Today’s conversation is on one of my favorite topics, productivity. But rather than look into high-level theory and research, we’re going to get more up close to our personal daily practices.
Last week, I taught a group session about Micro Productivity that focused on the small leaks of time in a day and the minor irritants that are unique to us. There are many tactics and philosophies on how to manage time, but we all encounter distractions that seem to be our own personal fast track to getting off track.
And then there are also the times when motivation and momentum simply seem out of reach. In these cases, there’s an option for us to find reinforcement and see where we can borrow energy from other sources.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that the best predictor of your personal productivity is the pace and energy of those who are around you the most.
Let’s start with how energy is defined in this case. The only energy that is within our control, of course, is our own. But there is a distinct rise or fall in our own output and behavior that matches the larger, collective energy surrounding us.
You may have heard of the popular workout equipment called Peloton, which includes a stationary bike and treadmill, and you can use them to take live or on-demand classes. The word “peloton” is a term used during road bicycle races where a group of riders intentionally ride close to or behind one another to save and extend their energy on the ride.
Peloton comes from the French word meaning “platoon,” and the group rides close together to reduce the aerodynamics of wind that is known as drag. This drag otherwise slows down one’s speed if riding individually. And athletic research in recent years has shown that a cycling peloton carries a sweet spot that can save up to ten times the air resistance across the group.
This same idea can apply to our personal energy. Episode 6 was about the people in your life who are either engines or anchors. The engines are the ones who lift you up, cheer you on, and propel you forward. Whereas the anchors are the people that produce the drag and often hit those brakes.
When it comes to productivity and extending our own output, we can sometimes be our own anchors, providing forceful resistance and ready excuses. Without engines, we pedal off to the slow lane and then wallow about how far there is yet to go.
Episode 5 reviewed three ways that our brains encounter distraction in disguise, and those are in the categories that we call productivity, research, and perfectionism. And Episode 49 came back and added one extra distraction on doing good deeds for others. Each of these are common excuses for why and how we accept resistance to our goals and actions.
In many cases, the distraction feels like valuable effort. It isn’t until later that we realize we haven’t gotten as far as we had intended to go.
So this episode today offers two ideas on how to borrow and benefit from peloton energy. In each case, the sweet spot comes from the power of proximity.
The first idea is to take part in a short meeting of the minds.
Earlier this year, my business coach hosted a 30-minute drop-in Zoom meeting every Monday morning for a couple of months. This was an optional space where anyone could join for independent work. After a few opening comments, we would put a note in the chat box to share what we would be working on-and that’s it. The nudge here was to do the thing we didn’t really want to do, afterall it was a Monday morning. It didn’t matter what it was, but sharing the action made us more accountable to doing it.
Focusing on the mundane, irritating, or cumbersome task follows the time management metaphor called Eat the Frog. This is often attributed as a quote from Mark Twain that says: If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.
Now I didn’t fact check whether this is actually what he said or why the poor frogs were being involved at all. But you might be hearing this phrase frequently in productivity conversations, so I mention it here as the approach is to shared work time in this example.
So back to the Zoom call. We all were on camera, whenever possible, but we did our work silently. Our coach had a countdown clock running on the screen for the 30 minutes. We used this time independently to address some frogs that we might otherwise bury or put off during the rest of the week. That rescheduling, or responding, or drafts all got action started before midday on Monday. That was a powerful fuel for the brain so early in the work week.
Where in your week could you use some extra accountability? Who are engines you can connect with for some shared laps in short bursts? A lot got done in 30 minutes, but more than that a lot didn’t get procrastinated.
Another part of this idea is that you can borrow engines anonymously. Find a coffee shop, a spot in an airport, go to the local library and sit near the hum of other engines at work. Time yourself or stay on the ride as long as you feel the powerful pull of progress. You don’t need permission or have a conversation. Set on your way and get going.
The second idea builds on the peloton concept by selecting intentional engines to join in parallel play. I was in a retreat a couple weeks ago with a few other entrepreneurs. We spent time sharing goals and objectives and then had quiet heads-down work time. My most productive time, by far, was when the group was scattered about, and we had an agreed-upon time to meet back.
The time-bound component was a forcing function to not get sucked into my always handy distractions. After the dedicated time, we would ask each other to check our work or our progress. This mental relay between each other helped boost the action taken without allowing us to marinate too much time on trying to polish and perfect.
In fact, we all ended up with better, faster outputs because our peloton could see the early work and advise and react while it was still in draft form.
It’s really common to want to get our ideas packaged all together neatly before we ever share it out. But the beauty of rapid work is the time-saving step of over-thinking and over-doing. And the feedback I found is often more immediately relevant.
For example, one of my partners took a look at some of my content and said: “I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. Explain it to me again in a more simple way.” I did, and it was a much better result.
These two ideas focus on connecting the effective energy of engines around you. Take care to select the right mix of people, time, and reciprocity. Make sure they’re going in the same general direction you are; otherwise, you could end up adding resistance instead of distance.
It’s okay to join a journey for short amounts of time. Intersections can offer important elements along our way and then we go our own way.
In a noisy world with different distractions and destinations, our pelotons can also help us take in the view, cover more ground, and hopefully enjoy the ride a little bit while we’re still on it.