Written by Richard Branson from the podcast of Charles Duhigg, and published on Virgin.com
We all only have 24 hours in a day, yet some people are more productive than others. Many would just put this down to genetics – some people are just wired to be more productive than others – but in this insightful Virgin Podcast, New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, Charles Duhigg explains that we can all improve our productivity by thinking a little differently.
As the author of Smarter Faster Better – The Secrets of Being Productive In Life and Business, Charles has some wonderful advice for increasing productivity. Here are the top tips I took away from the Podcast.
“It’s not about some innate skill; it’s about how hard you apply the choices you make. And once you begin to train people to see the world in terms of ‘I can make choices that control whether I’m successful or a failure’, it’s incredibly empowering… and we can create what’s called a bias towards action.” I couldn’t agree more – we can all improve our productivity by working at it. I was never the smartest kid in school, but I have managed to accomplish a lot in my life by working hard every day to achieve what others said was impossible.
Look for elements that you enjoy
“Simply by sitting down and deciding ‘this activity is rewarding because I’ve justified to myself how it’s attached to deeper values that I hold or a higher meaning, or things that I really care about’, we actually see that new neurological pathways are formed that make it easier to motivate us through the activity.” Passion has kept me awake during the midnight hours, positive during the moments of stress, and determined throughout the challenges.
Focus on building mental models
“Having a story inside your head that you’re telling yourself as events occur, to help you keep track, almost subconsciously of ‘here’s a piece of information that matters because it fits the story inside my head; here’s a piece of information that I can ignore because it just doesn’t fit this mental model that I’m building’.” I’ve always been one to visualise how I want things to go. I don’t think we could have possibly moved from the music industry to the airline industry without a vision to build towards.
“A to-do list, in addition to keeping track of the tasks your want to accomplish, it should also help you re-focus or think about your priorities.” I don’t know how many red notebooks I have gone through over the years. I always have one with me to journal my thoughts and set goals as soon as they come to me. By writing down my goals, I have found that they have become easier to put into action – placing me one step closer to achieving them.
Don’t get caught up in decision making
“The people that are most productive, they’re the ones who recognise that making a decision isn’t about a binary success or failure; it’s about conducting an experiment – and they learn to see their choices as experiment. Which failure isn’t actually failure; it’s just a result that helps you make a better decision next time.” In my opinion there is no right decision or wrong decision – it’s all learning. Knowing this I have been able to learn from times where things didn’t go to plan, and move on, faster.
Draw on your own experiences
“Look to things that we know work and build off of that.” Often the best way to innovate, solve a problem or get things done is to focus on what you know. This is the approach we’ve taking within the Virgin Group, moving from industry to industry. Running a radio station and a hotel might seem like entirely different ball games, but it’s amazing how much information and experience can carry over and be applied to different situations.
Lean management: “…putting responsibility and empowerment with the person that is closest to that problem” – is, as Charles says, one of the biggest recent revelations in productivity. Not one to use business jargon, I call it delegation. Delegation has been the key to my success. I have always known the areas in which I excel and those in which I don’t. Too many people create unnecessary work for themselves, by trying to do it all themselves, and more often than not, they are not best placed to understand the task at hand, let alone complete it.
“Creative process relies on creative tension, it relies on this anxiety, we’re going to embrace that and say this is a sign that things are going right.” Many people view anxiety as a hindrance for productivity, and it can be, if you let it freeze you. I can’t begin to tell you how of many stressful situations I have found myself in – but I have learned to embrace them. A little bit of panic can be good for productivity, as pressure can be a great source of motivation and focus.
Another little helpful tip: Capture your notes by hand. Typing is faster than handwriting, but by making the process harder, we have to think more and actually learn more. See, I knew there was a reason that I still prefer my trusty notebook over a laptop!
I enjoyed listening to Charles’s insights; the tips he highlights have most definitely played a huge part in helping me to build the Virgin brand.