The Boring Truth About Improving Your Productivity

Drew Carey looked at the huge stack of paper on his desk, the hundreds of emails in his inbox, and the dozens of voicemails on his phone.

He just couldn’t do it all.

“There was no end to it. I felt like the more that I did in one area, the work would just start piling up in another area.” [1]

At this point, Carey was one of the hardest workers in Hollywood. He was the host on Whose Line is it Anyway, he had his own hit TV show and hosted many events as the keynote speaker.

With all of these pulls on his time, improving his productivity was absolutely crucial.

So he picked up a copy of David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. The title appealed to Carey, as the stress in his life was starting to increase every single day. 

“How can you truly enjoy yourself when you’re out with friends, or want to sit down and read a novel when you know you have that big pile of work that needs to get done?”

After reading the book, Carey started applying some of the techniques suggested by Allen. He did indeed become more organized and effective, but it didn't last. After a while, the work would still just keep piling up. [2]

“I finally had it. I took one good look at another pile of work and just said, ‘hey, I’m rich, why don’t I just get David Allen himself to come here and take care of this for me?’”

So Carey called up Allen, who then said for X dollars, he would come and work with Carey for a full year. Carey happily obliged.

It wasn’t disclosed exactly how much “X” was, but given that Allen charges business executives $20,000/day to work with him, we can assume that it was probably out of your price range (at least it is mine).

So for the rest of us that cannot “press a magic button” and have a productivity expert show up on our door step, what can we do to improve our productivity?


Drew Carey’s story about trying a new productivity system probably sounds pretty similar to what you have tried in the past.

You heard about the huge benefits of a new productivity system - so you purchased it - hoping that this finally helps you get more done in less time. You got some good ideas, tried them out for a while and saw some real results in improving your productivity!

But then you started to let some tasks in your new system slip. It didn’t feel like the right time to get something done, so you put it off until later. Then, all of the sudden, your new productivity system was thrown off.

Because you put yesterday’s tasks off until today, you now had way too much on your plate. So now you weren't able to act on your tasks based on the system. So your confidence in it was shaken.

Slowly but surely, you had less and less faith in the system. Until finally you end up like Drew Carey – feeling completely frustrated and helpless to get things done (except you probably cannot afford $20,000/day to fix the problem like he can).

This is the big problem with productivity systems. They work great – but only if you have the willpower to stick to the system!


Most productivity systems are a perfect representation of the “quick-fix” mentality that is so prevalent in today’s society. We believe that there is some sort of magic solution out there that will instantly change everything for us.

“The only thing that has been holding me back is that I have just been following the wrong system! Once I start following this new and improved system, I will instantly become extremely productive.”

While it is true that you may become more organized by following a new system, becoming more productive is much more complicated than simple organization and management of tasks.

At its core, productivity is made up of 3 key elements:

Productivity = Energy + Focus + Time Management

The problem with most productivity systems is that they focus exclusively on time management. They help you become more organized and schedule your time more effectively.

But the best time management system in the world cannot give you the energy to stop procrastinating.

Nor can it give you the ability to ignore distractions and immerse yourself in the task that needs to get done.

Improving these aspects of productivity requires discipline and practice. You will not simply wake up tomorrow with the willpower that you need to fully stick to a productivity system.

The boring truth is that improving your productivity takes time and hard work.


So how can you truly improve your productivity? Here are 5 ways you can truly begin to improve your productivity. 


Practicing daily mediation is one of the best things you can do to increase your ability to stay focused on a task. By meditating you are training the brain to focus and resist the urge to wander. 

Research shows that you will see a measurable increase in your ability to focus after just 2-3 days of practicing meditation for 10 minutes. [3]

To learn more about the benefits of meditation and how to get started, check out this article.


To exert mental energy, your brain burns through a chemical known as glucoseAny food that contains calories will give your brain glucose to work with. But not all glucose is good for your productivity.

Sugary foods will cause a quick spike of glucose, giving you mental energy for the short-term, but will cause a subsequent crash that depletes your energy just as fast. This will do little for your productivity.

The best thing you can do is keep the glucose level in your bloodstream steady. This will give your brain a consistent reserve of fuel to exert mental energy for the long-term. To accomplish this, researchers suggest a low-glycemic diet. [4]

To learn more about how to fuel your mental energy to become more productivity, check out this article.


As a society, we are chronically sleep deprived. We all know we need to get more sleep, but it's not that easy. Just like it seems there are not enough hours in the day to get things done, it also seems that there are not enough to get a full night's rest.

So if you cannot get more hours of sleep at night, a simple way to get more rest out of the sleep you do get is to achieve total darkness. Under these circumstances you are able to achieve a better sleep for rest and recovery. [5]

With more rest, your brain will be better at processing the glucose you get from food, giving you more mental energy throughout the day. [6]


When it comes time to work, sometimes your brain can get completely overwhelmed. This feeling can lead you to become more stressed, which will drain your energy and focus on the task at hand. 

Chunking is the process of taking that large project and breaking it into manageable “chunks”. Your brain is less likely to become overwhelmed if it is focused simply on the smaller task that you need to do next. [2]

A chunk can be task related - breaking the larger task into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks. Or it can be time related - such as spending 25 minutes on a task, then taking a 5 minute break. There is no single "best way" to break up a task. It depends on what works for you and the project. 


None of the strategies above will give you the same focus and energy that having a great purpose will. It doesn't matter if you eat right, sleep well, meditate and chunk if you don't really care about what you're working on.

A genuine desire to do something gives you focus and energy that seemingly comes out of nowhere. This phenomenon is known as your "Want Power". It happens when you remember what you truly want in life, which triggers a response in your brain that strengthens your willpower. [7]

To learn more about the extraordinary potential of Want Power, check out this article.


It is natural for you to want a new system to be the "quick-fix" that unleashes a new level of productivity for you. However, the perfect productivity system will do nothing for you if you do not back it up with focus and energy.

Having the perfect productivity system is like having the perfect strategy in football. It will help, but if your players are not also athletic and skilled, then even the perfect strategy is not going to win the game.

To improve your productivity, you must work on your focus and your energy as well. They will not improve overnight, but with enough time and hard work, you will truly be able to become a master of productivity!


  1. Baumeister, R., & Tierney, J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength. New York: Penguin Press.
  2. Allen, D. (2001) Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity. New York: Viking.
  3. Brefczynski-Lewis, J., Lutz, A., Schaefer, H., Levinson, D., & Davidson, R. (2007). Neural Correlates Of Attentional Expertise In Long-term Meditation Practitioners. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11483-11488.
  4. Pollan, M. (2009) Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. New York: Penguin
  5. Dvorsky, G. (2014). Why We Need To Sleep In Total Darkness.
  6. Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., Leproult, R., & Cauter, E. (2009). Effects of poor and short sleep on glucose metabolism and obesity risk. Nat Rev Endocrinol Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 253-261.
  7. McGonigal, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery.