s been discussed, and recover before the next obligation. Start all meetings at a precise time, end at a precise time, and insist that all digital devices be turned off throughout the meeting. (Emphasis mine)

2. Stop demanding or expecting instant responsiveness at every moment of the day. It forces your people into reactive mode, fractures their attention, and makes it difficult for them to sustain attention on their priorities. Let them turn off their email at certain times. If it’s urgent, you can call them — but that won’t happen very often.

3. Encourage renewal. Create at least one time during the day when you encourage your people to stop working and take a break. Offer a midafternoon class in yoga, or meditation, organize a group walk or workout, or consider creating a renewal room where people can relax, or take a nap.

These three things, paricularly expecting or providing immediate response and lacking time to reflect on what has happened (in a meeting or anywhere else) will slow burnout as much as anything else I can think of.

1. Do the most important thing first in the morning, preferably without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, with a clear start and stop time. If possible, work in a private space during this period, or with sound-reducing earphones. Finally, resist every impulse to distraction, knowing that you have a designated stopping point. The more absorbed you can get, the more productive you’ll be. When you’re done, take at least a few minutes to renew.

2. Establish regular, scheduled times to think more long term, creatively, or strategically. If you don’t, you’ll constantly succumb to the tyranny of the urgent. Also, find a different environment in which to do this activity — preferably one that’s relaxed and conducive to open-ended thinking.

3. Take real and regular vacations. Real means that when you’re off, you’re truly disconnecting from work. Regular means several times a year if possible, even if some are only two or three days added to a weekend. The research strongly suggests that you’ll be far healthier if you take all of your vacation time, and more productive overall.

Can we get an Amen from the choir?  Seriously. Especially for number 2.


A single principle lies at the heart of all these suggestions. When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you’re renewing, truly renew. Make waves. Stop living your life in the gray zone.

I have been taking a Mindfulness workshop devoted to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and this is a key point.  Be where you are and don’t get caught up in the distractions that come with paying attention to too much, which is worse than not paying attention at all.


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