Focus vs. Productivity, Which Is More Effective?

Some say there is no productivity without focus, but sometimes the obsession with “productivity” hurts your ability to genuinely focus. Say you have a huge list of things to accomplish and you maximize your time to get it all done. How often does that work come back, do you catch an error after hitting send, or leave a detail out? Did it really save you time if you have to go back and do parts of the work over again? Equally, how does that affect your professional reputation?

This topic came up between myself and one of the owners while chatting about how busy we were. We’ve both gone through many phases of what productivity and focus look like. We’ve resolved firmly that focus over “maximized productivity” has been far more successful for us.

What Is Productivity To You?

For the two of us, we realized the main theme we had in common with our missteps in productivity was that it was an overuse of time. For example, we realized we both had very stringent caffeine and food routines. That might work for some but for us, it became unhealthy.

For Justin, who no longer drinks any caffeine, he had his routine extremely dialed in for what he believed to be maximum productivity. He would batch homemade cold brew iced coffee with sugar and creamer ice cubes. This made it easy to crank on coffee without putting in much effort within the workday. For meals, he was intermittent fasting then drinking protein and nutrient drinks in the afternoon. At the time, dinner was the only meal he had to cook. He did meal preps or ate to-go food to “save time”. This way, when he wasn’t being productive or setting himself up to be productive he could “switch off”.

This routine sounded very familiar to me as I had established a nearly identical schedule for myself. There are large portions of my over 15-year long career that I never ate breakfast sitting down at a table. I also did not take lunch away from my desk. While I was living in NYC I would often walk from Brooklyn into Manhattan to get to work to avoid the risk of train delays. Equally, I could fit in some exercise before being at a desk. Due to New York State labor laws (and many other states), I would have to take a mandatory 1-hour lunch break. I would use this time to go to the gym and work out. I would take the subway home and grab easy-to-make food at the market on the walk from the train. I’d hang out with my roommate for an hour, pass out, get up, repeat.

Routines Can Effect Productivity and Focus

Were Justin and I both getting our work done in these former iterations of ourselves? Yes. Did we have a decent quality of life and work? Not really.

For me, the sustained years of pushing myself like that drove me over the edge. In fact, one day I walked away from a pretty big job and bought a one-way ticket to Denver. I hit a complete reset on my life and my career. I rerouted my career and how I approached my work life and productivity balance. After taking a break from office-based work to catch my breath, I re-entered with clear-cut boundaries for myself and self-respect. Self-respect? Yes!

What does self-respect have to do with productivity? Well, in my opinion – a whole lot! For me, I can get focused with more ease because I trust my work and my intelligence. Not only do I get a lot more done, it will most certainly be of a higher quality.

Remember, they hired you to do the job and trust you to get it done, so trust yourself just the same.

What Is Focus to You?

The other thing Justin and I found in common during this conversation, was that we had never really considered focus before. We just assumed it came with setting yourself up to be “productive”. However, a lot of how we set ourselves up for maximum production had crushed our ability to focus, not help.

For example, Justin used to have 5 ultra-wide monitors and the fastest processors to keep as many tasks open as possible. Now the most productive/focused he feels is working with just his laptop and a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

For me, organizing based on the times of day I will be more capable of focus has helped me tremendously. When I have more “mundane” tasks, I will assign those for when I know I am not quite as sharp as other times of the day. At my peak hours, I will assign the work that takes the most focus for me. I have also taken it upon myself to find out more concretely what work should be prioritized per project so I can ensure I am not trying to focus on all of it at once.

How Do You Focus Your Productivity?

Not to get too crunchy here, but to quote Rupi Kaur “Productivity is not how much work I do in a day but how well I balance what I need to stay healthy.”

We can’t answer for you as to what will work best to be more focused and subsequently more effectively productive. But, we can share a few things we did to find our balance!

  1. Take a hard look at your definition of productivity and how it affects your daily life (pros, cons, et al)
  2. Examine when you feel most focused and are able to output the best work
  3. Ask yourself – “Would I put this expectation on someone else? Is this realistic?”
  4. Vet how often you’re redoing or correcting work and see if you can find a commonality, such as time of day or the type of tasks that this happens with repeatedly
  5. Try new things, step out of your comfort zone. (Like Justin going from 5 monitors to a single laptop, or scheduling your day differently, etc)

The more you’re able to take an honest look at how you’ve been defining, or potentially ignoring, what productivity and focus mean to you, the better your output will be.

If working from home is a challenge to your focus, check out our blog on getting set up for success in your home office!

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