Productivity expert Jason Womack says the secret to getting more done is to create a distraction-free zone. Here's what it should look like.
Jason Womack dedicated his book, Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, to you. That's because Womack believes that you are almost certainly wasting your time and not accomplishing your full potential. The executive coach and entrepreneur in residence at tech business incubator Ventura Ventures, based in Ventura, California, has a strategy for making anyone be more productive. He spoke with Inc. reporter John McDermott about time management, how exercise can improve your work life, and what Little League can teach you about business.
Long before you became an expert on productivity, you were a baseball umpire. What did umpiring baseball teach you about business? To be completely transparent, it was T-ball. That job paid for about half a year of college tuition, so it was actually a big deal for me. Here's what I learned: The most important part of that job was building community on the diamond, and the community I was building was often between parents on opposing teams. When it comes to growing a business, it really comes down to how you interact with people with opposing ideas and getting those people to come together in some way.
So what's really keeping people from being more productive? I always thought the problem was time. But what I've realized over the past three years is that there are three other resources, the most important being energy and focus. If I don't have the mental or physical energy, it doesn't matter how much time I have. The next factor would be focus. When a CEO sits down at his or her desk, what is pulling on his or her focus that's a distraction? An email can come in that's a distraction but it feels good to work on that versus an invite that comes in but there might be too much work involved in that for the time being.
So, sometimes people busy themselves with low-level thinking tasks just to make themselves feel productive? We're starved for wins. People are looking for something to check off the list. It's the idea that I can stay busy cleaning things up versus turning everything off and focusing solely on a problem, a situation, or an opportunity. Most of my clients can't read a document or book for 15 minutes without being distracted.
How do you rewire a person's behavior then? That's the fourth resource: ecosystem. I'm not going to be able to change what I do if I go to the same place where I was doing the incorrect behavior before. For instance, this phone call. There's a room in my house where I take phone calls that is not at my desk. If I'm sitting at my desk, I can look at the book that I'm reading, my email; I can organize my desk. When I pop into this room, it's my thinking space. Ask yourself: What can I shift in my environment so that my focus is enhanced so that my energy can be used most appropriately in that limited time that I have?
What is the most common time management mistake business owners make? Not being conscious about where time went. If I could give one piece of advice to someone at the executive level it would be to minimize the number of times he or she is distracted while working.
How does someone become conscious of his or her distractions? It goes back to the ecosystem. Recognize which ecosystem is the most distraction-free. Also, a CEO should have some kind of assessment or checklist. That will raise a person's awareness of what he or she just did.
How does fitness play into productivity? I believe that if people were a little bit more aware, their focus will increase. Every meal is a conscious experience. Do I need to finish those last four ounces of steak? Do I need to order an appetizer and a dessert? Do I need to drink that extra glass of alcohol? When the alarm goes off, do I need to walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes? Should I get out one subway stop early and walk six blocks? All of these micro decisions add up. CEOs are so used to going big, that if they're not training for an Ironman, they're likely to go in the opposite direction and not take care of themselves.
Want to hear more productivity secrets from Jason Womack? Join him and other seasoned entrepreneurs on October 3 in Phoenix for our Inc. 500|5000 conference. Visit conference.inc.com for more details.
JOHN MCDERMOTT is a business and culture reporter whose work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Playboy and on AOL.com. He recently moved from Chicago to Brooklyn, New York, to work for Inc.com. @J_M_McDermott