Recently I have fallen back into my evil habit of writing a to do list and then ignoring it because I don't think I can get it done. I know from past experience that the best way out of this rut is to read research about productivity. Even if I don't act on the research, taking the time to think about productivity inspires me to be more true to my to do list.

Here are four ways to get out of a rut and start making progress again:

1. Pay attention on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Tuesday is our most productive day at work, according to a study from Robert Half International. Apparently, Monday is the day we get our lists in order, and Tuesday is the day we plow through them.

Bill Driscoll, from Robert Half, recommends that you recognize your peak performance times, and schedule as few interruptions during that time as possible. This is one of those pieces of advice that makes sense, but very few of us manage our calendars so carefully that we are actually implementing the advice.

But also, what about being as gung ho about Wednesday and Thursday as you are about Tuesday?

2. Stop obsessing over your choices and just decide.
Most people overestimate the regret they’ll experience after making an emotionally charged choice, according to research from the University College London. In fact, Karim Kassam, a psychologist working at Harvard, shows that we figure out how to justify most of our big decisions, no matter how good or bad they were. He calls it our “psychological immune system.”

The Harvard Business Review also reveals that we are not good at making decisions with a lot of data points involved. Which means that frequently, the longer you spend on a decision, the less productive you are. This research, maybe, gives you the temerity to take a leap, knowing that your decision won't get smarter or easier to live with if you take longer.

3. Go to church.
Lisa Cullen reports that girls who go to church work harder than other people. Maybe you think this is because church girls are so bored in their upstanding lives that they can’t think of anything better to do than work. But I think it actually has something to do with optimism.

People who go to church regularly are more optimistic people in general, and optimism makes people feel more positive about their work. If you feel like you will affect your work in a positive way, you’re more likely to dig in and do it. (Here is a small study to support my claims. There are a ton of these studies, and I’m hoping the Christian bloggers who read this blog—there are a lot, surprisingly enough—will aid in this cause with some more links.)

4. Put a treadmill in your office.
People think better from getting a little exercise. Not the kind of exercise where you feel like you are going to pass out. But the low-level, reasonable-pace type of exercise. The difference in mental capacity while we are active and passive is huge.

Leverage this knowledge about yourself and do your work on a treadmill. I thought I was a genius taking work calls at the gym, on the elliptical trainer, (until the manager told me absolutely never again because people were sick of overhearing my calls.)

But now everyone’s got an idea for working while walking, and there are workstations designed especially for use on a treadmill. Ask your boss to buy you one. They're $3,000, but that's a great company investment if you can get your to do list done every day.

76 replies
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  1. Anna
    Anna says:

    Penelope,
    Off topic, but why has your twitter feed disappeared from your sidebar?

    * * * * * * *
    I like that people noticed. Because I love twitter. But I decided it doesn’t go on the blog. I’m writing a post about it now… stay tuned…

    Penelope

  2. Joan in Alaska
    Joan in Alaska says:

    Penelope, this is totally off topic, but after your speech at CCC today (I introduced myself to you right after), I just had to come find your blog, subscribe, and tell you again how much I enjoyed your refreshing point of view. I look forward to catching up on your past posts, and to all that the future holds! Thanks so much….Joan in Alaska

  3. Tony Tallent
    Tony Tallent says:

    Great pointers. Wonder if we could get organizations to build off these for their “staff development.”
    Order, lists, and getting things done…not necessarily in that order.
    Best,
    Tony

  4. Dale
    Dale says:

    The number of individuals that self identify as practising Christians (myself included) in the comments above is interesting. I never associated Penny as a maven for the religious :)

    To my point though, each religious poster has a similar take on why Christians are more productive at work – be it faith in decision-making, optimism, or simply not being distracted by YouTube, flirting, my space, etc. But here are other possible reasons, self esteem and adherence to duty.

    At the heart of all major religions is the concept of respect for self (self esteem) as a child of God. Treat yourself with respect, and by implication, do whatever you do with diligence and pride because your actions are an extension of your physical self. If you do something, do it well as it represents you.

    Second, in terms of adherence to duty, the saying, “…give onto Caesar that which is Caesar's” and a myriad of other Judeo-Christian parables abound, about how servants, slaves, etc should be dutiful to a master or employer.
    Basically, we make great sheep:(
    In the past, the most pliable and easily ruled population has been a religious population. Religious employees simply work harder because they are less distracted, rebellious, and questioning. This fact while not entirely complimentary, also seems to be an overlooked variable in the religious/hard worker equation.

    Just my two cents worth.

    P.S. I refuse to be a Gerbil in my office, although exercise equipment does make for a more nontraditional storage space for clothes and books as my bedroom would attest:)

  5. PayDay99
    PayDay99 says:

    Another optimistic and happy atheist here. As a long-time reader, I'm surprised Penelope is purporting supernatural and superstitious beliefs.

    It's no surprise to me, however, that there is a contention that religious people "work harder". It suggests an ability to block out reality and keep plugging. Which is, in effect, what you have to do if you are a believer.

    Now, if you were attempting to contend that religious individuals "work smarter", or "make better decisions" or "have a better command of facts", I think you'd have a much tougher case!

    But that's the nice thing about religions. To paraphrase XTC, us crazy humans can make God say whatever we want, including helping make us believe stuff about working harder and healing via prayer.

    http://www.lyricsfreak.com/x/xtc/dear+god_20147941.html

    You can't save my soul – I've taken the http://www.blasphemychallenge.com .

  6. Barbara Saunders
    Barbara Saunders says:

    I think the “most productive day” idea obscures something else. Most of us don’t have energy to grind through the same stuff day after day. My most productive weeks look something like this:

    Monday MORNING is going through the list. Monday afternoon and maybe Tuesday morning is working through it. Then there’s some downtime (maybe at the gym!) Wednesday is a new Monday.

  7. cheap condoms
    cheap condoms says:

    My experience has been – €“ without even consciously trying – €“ that I have been dubbed the “sunshine of the office” by not only my boss, but coworkers as well. I tend to cringe when someone says this to me, as it makes me think of myself as like, Strawberry Shortcake, sprinkling flower petals and serving cupcakes to people while skipping from desk to desk

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    “Research That Reveals New Paths to Productivity”…

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