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Hey, Colleague: How can I increase my productivity level?

If you need to do deep focused work, start by eliminating distractions, including shutting off notifications.
work from home woman
Small actions taken consistently will "compound into exponential success."

Send questions about careers, productivity and work-life balance to kpn@glaciermedia.ca. Please include your name and location, or request to remain anonymous.


Hey Colleague, 

Life has been getting to me, and my productivity is slowing down. I’m easily distracted and can’t seem to focus. The worst part is that I am still working from home with a family and another baby on the way. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited but I’m scared I’m on the path to overwhelm. Do you have any strategies that could help?

—Anonymous


Life will never get easier and I’m glad you are taking accountability by calling yourself out and wanting to self-improve. 

From what I hear, understanding willpower may be able to make your life easier.

Willpower is a limited resource depending on the level of energy available in your brain. Studies show that when we are constantly resisting endless temptations, our brain is going to get tired, affecting performance whether it be at work, as a parent, or with your wellness routine.

Some call willpower a muscle you need to flex to strengthen over time but that theory is misunderstood — purely relying on willpower is definitely not the key to success. Our society is constantly challenging our willpower like a kid in a candy store; app notifications designed to tap into your brain’s reward system, algorithmic social feeds that know you better than you know yourself, and processed foods formulated by food scientists to keep you hungry… all these detract you from doing true productive work and being your best self. 

There are ways to strengthen your willpower: exercise and meditation. But let’s face it — that requires extra work and I don’t mean to sound condescending but the uncomfortable truth is that’s a hard sell because many people may already feel overwhelmed.

If you want to “build willpower,” stop relying on willpower.

Knowledge is power. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of willpower will help you improve your productivity.

Our nervous system is our body’s command system transmitting signals between our brain and body that controls our thoughts, movement, physiological responses, and automatic responses to our environment. There are two states to our nervous system: stress or safety (sympathetic and parasympathetic). 

Being aware your brain is wired for you to seek things that are familiar and comfortable because it makes you feel safe — you can begin to take control of your habits by pulling yourself back every time it happens. The more you catch yourself, the easier it will get as you strengthen the synapses in your brain to create new and productive behaviours.

To make it easier, let’s learn how to give your brain a break so your willpower can be replenished. How?

  1. Identify behaviours and obstacles that get in your way and set up conditions conducive to desired outcomes.
  2. Consciously design your environment for success.
  3. Perform small actions daily to make these new habits easier over time.

To strengthen a muscle, you need to continue to exercise it. When overworked, you need time to recover. To recover, eliminate anything that will continue to deplete your willpower. Stop challenging it. 

For example:

  • If you need to do deep focused work, eliminate all distractions: put your phone completely out of sight and shut off all notifications on your laptop. Go to a coffee shop where you won’t have the chance to start cleaning the kitchen every time you walk past (like I do).
  • If you want to be more present with your family, turn off your phone or computer at home. Better yet, designate an ‘office’ and keep that door shut. When you're not in your office, it is 100 per cent family time.
  • If you struggle with snacking, keep junk food out of your house. If you truly want a piece of cake, you will leave the house to get it.
  • If you’re having trouble falling asleep, keep electronics out of your room and make a conscious effort to eliminate screen time a couple of hours before bed.
  • If you want to wake up early to go to the gym, have all your gear and breakfast prepared and laid out the night before.

So how bad do you want it?

If you genuinely want to improve your productivity and willpower, you will begin to make a conscious effort daily to improve. Of course, it’s easier said than done but it’s not impossible.

The secret is to focus on behaviour change, knowing that the small actions taken consistently will compound into exponential success. 

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