In my work with clients, I see three initial milestones for people who are on a journey to improve their productivity—defined as achieving significant results. And all three are related to attention management. Learning about these 3 levels of productivity can help you measure your productivity and become more aware of how you use your attention throughout the workday. This can help you harness your attention to optimize your productivity.
In level 1 productivity, knowledge workers are constantly reactive, addressing mostly others’ priorities. In level 2, they are mostly proactive, spending more time accomplishing the tasks they choose. And in level 3, knowledge workers devote their attention to achieving their most significant results daily.
When we use “achieving significant results” as the definition, we can measure our productivity on a daily basis. By training your brain to recognize what level of productivity you operate in, you can put in place the habits necessary to progress to the third level of productivity. The goal is to work in level 3 productivity for the majority of your day, so that you can achieve more of your most significant results.
The 3 Levels of Productivity
In this digital age, we get email, texts, and chat messages constantly, creating communication debt, and causing us to make changes to our task list too often.
For many of us, this influx of communication causes constant distraction. This is especially challenging for leaders who feel like they need to be available to their team members. They fear being the bottleneck in their department or organization. But in my work with thousands of leaders and managers across the globe, I’ve proven that leaders can learn how to balance the needs of their team members with their own ability to manage their attention, and progress through the 3 levels of productivity to achieve their most significant results.
Workers in Productivity Level 1 Are Reactive
We all have days that seemingly fly by. On these days, we know we were busy, but we can’t really articulate what we’ve accomplished. For some of us, a day or two each week might go by like this. However, for workers in level 1 productivity, this is how they feel at the end of most days, and measuring productivity would result in a low score.
You know that you are in level 1 productivity if you spend the bulk of your time doing things such as responding to email or phone calls, helping anyone who knocks on the door (or pings you on Slack), or reacting to seemingly urgent situations. In level 1 productivity, you are almost always reactive.
You might get lost in a string of articles or videos on the internet. You frequently engage in conversations about topics that have nothing to do with your work. Or you might get caught up in helping others solve problems that are interesting, but not really related to the results that are important to you.
Being reactive isn’t always bad for your productivity. Anyone who works with others has to be reactive at times.
You might feel that your job is more reactive than others’, for instance, if you’re a manager, or in a support role. Maybe you feel that you were promoted because you are seen as “extremely helpful” and “always available.” As a result, you’re afraid not to be responsive to everyone all the time.
But here’s what you need to know: if you have even one job responsibility that isn’t related to helping others solve problems or handling emergencies, you need to make some time to be proactive. Make a rough estimate of how much of your job responsibilities require you to be reactive and collaborate with others, and how much requires your sustained attention on independent work. This estimate can be your guide to how much of your day you’ll need to make yourself unavailable to others.
Workers in Productivity Level 2 Are Mostly Proactive
In level 2 productivity, you’re consciously making time every day to be proactive. You knock things off your to-do list and finish each workday feeling that you actually got important work done. The measure of your productivity is higher.
This is a great place to be.
If you find yourself having a hard time progressing to level 2 productivity, one idea that can help is to break the habit of checking your email first thing in the morning.
If the first thing you do when you start your workday every morning is to log in to your email, you set a tone of reactivity for your day. It becomes hard to interrupt that stream of reactivity to get your own work done.
You can only be productive (achieve your significant results) when you’re being proactive, and you can only be proactive when you’re not being reactive.
Your email often diverts your attention to things like reading blogs and checking your social media. Before you know it, it’s time for your next meeting, then lunch, and when you come back, you need to check your email, of course. The cycle starts all over again.
Break that cycle.
Review your to-do list first thing in the morning instead of checking email. Work for an hour or ninety minutes, checking items off your list, before you open your email. This is the way to set a proactive tone for your day.
As a result, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, even if you spent some of your day in a reactive mode. You’ll still be able to point to concrete things that you accomplished first thing in the morning. (Having said this, there are exceptions to every rule. Read more here about checking email first thing in the morning.)
Many of the leaders and managers who seek my help are in level 2 productivity. They are already successful, yet they know there is room to further optimize their productivity. My job is to help them to progress to level 3 productivity—and spend the majority of their days there.
Workers in Level 3 Productivity Achieve Results
Many of us have tasks on our to-do lists that may be important, even though completing them won’t bring us closer to the “big picture” goals we are working to achieve. In level 3 productivity, you mark things off your to-do list, but, also, you consistently complete tasks that bring you closer to achieving your most significant results. And if this is how you measure productivity, you’ll rate the highest.
You know you are working at level 3 productivity when you accomplish one or more goal-dependent tasks each day.
My suggestion for staying in level 3 productivity is to make sure that you have your “big picture” objectives always visible to you.
I do this through my current “Projects” list. I make sure that every project in my list has at least one task represented in my to-do list. Every project must have at least one thing that I can do next to keep it moving forward.
Reviewing your Project list every day will enable you to lift your head out of the “trees” and see the “forest.” This will help you stay exactly where you want to be—in level 3 productivity.
The Empowered Productivity System
I teach a workflow management system called the Empowered Productivity System.
Training on Empowered Productivity—offered for individuals or for teams—provides a way to measure productivity, and teaches knowledge workers how to quickly progress through the 3 levels of productivity.
Participants who complete this training learn road-tested strategies for how to consistently focus their attention on achieving their most significant results. My clients leave behind their lives of reaction and distraction, and begin to choose lives of intention and choice.
What I love most is that people who complete the Empowered Productivity training report feeling more joy at work, while working less and getting more done. If you’d like to fast track through the 3 levels of productivity, check out Empowered Productivity training today.
3 Levels of Productivity: Accelerate Your Progress
Progressing through the 3 Levels of Productivity is a function of how well you can manage your attention. Check out the blog posts below to learn more about this critical skill set and get back in the driver’s seat of your work—and your life!
- What is Attention Management and How Can It Help You?
- Defining Productivity
- Not As Productive as You Could Be?
Please don’t hesitate to contact me to talk about specific issues in your organization and whether my solutions are a fit for your speaking and training needs.