One Thing That’s Skyrocketing My Productivity

For the past two months, I’ve been keeping close track of the rhythms in my life.

I’m looking at things like:
What I eat and when.
When I go to sleep and for how long.
When I work and what kind of work I’m doing.
When I use my phone and what I’m using it for.

I began this sort of life tracking after reading Designing Your Life. In it, they encourage you to find out what activities give you the most energy and make you feel most engaged at work, which they believe will help you determine what to continue going forward and, as importantly, what to drop. What I love, in particular, is their focus on finding both work and play that are life-giving. And, as I’ve taken a look at what’s most life-giving in my world—what gives me the most energy and inspires the most productivity—early results point to one specific thing…

My rest.

Specifically, two types of rest seem to directly impact my productivity:

  1. Rest After 6pm on Weekdays: If I don’t look at my phone or computer for work-related things after 6pm during the work week, my energy and mood are higher the following day.
  2. Rest on Sundays: If I don’t look at my phone or computer for work-related things on Sunday, I notice that my mood and productivity for the following week are so much higher than if I work that day.

Why I Think There’s a Correlation

I see giving my brain a break helping a few specific ways.

First, it helps keep my anxiety in check. I know, without a doubt, that picking up my phone to check my email at night causes my brain to expend unnecessary mental energy as it works to fight through anxiety caused by everything I need to do and everything I should respond to. So, by not checking my email or doing any work during these periods of time, I’m actually avoiding this sort of unneeded energy output.

Second, I’m giving my brain a break from the light emitted by my computer and phone. We’ve all seen the studies about why blue light keeps you up at night so I don’t need to go into more detail about this here. But, I can confirm from my own personal experience that avoiding blue light late at night makes a world of difference.

Finally, I’m having more fun at home. Meaning, instead of looking at my phone or doing work, I’m actually playing with my kids or having great discussions with my wife, which both lead to an endorphin release that provides “happy-hits” in my brain, giving me more energy.

What I’m Doing to Keep These Rhythms Going

Starting a good habit is hard, but keeping it going can be equally difficult. So, when I go home at night and feel the urge to jump back into work-related activities, the following tactics have allowed me to stay on track. I hope you find them as helpful as they’ve been for me.

  1. I remind myself that I’ll be more productive tomorrow.
    Productivity isn’t really the point, but it’s still helpful to remind myself that giving my brain a break will mean I’ll have more energy to do what I need to do tomorrow.
  2. I get up early and get straight to work.
    Most days, I’ve been waking up at 6:30am and working right away. It’s not revolutionary, especially for anyone who has children, but getting up just a bit earlier and beginning work immediately has allowed me to tell myself that I don’t have to be working at night because I know I’ll have time to do what I need to in the morning. It also means I get to work before anyone else on our team is back at their inboxes.
  3. I ask myself why I feel the need to check email and work-related things.
    If I feel the urge to be looking at my phone or doing computer-related work, I do a quick gut-check on why that’s actually the case. Am I doing it because it’s satiating a need to feel important or useful? Or, am I doing it because something truly needs to be done right away? It’s just a good reminder to understand my motivations for doing this work.
  4. I remind myself that I’m not that important.
    I’m not curing cancer. While I take my job and our community seriously, it’s also not keeping people alive (at least in the short-term). So I just remind myself that any email that feels like it needs to be responded to immediately can likely wait until the morning. Plus, waiting a bit to respond usually helps me reply in a way that’s more helpful.