Take Control to Be More Productive

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Recently, Charles Duhigg investigated the “science of productivity” and shared some of his research and findings in Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business; given the pressure so many of us feel to try to be more productive, I thought I’d share some of the more useful insights.

A core approach to psychology is attribution theory. Its premise is that people want to explain why people do what they do, to give them greater control over their lives.  Researchers study how people “explain” why people do what they do. For instance, there are internal and external triggers to the behaviors we engage in: we eat because we’re hungry (internal) or someone invites us to eat and we go along with it (external).

When people are asked to explain the causes of their behavior, they tend to explain them based on external factors, because we’re always choosing between a number of options and one is likely to be more prominent. (Example, we’re walking down the street and someone asks you for a philanthropic contribution to a “save the Whale Fund” and we do so because we feel good about life and was asked to do so. Asked if we have any special concern about this charity, we might reply “no”, because we have access to a lot of information about our preferences.) However, an outside observer has limited information and needing to have some control over the situation is more likely to attribute the reason we gave the money to a belief that we gave because this is an important charity to us.

The mental model we have about our actions – control over what we do – makes a big difference in how productive we are. When we’re whiplashed by the many – often competing – demands of a day – we feel out of control and try to “make it through the day” – often discovering we’re not productive.  On the other hand, if we take control of the major activities of the day, we’re mobilizing our internal sense of control and become more productive. Imagine driving to work: force yourself to envision your day, think through what you’re going to do in all the meetings, all the progress you can achieve on your projects. In other words, anticipate what’s going to happen. By focusing on the big issues, and feeling in control of them, you actually become more productive, because the myriad of other, smaller issues become only minor distractions instead of disruptors.

For this reason, Duhigg arrives at the conclusion that by forcing ourselves to think about what we can do, and empowering ourselves to take charge of the major activities, we will be more productive.  Indeed, for many of the CEOs that I work with, this technique of working with mental models of what they can control and exercising it has significantly made them more effective. What’s your experience?  Share it with us.

In Charles Duhigg’s Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business, sadasdasd

Amy Cuddy, in Presence: Preparing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, defines presence as the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.



William James:  “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”

Amy: dance your way to presence. Seize the large, beautiful, powerful parts of yourself – the ones you love and believe. They are yours for the taking.

A Two-Step Process to Time Management.