I’m a huge podcast fan. (Full disclosure: I have a podcast called Boston Speaks Up where I visit with inspiring figures who are innovating the world for the better.) Listening to smart people from diverse backgrounds discuss a variety of topics as I’m cleaning the house, taking a walk or doing some other chore has become a regular pastime.
Of all the episodes I’ve listened to over the years, few have struck me as much as Ezra Klein’s “Our Workplaces Think We’re Computers. We’re Not.” from July 2021. The short version: What’s coded as work is often just a distraction.
In the episode, Klein talks with Annie Murphy Paul about her book The Extended Mind. It turns out that we’re deeply impacted by our environment; we’re not computers. Things like taking a walk, daydreaming and playing are just as important, if not more important, than sending that email.
4 Ways to Increase Work From Home Productivity
- Start meditating.
- Stop grinding.
- Share your challenges.
- Get away from your computer.
I’ve written previously about how completing an Ironman inspired me to start my own business. Listening to Klein’s podcast helped me understand that listening to my body (outside of physical conditioning) is fundamental to health, happiness and productivity. Are you stressed or are you tired? These are two different things! Each requires a different solution. So what can you do to get out of the habit of thinking of your brain (and your body, for that matter) as a computer?
Klein brings this up in the episode. Mediation is about settling the body and the mind to simply exist in the moment. This isn’t just mystical nonsense. Meditation is good for your nervous system, decreases inflammation and refreshes you to dive back into that project. If you’ve never been successful at meditating, apps like Headspace or Youtube channels like Yoga With Adriene can help you get started.
If you can’t focus on a task or are stuck on a problem, you’re not going to grind your way out of it efficiently. In fact, it might take you twice as long. Instead shift your focus to something else. If you’re working from home, go wash some dishes or take out the trash. Get away from the keyboard. If you’re working in the digital economy, there are few tasks that need completing in those nine-to-five hours. Set your own (sustainable) pace.
Share Your Challenges
Your strongest assets are your colleagues. Even if someone doesn’t have the same role as you do, talking to them about your hurdle can free up your mind to think about things in a different way. Your colleague may also have a completely different point of view that can either help you find a new direction or better define what you need to do. Though offices can be more constricting than inspiring, one thing they do well is give us access to other wonderful minds. We need each other to succeed.
Get Away from Your Computer
Seriously. Run (literally, run). If you can’t get some exercise, take a physical pen and paper to a new spot and write out what you’re working on. Movement and a change of scenery can unlock your brain. Instead of having another video conference, call someone on the phone while you walk around your neighborhood or even pace around your living room. Whatever you do, get up and get moving.
Stop thinking of the brain as a computer. (We should also stop thinking of computers as brains.) Computers don’t need rest, relaxation or diversion. You do.
If you’re reading this, how are you feeling? Maybe the best thing you can do right now is close your browser and take a walk.