Three ways to think about productivity

We all wish we could be more productive. Getting more done in less time always sounds great! 

So, naturally, there is abundant advice on how to increase productivity.

Most of it usually relates to effective ways to prioritize, schedule and get things done free of distractions. And if you find something that works for you, this can already make a big difference. 

The next piece includes taking into account our energy levels. One hour of work when we feel at our best will produce very different results to one hour of work when we do not. So the idea is to be smart about scheduling important tasks in our peak energy moments, and also having a plan to recharge our energy in an effective manner. 

The one point that is rarely talked about is how emotional intelligence affects our productivity. 

Imagine having a day planned to perfection. You get to the office feeling great, ready to go, and then a colleague makes an ambiguous remark out of the blue and you are left confused as to whether that was meant to be a confrontation or just a mindless comment that rubbed you the wrong way. 

In any case, now your mind starts running in circles. You have your perfect plan in your calendar, but your attention is only half there. As the day goes by, you are more and more convinced that your colleague actually meant to irritate you, and you are running elaborate conversations in your mind on how you wish you could respond. 

When you get home that night, you realize your plan went through the window by lunchtime, and you feel frustrated with yourself and drained. 

What happened?

Being productive and feeling good about our work depends on how intentional and self directed we are. 

You were intentional with your time, by prioritizing and planning. You were intentional with your energy by being smart about when to block time for your most important tasks. 

But you were not intentional about your emotional state.

And that is where most of us are.

We are completely dependent on things out of our control for our emotional wellbeing. So we have all our plans, we spend time optimizing our schedule, but when it comes to our emotional state, most of us have an approach that sounds like this: “let’s cross our fingers that nothing unexpected happens and that people behave like I expect them to. Because if things don’t follow my plan, there is nothing I can do, and my day will be ruined. If I get frustrated, irritated, insecure…there is nothing I can do about it but to blame whatever and whoever caused my feelings.”

To really be productive, we need to take our emotional states into account and be more intentional there too.

First, we control what we can control. For example, if we know that a particular coworker is always irritated and negative in the morning, we can make a conscious decision not to seek interaction until lunch time. 

But controlling our environment and who we interact with is not always possible or desirable. 

So what we really want is to practice taking responsibility for our emotional state. 


One piece is to realize that we have a lot of influence over our emotional state. Many times our feelings are due to our own unquestioned assumptions, defenses and expectations, that we are tightly holding on to. And by being more intentional about what we hold on to, we can be more intentional about our emotional states, and also about how we want to respond to people and situations around us. This is a matter of mindset.

And the second part is a question of emotional resiliency. Imagine taking an ice cold shower. How long are you able to stay? This is about being comfortable with discomfort and it can be trained. A similar thing is true for uncomfortable emotions. Because we find them so unpleasant, we want them to go away as soon as possible. And then we do all sorts of things in order not to feel them. We react in ways we don’t like, we overthink, we ditch our schedule to have another snack, or sometimes we even go in the opposite direction and overwork as a way to cope. All of which is not to our benefit in the long term. 

Being skilled in managing your own emotional states pays off on so many levels. At the bare minimum, it can help you actually stick to your schedule. That alone is worth investing in.