How to Perform 20% Better By Doing Less Work

"We do not learn from experience ... we learn from reflecting on experience." —John Dewey

The power of self-reflection is simple but mighty. It’s how you recognize and celebrate progress, gain nourishing motivation, and detach from the workday. Successful people like David Heinemeier Hansson and Marc Andreessen use this tactic to keep their momentum going while managing the pressure of always having more work to do.

But like most activities that aren’t yet a daily habit, even taking out five to fifteen minutes a day just to think and write about your day feels like a drag. That’s because a deliberate practice of reflection, like regular exercise, isn’t always easy or fun. It requires energy, discipline, and some time. Philosopher and psychologist John Dewey explained in his 1910 book, How We Think, why the beneficial act of reflection can feel like, well, such a chore:

Reflective thinking is always more or less troublesome because it involves overcoming the inertia that inclines one to accept suggestions at their face value; it involves willingness to endure a condition of mental unrest and disturbance.

So self-reflection can be tough, but it produces more value than whatever you would’ve spent those minutes on anyway. When you’re constantly chasing that feeling of being productive by conquering more items on your to-do list or cranking out those extra emails, you’d be better off stopping your work to think a little.

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The Write Habit: The Best of the Internet

Happy Weekend! Catch up with the best of what we’ve shared on the interwebs this week! (And apologies for the hiccup with yesterday’s post.)

Our sprawling guide to content marketing.

How to get in the habit of writing.

We’ve written about the awkward leader. Now read about the generous leader.

The dark side of charisma.

Did you take part in Small Business Saturday? Here are some small businesses that have cracked the code of their success.

Leverage the Progress Principle with iDoneThis

Teresa Amabile the Progress Principle

We’ve written before about the secret to happiness and motivation at work. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer wrote a whole book about it called The Progress Principle. They found that the number one driver of a positive inner work life, the key to motivated, engaged, and productive employees, is making progress on meaningful work, even if that progress is a small win.

In a recent 99U conference talk, Professor Amabile shared the best way to achieve those small wins and leverage the progress principle in our daily lives: keeping a work diary. We’re so pleased that she suggested using iDoneThis as an online work diary tool, and we thought we could break down how iDoneThis contributes to the four benefits of keeping a work diary that she identifies:

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Collaboration is Noisy

When did work become so noisy?

I don’t just mean the ambient noise, that clickity-clackity typing, strangely noticeable chewing, annoying finger tapping, and chit-chatting hubbub of an open floor plan office. I’m also talking about the information and social inundation invading our work life, the buzzes and pings, the tweets and likes, the emails and comments, the meetings and chats.

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Our notion of productivity has become imbalanced toward focusing on the inbox of our thought process — input, information, inspiration. I can feel productive after scanning tweets, reading articles, even having an inspiring conversation, but if I don’t take time to think and process, if I don’t actually turn the input into something, that feeling is illusory.

Ultimately, productivity requires producing, creativity creating. It sounds so simple and obvious, but it has been easy to forget these days that we need solitude, quiet and time.

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Acknowledging Workplace Emotions for Better Productivity

In the workplace, we rarely share what’s going on beneath the surface. At most companies, the unspoken expectation is that you park your emotional life at the door, put on your game face, and keep things light and professional. In short, you bring a part of yourself to work and try to suppress the rest.

But at what cost — including to productivity?

Tony Schwartz, in an HBR blog post, Seeing Through Your Blind Spots, talks about how acknowledging and understanding our emotions in the workplace are important to how well we work.

Paying attention to feelings, of others and of ourselves, and improving our communication regarding these emotions helps us know how to work better. (We recommend maintaining a work diary to bring the rest of yourself to work!)

The Ultimate Productivity Instrument is You

In this modern age of gizmos and gadgets, the best productivity app is you.

Benjamin Franklin, that historical grand master of productivity who did pretty well without an iPhone, knows why:

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Our capabilities for self-analysis, awareness, and perception are what separate us from robotic worker drones, punching in and punching out without rhyme or reason. But our limited notion of productivity ignores those capabilities, focusing simplistically on output and end results, on just doing it and getting it done. We know the destinations in our work are important, but all too often, we ignore the journey and the process. We ignore ourselves.

Passing time

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