How to Be More Productive Even If It Kills You

December 25, 2015, 7:00 PM UTC
Illustration by Guy Shield

Like many in our current predicament—so much work, so little time—I have felt my personal productivity flagging of late. Industrywide numbers bear out the sorry fact that, in this regard, I am part of a trend: Productivity has plateaued. As a workforce, we wheezed over the invisible finish line of 2015. Sure, there is consternation as to the reasons for this functional droop, but in truth, what does it matter? There are no excuses. There is just a huge opportunity to do things with more energy, style, and efficiency.

First, I’m going to get up earlier in order to lengthen the hours in which I provide value to the company. Right now I usually bolt upright at 6:02 each morning. Obviously, I’m going to have to get the party started sooner. Note to self: Set alarm for 4:30. Want to join me?

Next, my Fitbit and I like to take a walk right after waking, because I don’t want to die anytime soon, which would be the antithesis of productivity, I think. During this hour, which will now take place in the stone dark (see above), I have yet to achieve anything productive. So from now on I promise to be one of those people who plod around with a headset on, jabbering to somebody. Note to self: Find co-workers who either like working at 4:30 a.m. or reside in Bengaluru.

No matter how absurdly early I get to the office, chances are I’ll find several co-workers already meandering around blearily on their way to their productivity-enhancing, open-plan cubicles. We all see one another and nod without speaking, trying to establish a bit of personal space without the benefit of walls. In spite of those honest attempts, I know I will be drawn into social intercourse. If I’m going to blast out of the gate, it’s clear I’m going to have to establish boundaries on this egalitarian factory floor. Note to self: Be ruder. Keep your head down. Look into the establishment of a physical frontier. Towers of books? Sheetrock? Body odor?

Fortunately, we are all blessed with technologies designed to boost effectiveness. But do they do so? Take my smartphone. It enables folks to reach me anytime for productive labor. By noon I have been reached by my wife, who is an excellent raconteur, by my friend Osborne, who is separating from his spouse, and by a guy from Petaluma who seems to have stepped in cow flop and needs a hand reestablishing professional equanimity. Only the last of these conversations, in truth, was productive. Note to self: Turn off smartphone.

But wait. That same intelligent implement gives me the power to work day and night, increasing the ways I can benefit the shareholders we love. Unfortunately, it also sports a terrific camera, access to my music in the cloud, and a host of helpful apps. Right now I’m on level 314 of Two Dots. It’s totally immersive. Watch out for the in-app purchases, though. That furshlugginer game has cost me upwards of $500 already in power-ups. Of course, that’s nothing compared with the more than a thousand bucks I’ve spent on body armor in Infinity Blade. Note to self: Erase all apps.

And how about email? How much of my in-box is a waste of time? Sixty percent? Eighty percent? Could intense, non-virtual interface be the only productive alternative to digital brain frizz? Yes! Meetings! Although, come to think of it, I had so many meetings yesterday I didn’t get to anything I wanted to do. Not productive! Note to self: Work longer hours to undo the accumulation of duties produced by the ubiquity of meetings. Work through breakfast! Lunch! Dinner!

Okay, let’s see what we’ve got here. Sleep very little. Avoid unnecessary social interactions. Eliminate time-wasting technology. Eschew meetings. Do lunch. Yeah. I can do all that. You can too, I’ll bet. And then—voilà!—we’ll achieve great heights together! And we’ll do all this because … because … Hmm. Note to self: Investigate correlation between productivity and compensation.

Follow Stanley Bing at and on Twitter at @thebingblog.

A version of this article appears in the January 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Productivity Now!”.

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