Productivity: What it really means and how to achieve it.

This is a small section from my book THE AGENCY: BUILD – GROW – REPEAT. You can get three whole chapters free of charge HERE.


In order for you to repeat the things you’ve done that worked and keep growing your agency, you need to get the most out of our time, both in terms of getting shit done and, crucially, feeling good about your working day. Some call this ‘productivity’.

Being productive isn’t just about getting as much work done as possible. It isn’t about grinding through the day and coming out at the end of it screaming “yeah, I’ve worked my ass off, now I can go home and die!” It’s about feeling good about your work. If you finish your day and you feel that you haven’t done as much, or as well, as you wanted to, you just don’t feel good about yourself. Your confidence gets dented. You feel lethargic and low on energy. And these are not good feelings to have about something you’re going to do for a very long time.

There are many elements that may affect your productivity, but I feel that there are three very simple elements that are most likely to produce a remarkable improvement with very little work. I have three tips – three habits to stop, really, which by stopping will allow your productivity to skyrocket and, most importantly, enable you to experience more enjoyment and more happiness at work.

Emails: When you are working on something that you have to get done that day, something important, you should absolutely close your inbox. Unless you are an emergency heart surgeon or someone who might be called in an emergency, you don’t need to reply to every email within the hour. That is directly connected and related to the ‘fear of missing out’, FOMO, which is the intense desire to be up-to-date with whatever might be happening on social media, on your emails and other channels you might be connected to, for the fear of missing out on something. We find it increasingly hard to detach and disconnect from these channels that allow us to ‘stay connected’ because of this, often subconscious, fear of missing out.

Park your emails in a way that you don’t see the notifications. This is because your brain will activate and focus on the email as soon as the notification appears. “What is it? I’m curious and I want to see. No. I’ll look at it later. Oh but it might be important”. This is the typical thought process that comes to my mind, and this thought process is already at work, it is already messing with us. Flow is already interrupted, even if you decide to ignore the email. Your brain is already fixated on the bloody email, even if you don’t know who it is from or what it says. So, park your emails and turn your notifications off. Kill it until you choose to check your emails in a dedicated session. Kill the FOMO.

Multitasking: There is no such thing as multitasking, it’s a myth. What we think of as multitasking is really ‘part tasking’. You have, let’s say, 100 points of attention that you can give to anything. If you’re doing one thing, you’re doing that one thing with your 100 attention points. The moment you start doing something else at the same time, some of those 100 points must go to that other task. You dedicate some of your attention, whether conscious or unconscious, to the second task and keep some with the first, which means you’re not doing either of those things as well as you could.

This isn’t an opinion that I’m sharing with you, this is backed by many studies, all with similar results. One such study conducted at the University of Michigan involved asking young adults to switch between tasks such as solving maths problems and identifying geometric objects. The researchers found that whenever participants switched between tasks, it would take time to do so and the amount of time used to switch increased as the complexity of the tasks increased. They observed that whilst switching tasks once doesn’t cost much time, when people switch back and forth between different tasks, the amount of time ‘wasted’ doing so is considerable.
The conclusion was that multitasking is indeed inefficient.

The researchers behind the Michigan study came up with a model to explain this: they suggest that when switching tasks, the brain must go through two steps or decisions. The first is called goal shifting, which involves choosing to switch to a new task. The second is called rule activation, where the brain turns off the cognitive rules of the previous task to activate the ones of the new task.

For example, if you have just completed your P&L account for the month and want to shift to preparing a pitch for a new customer, you must first decide that you have completed your P&L (goal shifting) and then turn off the rules that numeric tasks involve to then activate the ones for creating the pitch (rule activation).

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes about the brain as two different systems: System 1 and System 2. System 1 takes care of the actions that come super-easily – changing gear for experienced drivers, adding 2+2, etc. System 2 is at work when you change gears the first time you drive, or you need to multiply 124 by 240. When using System 2, there are massive changes at the physiological level – we are forced to slow down to think because we’re thinking harder. Even the heart rate increases when System 2 is at work.

Tasks get harder when you work both systems at the same time. If you had to work out 124 x 240 whilst driving (which you should not do), even if you’re an experienced driver, your attention would be divided, and you would be distracted, but you’d have a shot at solving it. If you were to try to solve the multiplication whilst parallel parking (which you really should not do), it would be much, much harder, even impossible, to do either of the two tasks.

Your phone: If you want to listen to music while you carry out a task, that’s excellent, but make sure that your phone is either silenced or that no notifications of any kind come through. Obviously, if you feel that you need to keep the phone so that somebody can call you in an emergency, that’s fine. But kill everything else. Notifications are the worst. Even if you don’t act on them, a notification popping up makes your brain want to open it. “What is it? Am I missing out on something? Should I check it?” It’s horrible, it can consume you.

Make sure that you block periods of time where you are totally undisturbed. You can start with an hour at a time, then two hours, three, and then continue to build up to longer periods, depending on how comfortable you are diving into this. You will see your productivity skyrocket.

These three factors are all interruptions, and interruptions will take you out of flow or prevent you from going into flow. (We talked about the concept of flow earlier in the book, if you don’t remember it clearly, go back to it, because it really makes a massive difference. When you work in flow, you get things done more easily and with more enjoyment.)

Two productivity heroes

As well as the three habits which are a good idea to get out of the way, here are a couple of tips on things that you can introduce to become more productive and enjoy your day more.

Post-Its: This is incredibly effective for me and has changed the way I work. The practice of writing down on a Post-It the task, project or part of the project that you want to get done the next day. You have to do this at the end of your day for the following day. You should have a maximum of three Post-Its, with one item on each, and no more.

The idea is that even if you get to the end of the next day and all you’ve done is the three items on your three Post-Its, that will have been a good day. The flip side is that you must absolutely do all three tasks. Stuff may come up, and at times you may not be able to complete them all, but that has to be the exception. As a rule, you should be able to complete these three items most of the time.

Because you do this exercise the night before, you are more rational about deciding what you’re going to do. If you wait until the morning, after you’ve checked your emails and been inundated by everything that’s been thrown at you, you will make that decision way more emotionally, based on who’s shouting the loudest and who’s pushing your buttons the hardest. If you do it the night before, you are likely to be more strategic about it. The level of satisfaction that you get from taking each Post-It, crunching it up and throwing the little shit in the bin, and getting to the end of the day having completed all that you wanted to is incredible. It’s very rewarding. When I start the morning with three Post-Its, I feel determined to get rid of them, and then when I do get rid of them, I feel good.

Location: Try to change location within the office if you can – change desks or go and work at a standing station, if you have one. Or maybe work from a coffee shop sometimes. You’ll find that doing this might increase your productivity and your ability to get into and stay in flow. There are studies showing that every now and again changing the office around increases productivity. By moving around and working from a coffee shop (and if you are in Amsterdam, by coffee shop I mean a café, not one of your coffeeshops), you might find it can have a positive impact on your productivity.


  • Close your inbox and notifications when working on projects that don’t require them.
  • Do one thing at the time. Don’t multitask, you can’t anyhow.
  • Put your phone away, in another room if you can.
  • Use Post-Its; write down one task on each Post-It the night before. Stick to three and do them all.
  • Work at different locations regularly.

This was a small section from my book THE AGENCY: BUILD – GROW – REPEAT. You can get three whole chapters free of charge HERE.