By Dr Aaron Turner, co-founder and managing partner at One Thought.
How do you improve your own productivity? Do you work harder? Do you put in more hours? Maybe you organise yourself differently, employ different strategies, learn new skills or employ new technology or software? These approaches to productivity are common and widely used. However, they overlook a major driving force behind our productivity, our state of mind.
In this article, I want to highlight what state of mind is, how it relates to productivity and how you can increase its visibility so you can include it in the way you improve productivity.
State of mind is a significant driver of our productivity and effectiveness, but it is consistently overlooked and underappreciated. I founded One Thought to highlight the effect state of mind has on performance. We observe that when people look towards their state of mind, they consistently report improvements in business measurables like revenue, profits, attrition without any change in hours worked, personnel, strategy, technology or processes.
Individual employees regularly report getting more done, more easily, in less time. It is this potential to have more impact with less time and effort, that deserves more attention. Working harder, working longer and getting more organised are well worn paths, but working in a clearer state of mind is a relatively untapped potential waiting to be explored.
PERFORMING AT ANOTHER LEVEL
The role of state of mind is easily illustrated using sports as an example. Despite the fact that skill level, experience, strength and fitness remain fairly consistent, the performance of individuals and teams can vary wildly. That is why watching sports is so engaging. It is unpredictable. A top-level professional team can, and sometimes is, beaten by a less skilful, less experienced, less physically fit amateur team. This is an example of the effect of state of mind on performance, independent of all other factors. Hot streaks and slumps are another example of the effects of state of mind on performance. As our state of mind changes, our clarity of mind does too.
Our minds work very differently when they are clear versus when they are disturbed or preoccupied. A professional football player once told me that he made better passes when he was in a clearer mind because he literally saw passes he would not otherwise have seen. As his state of mind became more rushed, stressed or agitated, he noticed his decision making suffer and the range of options he saw on the field reduce.
The same thing is happening in the workplace. There are days when we find ourselves effortlessly more productive and get a lot done and days when we struggle, working hard, but making very little progress with the same to-do list.
CAN’T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES?
In our focus on productivity, it is the underlying clarity of mind that gets over looked. Think about something as simple as looking for your keys or your wallet.
As your level of agitation and stress increases, your looking becomes more frantic, chaotic and less fruitful. As you calm down, so does your franticness, you feel more at ease, and it is often not long before it pops into your head where the keys might be. Often, they are in a place we might have frantically looked but not seen them.
The same pattern applies across the board, the clearer and more at ease we are, the more effortlessly we have clarity and focus and we are more naturally productive. As our minds speed up and we get more agitated our clarity is disturbed and it is harder to see and think clearly.
It becomes harder to focus and organise ourselves and get things done. With a clearer mind we are unavoidably more productive without doing anything differently.
The football player I mentioned had scored four goals in 77 professional games. In the six games after he learned about clarity of mind, he scored five goals.
BEING IN THE ZONE MORE OFTEN
In a work environment, our level of engagement, focus, ability to prioritise, and our capacity to problem solve are all tied to our underlying level of clarity.
Most people can think of times when they were really “on fire” at work and doing a great job. They often describe that they felt engaged and motivated. Things came naturally and effortlessly. They describe a kind of “in the zone” experience that is a symptom of what we are calling a clearer mind.
A MOMENT OF CLARITY
Starting to factor in clarity of mind can be simple but can yield significant results. This is a two-step process.
Step One: Recognise that clarity of mind exists
Feeling stressed and pressured are reliable indicators of a disturbed and unclear mind.
It is important to be able to accept that it is not your situation that is causing negative feelings. Failure to do so leads to a negative productivity spiral. You feel bad, so you cannot think clearly, so your productivity suffers, so you feel worse etc. etc.
As long as we justify our negative feelings by our situation, it is impossible to separate state of mind from our circumstance. The only way to cut this spiral is to recognise the independence of clarity of mind from your situation and to see your feelings as an experience of your clarity of mind. Disturbed feeling, disturbed mind. Clear feeling, clear mind.
The first step in finding more clarity is exactly this, recognising that you are feeling your clarity of mind not your circumstances. Once you accept this, you can be open to the possibility that you could feel differently in the same situation.
Step two: Disturbed thought is not helpful
When we feel bad, our minds are disturbed and our thoughts are unhelpful. There are times when we understand this.
Like when we are upset and feel compelled to write an angry email. In that state of mind, the email looks absolutely fine. But we know not to send it because when you read that same email when you are calmer, it is often staggering how bad it looks.
This is a common example of how we can be suspect of unhelpful, misleading reactive thoughts and perceptions. The thoughts we have in those states are not helpful or productive. It does not make sense to listen to stressed, worried and pressurised thoughts.
If anything, it is irresponsible to do so. It is the respect we have for disturbed thought that keeps us from clarity. As soon as you start to be less trusting and interested in those thoughts, you become calmer and feel fresher.
Our emotions tell us our level of clarity and that when your clarity is disturbed, your thoughts and perceptions are not helpful or worth listening to.
CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO
Clarity of mind can have a profound effect on every area of performance and huge gains can be made from a simple recognition and understanding of state of mind.
Unfortunately, the normal state of mind in most workplaces is not a clear one, it is usually somewhat stressed and pressured. In many company’s stress and pressure are assumed to be an unavoidable feature of doing business.
The problem is, if we accept that stress and pressure is a normal state of mind, we are building inefficiencies and problems into the workplace that we then try and solve with productivity tools. Tools that are not necessary when people are working in a clearer more balanced state of mind.
Working in an unclear state of mind is like driving a car with a flat tyre: you can do it but it is difficult, very inefficient, and inevitably gets worse the longer you do it.
Most approaches to improving productivity are focussed on helping people drive with a flat tyre. The One Thought approach is to change the tyre. Which makes driving much easier, more efficient, and even enjoyable.
Dr Aaron Turner is co-founder and managing Partner of One Thought. The One Thought programme provides a working understanding of our natural ability to live and work in a clearer, healthier state of mind.