NEW YORK (Reuters) - When you think of productivity, what comes to mind?

Probably the image of someone stressed out, rushing around, scheduling every minute of every day.


That person may indeed be super busy, but they are likely not at their most productive. And they are probably headed towards burnout.

True productivity requires a different approach, according to Laura Mae Martin, Google's in-house productivity expert who just published a book on the subject, "Uptime: A Practical Guide to Personal Productivity and Wellbeing."

It requires you to be much more thoughtful about how you design your days: What to do, when to do it, where to do it and how to do it well.

For example: Could lounging on the couch and binge-watching your favorite TV show actually be considered 'productive'?

In Martin's view, yes. If you have set aside some downtime for yourself, want to enjoy an afternoon away from work, and recharge your batteries for the coming week - then that time is being used exactly as intended.

So how can people wrest back control of their time and craft sustainable schedules to get the most out of every day?

Here are a few factors to consider:


You cannot get to everything you would like to accomplish in this life - there is just not enough time. You have to choose.

That means focusing on a handful of priorities that are most important to you - say, three of them.

"Have the lens of 'Future You' in mind," Martin says. "What are the things you are going to be glad you focused on and prioritized? Make a to-do list that reflects that. And then learn how to say no to other things."


All blocks of time are not created equal. Some will be productive, some will not. It depends on you are how you are wired.

For example, if you are a morning person, you may get in a high-performance flow earlier in the day like 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. - and then see your productivity petering out at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

Schedule your most demanding work when you are at your best and less taxing tasks when you are not. If you do the reverse, you are just asking for trouble.

"This might be the most important section of the book, because the biggest pitfall of productivity is treating all time slots equally," Martin says. "What are your 'Power Hours,' when you can do focused, heads-down work? Protect those times for yourself."


This question came to the forefront in the pandemic era, with so many workplaces going remote. Once you have identified your most productive hours of the day, what is the best location for that effort?

Again, the answer is a highly personal one: Depending on your personality and your job, your Power Hours might best be spent quietly at home, or in an open, collaborative office workspace.

To maximize that effort, Martin says, help your brain along with what's called 'state dependency': The tendency to associate certain environments with certain tasks.

"Use that to your advantage," she says. "Maybe you always sit at a desk to do your calls and meetings, and then in a chair across the room to catch up on emails. That way you are giving your brain an easy way to know what to do next."


Here is a task that everyone has to accomplish: Keeping up on emails. There is a way to do it thoughtfully and a way to do it haphazardly that is totally inefficient.

"Think of it like laundry," says Martin, who has been able to maintain 'Inbox Zero' despite her high-powered job. "You wouldn't open your dryer 20 times a day, fold one shirt, put it away, and then keep coming back to it all day long to do the same thing. But that's the way people are handling email."

Instead, set aside specific times of day where you can put all those emails into different buckets, like ones to read, or review or respond.

Same thing with your smartphone: It is obviously a useful tool, but do not be afraid to set yourself guard-rails like locking apps after a certain time of day or putting your phone in a different room at nighttime (as Martin does).

"Make it work for you, instead of against you," Martin says.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Aurora Ellis)

By Chris Taylor