On the heels of his very popular first book, Empower Yourself: 7 Steps to Personal Success, John Martin has released a new title that is sure to accelerate your timeline to personal and professional success. Increase Your Personal Productivity: Your Guide to Intentional Living & Doing More of What You Enjoy is a wonderfully helpful guide to implementing a personalized goal system—one that is actually sustainable and repeatable. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching others live lives that you deem impossible for yourself, or if you just need some support in your current success journey, Increase Your Personal Productivity will provide you with the tools you need to define and achieve success on your own terms. I recently had the opportunity to chat with John about his latest book, and I learned a lot about his refreshing take on productivity.
How do you define or measure productivity?
It’s a very personal, individualized measurement. For me personally, I measure it by whether I hit my goals on a monthly, or even daily, basis. When I’m hitting my goals consistently on a daily basis, then I feel like I’m being productive.
Some people swear by creating a daily agenda the night before, and others start each morning by writing their to-do list. What is your approach to creating a plan for the day?
I keep a running to-do list for daily goals that I review each morning. I prefer to write it out on paper—things like a word count goal for writing, notes about work deadlines. I like to focus on major tasks that need to be accomplished that day.
What are your thoughts on time-tracking software? Do you use it?
No, I don’t. For me, it’s just one more thing to do—updating lists or software. I prefer to maintain a handwritten list; it keeps things simple and allows me to focus my energy on other tasks. I’m not opposed to the idea, though. I could see where it would be useful for people.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle to productivity?
Self-judgment. Mentally beating yourself up for not getting as much done as you intended or as you got done the day before. Focusing on shortcomings or allowing interruptions to dominate your attention causes you not to be present in the moment. The result is that you fail to move forward because you’re overthinking—thinking about the past instead of acting in the present.
What is your best tip for increasing productivity?
If I had to pick one, it would be to stop second-guessing yourself—to stop overthinking what you’re doing. A lot of it comes down to finishing a project, e.g., if you’re making a movie, don’t keep editing it. There’s a point that you just have to release the product to the world or else you’ll overedit it. Or there’s the failure-to-launch phenomenon—not being able to actually start on a project because you’re constantly planning it, never acting on it. These are major barriers to productivity.
Why do you think people have such a hard time starting tasks?
Well, it’s probably pretty primitive. It’s hardwired into us not to want to do things that are outside our comfort zone, and it’s difficult to switch gears mentally. Change is difficult; creating the momentum to go against our preference for stasis is difficult. That’s why it’s easier to sit on the couch instead of going for a run. Often it’s just a small mental shift that’s required to overcome our resistance to doing something difficult, and once we shift our mindset we can create positive momentum where doing the things we need to do for our health, success, and happiness becomes second nature.
Speaking of working out, I’m always interested on people’s take on whether it’s best to work or workout first thing in the morning. Some people insist that the first 90 minutes of your day should be spent on your most creative, intensive tasks, while others note the benefits of starting your day with exercise. What are your thoughts on this?
I think either is beneficial. Again, it comes down to knowing yourself. Productivity is such a personal metric, and improving it is about knowing what makes you the most productive and what you need to accomplish your goals.
Going back to the question about difficulty starting tasks, what is your advice to people who struggle with this?
Let go of your fear about your performance. Many people who have home-based businesses limit themselves because they’re afraid to take the first step and end up looking like a rookie. This creates a huge mental block that restricts their success.
Also, have patience with yourself about procrastination. People work at different paces. If you struggle with procrastination, accept that about yourself and figure out how to create new habits that foster momentum. I like the Mel Robbins technique of counting down from five and then doing whatever it is you were reluctant to do. Implement little tricks to shift your mindset and overcome anxiety about starting tasks, whether big or small.
So it sounds like you’re reframing the conversation around procrastination a bit? Most people treat procrastination as inherently negative, but your message about acceptance seems to go against the grain. Can you talk to me more about this?
Yes, I would say so—because the idea is to avoid negative self-talk. If we’re constantly scolding ourselves for our tendency to procrastinate or are hyperfocused on it, we’re not going to be present and accomplishing the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We’re going to be living in the past rather than acting in the present. Now if you’re missing deadlines because of procrastination, that’s a different story. But if you’re simply delaying tasks as part of your work process, accept that about yourself and figure out how to shift your mentality to create more space for personal and professional success.
Do you have any tips for managers for increasing their employees’ productivity?
Encouragement over criticism. Model the behavior you expect. I think of the quote “The gang keeps pace with the leader.” If you’re productive, your people are more likely to be productive.
What are you hoping is the major takeaway from your book?
I’m hoping that readers learn organizational, time management, and mindset tips that help them set and achieve goals while staying true to the flow of their personality. Whether you’re wanting to start a home-based business or a side hustle, or whether you’re hoping to get more out of your current career, this book will help you learn more about what works for you and develop action plans that complement, rather than resist, your personality.