I'm a little obsessed with my productivity. As a writer, I'm constantly trying to tweak my routine and squeak out a bit more work in a shorter period of time, or at least within the normal business hours of 8 to 5, yet still maintain a high level of quality. Over the years, I've tried a few unconventional approaches to boost my output. Here are a handful.
1. Switch offices routinely.
OK, this is a luxury, but it's not as expensive as it sounds. Most of us already venture out to Caribou to get a break from the office once in a while. I'm a big fan of the travel writer Paul Theroux, who has explained how visiting new places challenges our thinking. I've been known to take this to an extreme. I sometimes will switch offices--working in one place for a few days, then packing up my laptop and going to a different office altogether (sometimes, it's a rented office downtown). My work gets a quick boost from the change in scenery.
2. Don't compensate for someone doing a poor job.
Apparently, not everyone agrees with me on this one, judging from some emails and Twitter feedback. I've posted on social networks before that it is not your job to compensate for someone else doing a poor job. Anyone in a leadership role might feel compelled to make amends for an underperforming employee, and I'll admit there are times when that's warranted. Your own productivity suffers when you view it as your job to constantly make up for the inefficiencies of others. Maybe Margaret in accounting just needs to finish that report on her own without your help.
3. Block out all distractions.
Like a sprinter who sometimes needs to move out in front of the pack, your productivity will benefit from times of extreme isolation. Turn up the volume on those expensive headphones and zone out completely, or go find a corner somewhere in the building and work by yourself. Take the extra steps to disable service on your phone for a bit and close out of Gmail. A marathon solitary session may help you crank out more work than you normally do in a group setting.
4. Find the right music.
Speaking of zoning out: I'm a big fan of using music as a productivity booster. This is more than just playing some speed metal to get you fired up. I'm writing this right now with a band called Wye Oak playing in the background--they're an eclectic indie band with fantastic drums and dreamy vocals. Sometimes, I will find an amazing new artist like Atoms for Peace and listen to the whole album in one pass to help get a productivity gain (at least for 45 minutes).
5. Get a new laptop.
You thought technology wasn't going to help you stay productive? There are a few Luddites who argue that technology is actually distracting us from being productive. Apparently, they have not used one of the new Intel Haswell laptops. New models like the HP Chromebook 14 use this faster chip, and you'll notice how spritely the system runs right away. Plus, a new laptop runs faster than one that's bogged down with extra drivers.
6. Take a long break.
Here's the most unconventional productivity booster of all. It might seem counterproductive, or maybe completely unproductive, but taking a break is a proven way to boost your efficiency; taking a long break can be even better. I've taken four hours off in the middle of the day, usually to just play a game of backgammon with my wife or read the newspaper. After a long break, I suddenly muster up the energy to whip through my work.