7. The Three Productivity Behaviors

Here, again, are the three Productivity Behaviors, with some important words italicized:

The Three Productivity Behaviors

1. Showing up to work exactly when you are supposed to.

2. Instantly starting the work you are supposed to be doing.

3. Staying focused on the work for an hour or more.

These important words all amount to the same thing: NO CHEATING.

Showing up late for work is cheating. Not doing the stuff you’re supposed to be doing is cheating. And not sticking with it for an hour or more is also cheating.

Let’s get more precise:

In Behavior #1, the word “exactly” means on the dot. 8:00 a.m., not 8:01, 8:05 or even 8:00:10. You need to train yourself to be exactly where you are supposed to be—not thinking about it, not en route, not pouring a cup of coffee—at the exact moment you are supposed to be there.

In Behavior #2, the word “instantly” means that, about a second after your butt hits the chair (or your feet, the picket line, etc.), you begin your work.

“The work you are supposed to be doing” is self-explanatory, but I would like to add this: no exceptions. Impromptu “urgent” phone calls, coffee sipping, newspaper reading and Web surfing are all procrastination, pure and simple. So is doing other work—even important, virtuous-feeling work—that wasn’t scheduled for this time period. You can spend your whole career immersed in these activities, and make little or no progress on your Mission.

In Behavior #3, the word “focused” means that you are thinking about your work, and only your work. In other words, you are NOT thinking about other work you could be doing, or your worries regarding your work, or philosophical issues related to your work.2 And, of course, you’re not thinking about your personal life, last night’s television show or the birdies cheeping enticingly outside your window.

“An hour or more.” The amount of time one can, or should, stay focused on work varies from person to person. Most people, however, can train themselves to work in a focused manner for at least an hour before having to get up and take a break. If you’re a very ambitious person, you’ll want to push this limit to ninety minutes, two hours or even longer, because every break is a major distraction and disruption when you’re working in a deeply focused way. Many professional “thinkers,” such as writers, programmers, artists and scientists, max out at between four and six hours of intense creative work per day, usually with a quick break or two in the middle. So that may be a natural limit for most people. That doesn’t mean you stop working after six hours, by the way: it means you move on to easier stuff, like paperwork, reading and routine meetings and phone calls.

Now that you understand the Three Productivity Behaviors more fully, you can begin teaching yourself to use them. The next chapter tells you how.