The other day I decided to outsource self-management. In other words I gave the day off to my brain’s frontal lobe, which is known to make choices. In my case usually very questionable ones.
And being absolutely mindful of that, I surrendered to the idea of letting someone else make all the decisions for me for a day. Even the most ridiculously brain dead ones. Like when to eat, when to take a coffee break, when to exercise or when to take a deep breath. Only toilet breaks were left to my discretion.
The whole concept was to de-clutter and free up space in my mind so that I could concentrate purely on the most important tasks of the day: prepare a roadmap for my company’s blog, submit a sales pitch and write two business case studies. I would usually spread these tasks over three days or so depending on my ability to procrastinate or my inability to work for hours at a stretch.
That’s one of the perks of working remotely. There is no one to hold you accountable for your time, space or behaviour. And the only organ (brain) that perhaps has a loose leash over your day is also exceptionally smart at finding ways to succumb to wasteful distractions.
Losing 5.5 hours doing nothing everyday
“According to research, most people achieve only 2.5 hours of actual work and lose about 5.5 hours in low or no-value tasks, distractions, interruptions, meetings, calls etc.,” said Dr. Antoine Larchez, my decision-maker for the day and usually known as productivity/happiness coach.
He welcomed me. And nine others like me. (Basically individuals that find themselves easily distracted and sucked-up into social media trash during work hours.) Into a spacious, white room. Adorned with big green chakras on the facing walls.
We were asked to put our phones on airplane mode and close all our browser tabs and windows on our desktops. Productivity Boost Day! That’s what we had all signed up for. Some of us were there to finish our most dreaded/procrastinated tasks. And some of us were there to break the monotony of our usual ways of working.
I belonged to the latter group. I wanted to test if I functioned any better when left to the devices of another person. But before I could get comfortable about settling in to spend my day in that atypical room, Antoine got us all up on our feet. Asking us to start with jumping jacks.
Signing an emotional contract
After few giggles here and there, some hand-leg coordination exercises and a clapping circle, he asked us to commit to our goals for the day. The tangible outcome of our goals was put up on a white roll out sheet in front of the room as a symbol of accountability. We also committed to paying a monetary fine on account of failing to reach our targets.
Each of us betted anything from €10 (INR 700) to €50 (INR 3,500) bucks depending on the significance of our goals and available cash in our pockets. Likewise, we were allowed to reward ourselves if proven successful in achieving our goals. Some of us rejoiced in the idea of going to a movie afterwards, reading a book or simply taking a day off.
It was like signing an emotional contract. To stay focused and perform during the day. And refrain from social distractions in all forms. Online and offline.
Working in productivity capsules
The whole day was divided into six time-bound productivity capsules of 50 minutes each. The room would fill up with music each time we completed a productivity session.
At one point I felt, it was all about following commands. When Antoine said, “Stop working,” we stopped. When he said, “Show me burpees,” we showed him so. When he said, “Start working,” we started so. And when he said, “relax and go into a happy place in your imagination,” we did exactly so.
For some of us, it was like having a Guru that knew what worked best for its disciples. For others, it was basically mirroring a behavioural pattern that looked pretty productive.
At the end of the day, most of us got into a synchronised work flow. Punctuated by music and dopamine releasing exercises. That prevented us from slacking off every now and then. And anytime we found ourselves branching away from our main task, we took to the ‘Not-now pad’: a piece of paper set aside to dump all our ideas or to-do lists for later.
A hack or structure?
I am not sure if I have nailed a new productivity hack. But it’s definitely worth a try. To set aside a day when you resign from the position of being a self-manager. And just be the agent of execution. Following instructions. And letting someone more experienced design your day. It could be a coach, a scrum master or a team member on roster.
I am sure every CEO would like the idea of having at least one Productivity Day in the week when employees are allowed no distractions or meetings. A pure getting-things-done day to focus and perform!
At Lean Apps, we are planning to turn Wednesdays into the Productivity Boost Day of the week. “And if all goes as planned, we might soon be looking at a four-day working week in our company,” said Narjeet Soni, CEO of Lean Apps.