Have you ever struggled to be productive at work? Found yourself in the position where, try as you might, your mind has wandered and you’ve found it increasingly difficult to convince yourself to actually get anything done?
If you’re honest, the answer is almost certainly “yes”. Even the most driven and serious of professionals has likely, at one time or another during their life, Googled things like what is the fastest jet in the world during office hours.
But what if you’re not just prone to momentary lapses of attention and motivation, but have a more serious issue with maintaining productivity at work?
Whether you’re already something of a productivity prodigy, or need some redirection, the following mental outlooks can nonetheless help you to up your game.
The Stoic philosophers of Ancient Greece and Rome had a particular view about the role of different emotions, impulses, and drives in life.
Simply; they thought that there was only one “good” in life, and that this was virtue. Everything else, so the thought process went, was “indifferent” so long as it didn’t actively go against virtue.
The stoics further divided “indifferent” things into “preferred” or “dispreferred” indifferents. Preferred indifferents can be pursued, so long as they don’t interfere with virtue. Dispreferred indifferents can be avoided, so long as they don’t interfere with virtue.
For Stoics, almost everything was “indifferent”, even the things that we normally think of as extremely important.
A stoic idea of a preferred indifferent, for example, could be “staying alive”, while a dispreferred indifferent might be “getting tortured to death”, and many historical stoics did indeed choose to die rather than betray their virtue.
While you don’t need to go quite that far to increase your workplace productivity, this bit of stoic philosophy may still help you out. Identify what’s “virtuous” in the context of your work. Anything that damages your professional “virtue” is strictly off limits. Anything else is indifferent, and you can take it or leave it as you choose.
A “small picture” view
Clearly, we normally hear about the benefits of taking a “big picture” view at work, and the benefits of doing so are certainly real. But when you’re faced with productivity and motivation issues, a “small picture” view might actually be best.
In this context, “small picture” means breaking the task up into small chunks and dealing with each one individually, in compartmentalised form.
One great approach to applying a “small picture” view is to use the Pomodoro technique, which you working in 20-minute bursts followed by 5-minute breaks. In this way, your whole work day is “chunked down”.
Struggle as practice
This is another viewpoint from Stoic philosophy, but it appears all over the place, including in Nietzsche’s famous idea that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
The point here is to look at any hardship you endure, that can’t be avoided, as practice or training. See it as a way of enhancing your resilience, grit, and persistence.
Sometimes a project at work may be genuinely unpleasant, and you may really not be in the mood to do it. Nonetheless, it may help you to push on through if you remind yourself “this is training, this is making me stronger, sharper, better”.