How I Doubled My Productivity With a Small Change

I work quite a bit from home and in some regards it has been a transition for me. In the beginning days I would sometimes spend 10+ hours planted in front of the computer working. As long as I was working it felt good mentally. My foot was on the gas pedal all the way. After all, people who work hard get lucky right?

What I have learned is that working hard and working smart are two different things all together. I refused to admit that I could spend less hours working and get more done.

What I Have Discovered

I worked so much that I got to the point where things had to change. I was mentally exhausted and I even made too many outside commitments that made life even more difficult. I did not like what I was becoming. My kids began to make comments about Dad working all the time. This wasn’t what I signed up for.

Here is the deceiving thing: I was doing work that I really enjoyed. That can be deceptive if you are not careful. Finally, I learned an important lesson and gave it enough time to work in my life.

Focus Sessions + Real Breaks

Have you ever heard the principle of sharpening the saw? It is a simple analogy that speaks the truth. If you never take time to sharpen the saw, your blade gets dull. When your blade is dull, it takes you twice as long with twice as much effort to cut down the same tree.

Things that dull your blade:

  • Working non-stop without taking breaks
  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Not taking enough “real” breaks
  • Being addicted to checking your email
  • Working for someone else’s dream
  • Not getting enough rest
  • Not taking mental breaks from your work

I was a dull blade. In my trying harder I was getting less done. I didn’t make a major shift in what I was doing. It actually was a simple shift that also included me giving myself permission.

My New and Improved Working Schedule

Step #1: Work in 90 minute focus sessions

The first thing I did was to set 90 minute focus sessions in place during the day. My typical day looks like this.

8:00 – 9:30 Focus Session #1
9:30 – 10:00 Real Break
10:00 – 11:30 Focus Session #2
11:30 – 12:00 Real Break
12:00 – 1:30 Lunch
1:30 – 3:00 Focus Session #3
3:00 – 3:30 Real Break
3:30 – 5:00 Focus Session #4

The beauty of this schedule is that when I sit down for a 90 minute focus session my “saw” is sharp and ready to go. When I used to sit at the computer all day, I found myself wondering between working, reading, email, researching, and so on.

Now, I can really focus on working hard because after all I am up against the clock. I need to get as much done as I can before my next break. The next step is important and essential to this whole thing working.

Step #2: Learn to take “real” breaks

This was the minor shift that gave me big returns. I decided to take “real” breaks. A real break is not reading blog posts, checking email, or watching an educational video online. A “real” break for me is anything that is away from the computer.

Here are some of my favorite things to do during my break:

  • Go on a walk with my wife
  • Take the kids down to the park
  • Read a book on the front porch swing
  • Exercise by either jogging or riding a bike
  • Take a short nap on the couch

Sharpening the SawIn the past, I had a difficult time doing any of the above during the day. I saw them as “non-productive” activities. What I found was the opposite was true. I just never gave myself enough time to see the real benefits. The list above actually sharpens my saw.

First of all, I look forward to my breaks because I get to do something that I enjoy. It is also a welcomed mental break after 90 minutes of hard work.

Secondly, it reconnects one of the main reasons as to why I wanted to work from home in the first place. Hopefully, you can apply some of these principles to your situation. I hope to provide more insights as to how this is working in the days ahead.

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    • FuryStryker

      I can see this working if you work from home a lot and have huge flexibility over your hours, but I highly doubt anyone in the traditional workplace would be able to achieve it. I mean, you’re essentially taking a 2 hour lunch break everyday! I would imagine you could fit another focus session in there if you just substituted that “real break” with lunch and then continued working.

      I did read your follow up post to this and can imagine taking a “real break” is quite difficult indeed since the thinking behind this is slightly counter-intuitive, but I certainly can relate to the blog-reading/email-checking/video watching “breaks”.

      I am curious, and quite unfamiliar with your exact work schedule, etc, but how do you handle distractions/interruptions during your focus sessions? Do you shut off communication with the outside world while you get things done? I find that I don’t have that option given the nature of my work/role.


      • Jonathan

        I completely understand where you are coming from. I am actually in the middle of researching and writing a post that would be adaptable to those who have less flexibility over their hours. The principle that works for me is to work in a “sprint/rest” format. Whether you are a student in college, a writer, or a freelancer, you can use this method effectively. My afternoons are less of a drudgery. As far as handling distractions when I am in a “focus session”, I have a process for that. I wrote about it in a blog post called: 3 Simple Steps to Handling Distractions. I also created a short video to explain it as well. Hope it is helpful.

    • Les Hutchinson

      I have an approach that I call the 45-minute hour. I apply this in a traditional workplace, but I think that the ability to apply it depends on your job role – the level of autonomy, nature of workflow etc.

      It’s certainly become very beneficial for me.

      • Jonathan

        Thanks for the comment. I am sure the 45 minute time block works great too. The important thing is to just give yourself frequent breaks throughout the day to stay sharp and motivated.

    • Diane

      Great article! I tend to “wander” online a bunch when I should be blogging or writing hub pages… I think adding focus sessions and real breaks where I talk to my hubby or exercise would boost my productivity a bunch! Thanks for sharing!!

      • Jonathan

        Thanks for the kind words. Taking real breaks has been difficult for me to buy into, but once I gave myself time to do it i was pleased with the results and less stressed. I was able to work and play.

    • Johny Lee

      Hi Jonathan,

      I believe that there are different ways and strategies that can help us in order to be productive. There are also useful tools that can help us, it is just depends on what we needed most. A few things helps me to stay productive at work. It is with self discipline no matter how eager are you to stay productive if you don’t have discipline you can’t be productive. It is also my way to stay focus at work and ignore distractions while working. Another is with the help of a time management tool that helps me manage time efficiently. Using this tool I list my entire tasks and set an estimated amount of time when working on each task. I also set regular breaks on it, usually every two hours of work I take a 10 minutes break. This way I can relax a bit that is also a good way to refresh sanity. I would say that with discipline and the right tools it would be easy to stay productive.

      • Anonymous

         Thanks for your contribution. I agree with your points.

      • Zdenek Zraly

        Rather than discipline isn’t it motivation that makes us very productive and energetic? cheers