Productivity Basics

  • April 24, 2023
  • Author: WorkMotion
Productivity Basics

Productivity is the measure of how effectively we use our time to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. In a world where time is a limited and valuable resource, productivity is crucial to success in both personal and professional endeavours. 

However, it is not just about getting things done quickly; it’s about achieving the right outcomes in the most efficient and effective way possible.

To improve productivity, it’s important to understand the basics of how we work and how we can optimise our workflow. This includes understanding the importance of setting goals, prioritising tasks, and managing time effectively. It also involves recognizing the impact of distractions, procrastination, and multitasking on our productivity, and finding ways to minimise their effects.



What is productivity?


In General, Productivity is the ratio of output to input. It is influenced by a combination of  focus, structure, knowledge and creativity.


Productivity Basics


Your team can improve productivity by working on all four of these categories.


Why does productivity matter?


Your employees are evaluated on and measured by their productivity. It is the value that they bring to the table of a project, team, or organisation. Your team can learn and improve on all dimensions

In this section, we want to share some tips and tools for helping your employees to become more productive at work.


What is distracting us?


Distractions are everywhere! Even when you think you’ve found a quiet reading spot in a calm garden and your phone is far away, there will still be something to distract you.


  • Studies show we can work for an average of just forty seconds in front of a computer before we are either distracted or interrupted.


External distractions aren’t all to blame. Distractions can also be internal, such as your brain reminding you that you need to pick up groceries

How do we function – The human mind


When your mind is even slightly resisting a task, it will look for more novel things to focus on.

Our smartphones are a great example—they provide an endless stream of bite-sized, delicious information for our brains to consume. Even when you have no notifications, the mere possibility that you could have some draws you back.

Other examples of novelty distractions include:

  • Instinctively reaching for your tablet when you sit down to watch TV
  • The irresistible urge to keep your email open in another window as you work
  • feeling more stimulated when your phone is by your side

Continually seeking novel stimuli makes us feel more productive, because technically, we are doing more each moment. But remember, just because we are busier does not mean we are getting more accomplished.

Our work takes 50% longer when we continually switch between tasks, compared with doing one task from start to completion. 

What is our attentional space?


Our attention is the most powerful tool we have to live a good life and get stuff done.

Unfortunately, our ability to focus is constrained in two main ways:

  1. There is a finite limit to how many things we can focus on: If we could actually focus on more tasks simultaneously, we’d be able to do far more in the moment. Imagine being able to memorise someone’s phone number while playing the piano, or being able to carry on a conversation with two people while responding to an email on our phone. Realistically, we can do—at most—one or two things at the same time.
  1. After focusing, we can only hold a small amount of information in our short-term memory: The ability to temporarily store information in our minds is practically a superpower. It allows us to think about what we’re doing as we’re doing it, whether that involves problem solving tasks or planning for the future. Without this temporary mental scratch pad, we’d be mindlessly reacting to whatever was happening in the world around us.


“Attentional space”is the term we use to describe our mental capacity to focus on and process things in the moment. It allows us to hold, manipulate, and connect information simultaneously and on the fly. Think of it as your own personal RAM, or working memory capacity.


Each of us has a unique attentional space. Because the space is limited, it is essential that we manage it well. 


Our attentional space is what determines whether it is possible to multitask, which many experts argue we cannot do.

  • We cannot multitask activities that require focus to do properly because these tasks occupy a larger amount of attentional space. For example, when you are reading a text message, you have almost no attentional space remaining for other tasks. That is why you cannot read and drive at the same time.
  • We can multitask when it comes to habits. Though we may not be able to carry on two conversations simultaneously, we can walk, breathe, and chew gum all while listening to an audiobook, occupying what’s left of our attentional space.
  • Habitual tasks like doing the laundry, archiving read emails, and grocery shopping don’t require nearly as much attention as more complex tasks. This makes it possible to multitask without compromising the quality of your actions.

Productivity attentional space


Limitations of our attentional space


Most necessary and purposeful tasks can’t be done out of habit. This is precisely what makes these tasks so productive. You accomplish more in doing them because they require focus and brainpower and take advantage of unique skill sets. 

Anyone can do mindless work out of habit, which is one of the many reasons distractions are so costly. 

Although distracting activities may be attractive and stimulating, they steal precious time from your most productive work (think watching Netflix after a long day at the office instead of grabbing dinner with a friend). Whereas when we spend time on our most productive tasks, we have little to no attention left to spare.

Unlike habitual tasks, we cannot fit two complex activities into our attentional space at the same time. Remember, we only have the capacity to focus on so many bits of information, and a single complex task requires most of them. At best, we are able to pair one habitual task with one more complex task.

There is no easy way to predict how much attentional space a task will consume. Variables—such as whether you have experience doing that task and the size of your attentional space—determine how much focus the task will require and whether you’ll be able to multitask while doing it. 

Why should your team leave some spare attentional space during complex tasks?

  • It leaves room to reflect on the best approach to completing the task. That way, they work smarter and avoid autopilot mode. They’ll be able to come up with ideas you might not have had if you were maxing out your attention.
  • They’ll have a better awareness of where to direct their attention in the first place. When their mind inevitably wanders, they’ll be better able to refocus on the task at hand. At the same time, they’ll be able to access more attentional space if the task suddenly becomes even more complex.


Attention Overload

Fitting the right amount and types of tasks into our attentional space is both an art and investment in productivity. The costs of overloading our attention can be pretty severe.

The best way to avoid this overload is to be more selective with what you permit into your attentional space.

We have to work with intention as much as possible, especially when we have more to do than time to do it. Working with intention allows us to prioritise so we don’t overload our attentional space. It also leaves us feeling more calm. Just as you feel uncomfortable after overeating, stuffing your attentional space with too many tasks can make you feel unsettled.

What happens when your team exceeds the limits of their attentional space?

  • Overloading the attentional space affects the memory: You may have noticed that when you watch TV with your phone in your hand, you recall much less of what you have seen. It is only when we pay attention to something that our brain actively encodes it into memory.
  • Our productivity suffers in the long run: We make more mistakes because we do not properly encode lessons we learned the first time we messed up. We also accumulate less knowledge.

Attention overload


At any given time, you should be focusing your attentional space on two key things: 

  1. What you intend to accomplish and 
  2. What you’re currently doing

It won’t be possible 100% of the time, especially when you first begin a new task. However, when you are mindful of your intention, you can be confident that task will get done.