3-Step Recipe for a Productivity Reset

Question: When is the last time you experienced a productivity reset?

I read recently that in a knowledge-working society the work we do is really about creativity.  Now, when I hear the word creativity my mind immediately goes to the painters and sculptors of the world. And for sure the work they do is creative. 

But before those of us who are scientists, technologists, and managers or leaders abdicate the world of creativity to the artists, we probably should step back for a moment and make sure we are not leaving the best part of us behind.

The Story

I recently had a conversation with one of my graduate students who said she was completely burned out and didn’t know how she was going to get her research project finished on time.  She was definitely in need of a productivity reset.

Here is a part of our conversation: “…by the time I finish my commute to and from work I am logging 60 hours or more a week. In addition, I have a family and my church that are both really important to me. I just don’t have any energy left for creativity to get this research project finished.”

I could just sense the frustration and disappointment in her voice as she was trying to figure out how to be more productive. Then almost without taking a breath, she said, “…You know, perhaps I could be more efficient in the morning. If I got up an hour earlier I could get more done because I am at my most creative in the morning.”  

The Point

As knowledge-workers, we are all going to have to come to the realization that more time, more effort, more energy doesn’t equal creativity or effectiveness.  It just equals more time and more effort. That's it.  If you are playing a game of who-works-hardest then keep going, I guess, but if you want to be creative and innovative, then maybe work as hard as you can while you're working and then stop and do something else.

I think there is a reason that athlete’s work really hard in times of peak performance and then rest their bodies.

There is a reason writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, William Stafford, and Victor Hugo would work for a while in the morning and then go for long walks in the afternoon.  


Both high performing athletes and creative writers alike see the value of both hard work and the regenerative process of the productivity reset.  There is only so much a knowledge-worker can do to be productive before they need to recharge their brain.

According to Margaret Moussa, Maria-Estella Varua, and Matthew Wright’s work on knowledge-workers, what has been left out of the discussion up until now are issues of self-efficacy and well-being.  

The question we need to ask ourselves as leader is:

Can we leaders continue to treat our knowledge-workers the same way we treated productivity-workers of ages gone by?


Can we as knowledge-workers continue to try and cram more stuff into our day and expect quality outputs?

3 Step Rest Process

Here are three things that I try to do when I am in need of a productivity reset.

  1. Read. There is nothing like reading to stimulate productivity. If I ever have writer's block, reading is one of the best ways I know to get the juices flowing again.  I have found that there is nothing like poetry and fiction to really get my juices flowing again.  In fact, I just finished a chapter of Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman.
  2. Walk. I love to exercise but when I work out I am really focused on pushing my body, so I don’t get many creative thoughts going when my heart rate is above 140. But when I am just out for a walk, and the sun is shining, and I can sense the beauty all around me, my creative energy just seems to flow.
  3. Phone a Friend. For me, there is nothing like community and conversation to spur creativity. I always feel better when I get off the phone with my coach, my coaching group, or a conversation with Kevin or Joanne. There is just something about talking to others that will spur on my creative process.

As leaders, when we think about ourselves or those who are in our care, perhaps we need to be thinking less about how productive we can be and more about how we are practicing self-care. It is elements like reading, taking a walk, and engaging in a community that are the real ways we gain wisdom. 

Could it be that as knowledge-workers we are really seeking things like wisdom, and as we do we actually become more productive as a by-product?

I had many more things to say about this topic, but I am feeling a bit confused and convoluted right now….

I think I will go for a walk.