How to Be More Productive in 2021

productivity May 11, 2021
How to Be More Productive in 2021

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Mark Struczewski
Recently, I had the privilege of being on Stephen Lu's LinkedIn Live. And we talked about, you guessed it, productivity. When we were done, he graciously sent me the recording to the LinkedIn live. And I asked him, "Hey, can I put this on my podcast?" And he said, "Sure." So this is the LinkedIn Live from Stephen Lu, that we did a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy.

Stephen Lu
I'm here with Mark Struczewski. I think I said that right. Mister Productivity, how are you doing today? Mark?

Mark Struczewski
I'm doing tremendous. And that's why I call myself Mister Productivity because most people can't spell my last name.

Stephen Lu
Hey, productivity isn't easy to spell either. Let's get into our topic here. So you know, we want to talk about productivity. Mark, you are Mister Productivity. Let's just start with some, you know, upfront, what are some productivity hacks that you can share with others? Maybe something from your personal example.

Mark Struczewski
One of the biggest hacks I'm talking about right now, which is gonna seem counterintuitive. But I think we need to take more micro-breaks. You know, everybody wants the latest calendar app; they want the latest hack; how can I get more work done? How can I get more hours more things done? And I'm like; you're thinking about this all wrong, you need to give yourself more quiet time. And how you take a micro-break is you get up from wherever you're working. I mean, you physically have to get up and walk someplace quiet. If you're in a high rise, go down to the elevator, the bottom floor, walk outside, if it's cold, get a coat, if it's raining, don't sit in the rain, but someplace sheltered. So you're going to walk out there, that's the first one. B, you don't want to be on any devices. C, don't want to talk to anybody. D, you don't want to think about what you're working on, what you did work on, what you have coming up. You just want to be quiet. Just close your eyes and do several deep breaths. Now, a micro-breaks only five to seven minutes long. But don't overthink the numbers. It could be three minutes long and be four minutes long, don't overthink it, just give yourself the gift of being quiet, not thinking about anything. Because when you do this, your whole body tastes a collective. Ah, because we're constantly looking at things. And we're constantly reading things, and our brain is constantly processing. But if you take that, and you just keep yourself a break, a short break, it's gonna be so much better for your productivity. And you could take as many many-micro breaks as you want during the day. It's not like a drug or alcohol, it's not going to hurt you. And I tell age, you don't want to take whenever you're taken every hour, it's going to benefit your productivity in the long run.

Stephen Lu
Yeah, I really liked that tip, right? Because I think a lot of people when they say, Oh, I want to be productive, you're just grinding, hard, hard, hard, hard, no taking no breaks, and then you just get tired, your body shuts down, your brain doesn't, you know, can't think properly. I really like what you said about taking that changing environment and just not have any devices with you. Sometimes you're just so focused on working on something and you get stuck, you're trying to solve a problem and trying to do something creative. And you just can't think of anything, by removing yourself from the environment and just being somewhere different, right? Maybe you enjoy some sounds of nature, maybe you just like you said, taking that big sigh of deep breath, take that big, big side, and then use some ideas to start coming into you. Right? I think just being in that same environment for too long. We just remember things, right. So, like, for me, I will even admit, sometimes my best ideas, and sometimes my post ideas for my post, I'm going to just come when I'm in the shower, just because I have a changing environment. I'm relaxing ideas just come to me.

Mark Struczewski
One of the things I tell my clients is we've all been on those projects where you can see the finish line, you can literally see the finish line, but you're feeling overwhelmed. You're feeling frustrated, you're feeling tired. And I said that's the time you should take a micro-break. And they're like, Are you serious? I'm so close. I said, Yeah. But here's the thing. Do you want to like crawl across the finish line? Or do you want to fly across the finish line, if you go take a micro-break, five minutes, come back, you will sail across that finish line. And a lot of people would rather finish it on a good note, then like, Oh, I can't believe it's over. So micro breaks is so powerful. But it's so countercultural, because the world is on 24/7/365 I mean, literally you can get be on social media or email or anything all day all night. And so you got to be really intentional about being quiet. I tell people to shut up. I mean, literally just shut up and just be quiet because we're always talking or doing something. And neuroscience is teaching us that our brain likes to quiet

Stephen Lu
Yeah, especially now you got devices everywhere. You know, that was the key thing. He said, even just saying you're going your phone. And you know just the way apps are designed are just meant for you to be on there as long as possible. And you get notifications get blasted here and there with work, email, things like that. Yeah, absolutely. You need to take a break and just I like what you said you want to finish strong. You don't want to feel like you're you're crawling across the finish line. And that feels like an actual sense of accomplishment. Right? I think an analogy, just like you're running a race, when I did run that half marathon at the full marathon, where I ran a half marathon, about like, bout 11. Ish, my body started shutting down. I was like, Oh, you know what, let me slow down if you keep that, keep a slower pace, and then we keep moving. And that gave me enough energy to kind of that last mile to finish across the finish the restaurants going across the finish line. So I think that thing that analogy applies the same way when you're working on something very important.

Mark Struczewski
No, it's interesting. When I started running back in 2017, I learned the want run walk method. And what I do is I run for a mile walk for a 10th run for a mile walk for 10. And they've actually proven that people that run by the run walk method actually are more are better athletes, because most people are running full till and then they start as you did, they start getting tired at the end of the race, but the people that build in the breast breaks through as they're running, they actually finish better. And it sounds counterintuitive, because you like in the middle of ratio, stop and walk, but you're gonna get tired anyways. So you might as well build those brakes. And as you're, as you're running.

Stephen Lu
Yeah, I definitely realized that too. And when I was doing my 100 mile challenge this month, I go out, go run maybe four or five miles, obviously, I can't do a straight. But I tried to like if I know I'm doing four miles, I run the two miles there, you know, and I walked for maybe a minute or two, right, get that recharging, and all that second half of the other two mile just feel so much better. Or I could just stroke all the way through and just barely make it home or hurting trying to get home. I agree with you there, Mark? Yeah, definitely take those micro-breaks, whether it's running, whether you're working on something, and you'll be able to finish whatever you're working on strong. Let me get to our next topic here. Mark, what's the number one reason what's the top reason why people are just not productive? we kind of talked about a little bit earlier.

Mark Struczewski
I'm going to say something and maybe somewhat controversial, but it's the truth. People are lazy. I think I don't think people are stupid. I don't think people don't know how to be productive. I think they're lazy. They're like, Well, you know, I know if I take care of myself whether you run bike swim doesn't matter. I know, I'm probably going to be healthier, but I rather binge watch Netflix for eight hours. I mean, we know so I don't think the reason is people are stupid. I think they're lazy. They don't want to do it. I don't know why I teach my clients. You got to take breaks. You can't just keep going and going and going. You're not the Energizer Bunny, but even the Energizer Bunny is going to run out of juice at some point. If you look at the entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, he sleeps eight hours a night, eight hours a night. How do you think he gets so much stuff done? People are not prioritizing sleep, people are not prioritizing, taking care of themselves. They think they have to get up early, run all day, go to bed at midnight and get four hours of sleep. But that doesn't work. They proven it neuroscience has proven that you need to take care of yourself. And so I think people are just lazy. Or maybe they think that well, you know, other people are doing it. They look Gary Vaynerchuk or he works 16 hours a day. He also sleeps eight hours a night. So I don't like again. I don't think it's because people are stupid. I think it's because they're lazy.

Stephen Lu
Yeah. And I think with lazy. It's just like, well, what would you rather do? Right? And then like, would I rather go out and run? Or would I just stay at home and put on my pajamas and watch Netflix? So a lot of it comes down to the mindset when I think when I tell people that you get better at time management with the more things you have it sort of counterintuitive as well, because, well how am I better at managing my time when I'm more things to do? It's because you have to deal with all these things a bit. Okay, what am I prioritizing? What do I need to do first for you to do second, and then you realize what you're wasting time on it earlier than the two truths and a lie. I said I got my best grades in college when I was working internship on the side. And it's because I got really, really productive every single moment during the day. For example, I work an internship in the morning, I have class in the afternoon, I purposely parked off campus and then I take the shuttle to campus. And then I can study my notes from from the previous lecture. And on the way back when I'm done with class taking the shuttle back to the parking lot, I can study my notes from that day. So I'm always studying, you know, I'm being productive when I'm you know, taking the shuttle I could just be on my phone scrolling. I could just be doing you know, whatever, but I'm finding opportunities to be productive. And just focusing on one thing at a time really, really helps as well.

Mark Struczewski
Well it's like people don't like to get places early like your point like you want to review your notes. If you have your class starting eight o'clock for example. Well how about getting on campus seven o'clock go someplace in the Quad or wherever sit quietly and read over your nose, but people are running in at the last minute classes starting they're running in or they're given a project a meeting or a sales presentation. I mean, at work they're running at the last minute how about if you get there half hour early, then you can go there you're not rushed? You can look through your notes Make sure your presentations in order, but people are always like getting things done at the last possible moment. And then they look back oh I could have done this forgot this. I forgot this. Yeah, cuz you were in a hurry. But if you get there a little early, then you can be more composed. We've been meeting Steven, where we like, what, why is this person a breath of sweat through this shirt, and you could tell they're, they're all frustrated because they were rushing. But they gotten there early, they could have gone the restroom, they could have made sure their hair was all done, you know, not my case. But, you know, they could have done that. But when people rushed in the last minute, they're already out of breath. They're flabbergasted. Now they're trying to give a presentation. And then they drop their notes, because they're sweating and stuff. It's just it's never ends well, so here's another tip for you show up places early. I don't mean a couple minutes early. If you're going to give the presentation. Be there. 30 minutes ahead of time, make sure the project is going to work. Make sure your computer hooked up, make sure the microphone works. People don't stop and think about this stuff. They just rush into it. And then they get frustrated. Oh, I can never do this. Well, you can just show up early. It's not that hard.

Stephen Lu
Oh, yeah. Man, I'm a very early person as well. So whoever is late, was always you know, I have friends who are always late that one of my biggest pet peeves. It's just like, why can't you just come early. And you know, I've lived in the Bay Area, when there's so much traffic, like you give yourself an extra 1530 minutes if you need to write show up early because there's it doesn't hurt anyone. If you show up early. If you show up late, it does hurt people. Yep. To tie into your point about just coming to meetings, like rush are unprepared. I learned, I learned how to be more prepared, especially my job right now as a project manager, that that so many meetings, I can't possibly be prepared for a meeting like right, right before because I need it back to back to back stacked on top of each other. So what I'd like to do is the day before, I look at my schedule for the next day, and look at it and say, Okay, I have all these different meetings, I have my notes ready for those meetings. And if I do have the time, I know maybe I call them five minutes early, I can look at my notes. I don't have to try to remember what we talked about last time, I already have it all there in my notes. So just being prepared ahead of time saves you so much time that will save you that stress. And maybe you mean you I think we approached it the same way I just don't get how people are able to do things last minute and not to stress out.

Mark Struczewski
It's one of those mysteries in life will probably never solve.

Stephen Lu
We talked a bit so far about how to be more productive. We talk about why people aren't productive, because you know, they're lazy. They don't have their priorities. But some people are just like, hey, I want to get productive, but I just get things done. How do you limit distractions, right? We have phones, we have all these things going on? How do you limit distractions to make sure you get things done without having to check your phone and maybe some other distractions as well.

Mark Struczewski
One of my favorite words, today is intentionality. Okay, so if you want to limit your distractions, like let's take the phone, I mean, we bring the phone everywhere we go, Well, how many notifications Do you have going off? Now? I'm not a zero notification guy. There are some instances where notifications are good. Like I have my weather apps turned on my credit card apps turned on? Because I want to know if you're using my credit card up there in New York City there, Steven. Okay, so those are important. But do you need social media turned on? Do you need email turned on? Do you need Amazon turned on? If you don't have a delivery coming? Maybe not? I don't know. But I think people need to take a hard look at their notifications. And if you get notifications, you're like, Man, this is distracting, then turn it off. Another thing I tell people is disable vibration mode. Because if you mute your phone, and you put it face down, but then you get a text message, what happens? It vibrates and there goes a distraction. So definitely look at your phone, I would encourage you to do a notification cleanse, which means go through all your notifications on all your devices and determine Do I need the sun? Is this notification serving me? Or is it a distraction, you get to choose? There are no notification please or no distraction please, you get the monitor yourself. So definitely that number two set boundaries, whether you're working from home, you work in a corporate America, wherever it is, make sure you set boundaries. If you are working home, do you have a spare bedroom that you can work in so your family knows when you're there you're working, if you do fine, if you don't, maybe you can carve out a corner, the living room or the kitchen or the back porch, say and maybe tape it off with masking tape and say when I'm here, I'm working unless the house is on fire, or someone's bleeding profusely. I don't want to hear from you. And so set up boundaries. I mean, limit distractions. We have so many distractions in our lives today. They're all over the place. They're electronic, they're non electronic, but you got to make sure you are being intentional about managing them. You can't blame other people like like I think early in 2020 people are blaming Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Look at you can turn those off, you can delete those apps, they're not the problem. You're the problem. You're the human being you could turn your phone off, you can get in your car and go to a park someplace where no one's gonna be and and you know, leave your phone behind or put on Do Not Disturb. So you have the power to be undistracted.

Stephen Lu
You made some really, really great point there. I agree with you. I think maybe to sum it up the one sentence is just focus on one thing at a time. Right and that's what I do right if I'm editing a video right After the slideshow I'm going to add to this video, I put my phone away. Right And yeah, you know, trying to read but I know to not check it right? If it's something really, really important, someone will call me. Right? I don't need to check a text message, I don't need to check a notification within the 10 seconds it comes out really not that important. So I think just by focusing on one thing at a time, and I really liked what you said, I might pick up that typical just disabling notifications. Because Do you really need to check Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever email every 15 minutes every 30 minutes? No, right? It's just, it's just, it's just the time. So I'm going to distract you from from what you're working on. So really excellent. points there. Mark. I 100% agree with you there. The last thing I want to talk about here before we wrap up. So we talked about limiting distraction? What are some other ways that you can get better at just focusing on what you're working on and getting things done?

Mark Struczewski
Well, I'm a big fan of clutter free work areas. So when you're working, let's say you're going to write a blog post, the only thing that should be in front of you is the device you're using to create the blog post, and maybe your water. So many people have their they work in areas, their whole work area is clutter. Well, you're trying to write this blog posts and your eyes, sees the stapler and sees the picture sees the pen sees a wrapper from last night or whatever. And why is it your your eyes are always looking at this stuff. So I would encourage you if you really want to focus, make sure you set yourself up for clutter free as possible work areas. Now this is not just physical, its mental clarity. It's noise Do you hear noise? Is there? Is our cat outside your window meowing? Do you hear a helicopter overhead? See, you may not think of any of these, but your brain hears that you can hear hear a helicopter 15 miles away. And you can hear the very faint that your brain is going. You're trying to focus on writing the blog post and your brain is going What's that noise? Oh, I hear a plane, you know, you're just like, not really paying attention to it. But your brain hears everything. And so what I encourage you to do is maybe get some headphones, I have a playlist on Apple Music, which is all instrumental music. I also have like some apps that play like like rain, or thunderstorms or waves or cricket. So this way, I'm not hearing anything else I can focus. Because most people live in an area where they are just quiet. And they're just focusing on the blog post in this instance, they're hearing all kinds of noise. They're hearing the neighbor's talk next door, you're hearing a radio boom, car, two streets on and your brain is paying attention to it. And you may not be aware of it. But you're losing your focus without even being aware of it. Because your brain is constantly scanning through all the senses of other things, which is affecting your ability to focus.

Stephen Lu
Man, that's a great tip by by cable who's very cluttered, but it's just the current situation here in the hotel room. But yeah, I agree with you. It's just, you know, our brains always working. And yeah, you maybe you're focused on one task, but it's always listening. It's always seeing things, it's always smelling things. So there's always all these different distractions, the finding ways to limit that I you know, just having a clean desk, and you know, with the headphones, I think that's an excellent, excellent tip as well. You know, I realize I'm more productive at home than being in the office because there's so much noise going on, or you hear compensations you got people walking by. So just by I'm at home, I do the thing where it's like, Hey, I got important meeting doors closed, Don't go Don't come in, unless it's something like an emergency, like he said, so I'm more focused on getting things done there. So that's another another great tip as well. They're more.

Mark Struczewski
You ever, ever been working at home and your wife does cooking food, and you're trying to focus now you can smell that aroma. That's another way to lose focus. People don't think about that. But if you're hungry, and you smell that meal, and you're getting toward the end of being cook, you can't focus, you're like your summers going, Yeah, you're trying to write this blog post. I know it's gonna be on a table in a few minutes. So again, it's all the senses, we always think about our ears and their eyes. It's all the senses.

Stephen Lu
Yeah, you're just trying to get through that blog post as quickly as possible. Send that in and then you can go eat. Yep. Yeah. Bark. Any any last tips you want to share here? Before we wrap up?

Mark Struczewski
No, I just I want to I don't want to say no, I want to say don't overcomplicate it, okay, productivity is not that complicated. What happens is too many people are trying to do too many things. Just pick one thing, whether you heard me on this live or you see me on LinkedIn, whatever the case may be, just pick one thing that resonates with you, and go do it. Don't try to do 4, 5, 6, 7 ,10 things at once, cuz you're gonna, you're gonna give up you and you're frustrated. So just pick one thing. I don't care what that one thing is. Micro breaks, planning doesn't matter. Pick one thing, and then get really good at that thing. Go back and do some other things. The problem is people are doing trying to do too much and it never ends. Well.

Stephen Lu
Excellent point. I think the one thing I'm going to pick out out of all this is the disabling the app notifications. Yeah, I can mute my phone. But it's just like, but I take a break. Like, oh, man, there's so many notifications. Well, I want you to check all those notifications there.

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