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The ebb and flow of productivity at work

I was thinking the other day about the times when I’m most productive at work. So much has been written about the subject and I work at a company and in a role where it’s one of the key functions of my job, i.e. to make people more productive through technology. There are a gazillion sites and services out there on how to be more productive. I think a lot of them miss the point.

So to come back to my own experiences I reflected on the times when I am most productive. I know having a good and clear work purpose that is in line with my personal goals is extremely helpful. This is not new and has also been written about many times before.

The standard levers to engaging people at work which is something I also work on in my professional life then ran through my mind. Incentives, autonomy and mastery where probably the ones I would have thought played the biggest role, alongside a clear purpose. But this didn’t get to the heart of work productivity for me. So I kept on digging.

I arrived at three states of productivity that I feel are a reflection of our modern world and intuitively feel right. They are also progressive so that productivity becomes more focused at each stage. That doesn’t mean you are more productive, it’s just a point about focus.

And there are certain activities that relate to each state that I also tried to capture in the DanelDoodle. These are also somewhat sequential but as the title of this post and the doodle suggests, all these states and activities ebb and flow and one might dip into them conjointly at different times.

And a final point I capture is about the extent to which work is individual or as part of a broader group, team or community.


In this state there is a lot of talk about work, literally; asking, enquiring, etc. Discovering is the main purpose essentially. This requires the sharing of your progress with others as you work. The working out loud approach comes to mind. Sharing “best practice” after work has been completed also falls into this category. This is an immensely helpful activity and use of enterprise social networks and the like have spurred on the practice of recording the work and being able to discover these recordings for the benefit of others. Sharing can also happen offline which has its own limitations and benefits. In this state I’m not referring to time spent on self aggrandising and self serving communication that serves little purpose or has little value.


You’d think this provides the most value to an individual and the organisation he or she works for. A lot of activity centres on collaboration with others and facilitating outcomes in this state. Helping individuals and teams work better together capturing tasks and managing and measuring outcomes to those tasks, and in many cases, larger projects, is a huge industry. Still, in many cases the means becomes the ends and many get stuck and mired in the tools, approaches and processes, on a negative downside.


In this state the focus is 100% on the work. This can referred to as being in flow. The state in which you know what you have to do, may have worked out the means with which to do it and you simply get on with doing it. This can happen at an individual level or in groups but is probably best done on the former basis. In its best guise, the individual/s carrying out the work are not doing it consciously and ultimately the act is one of creation. This can almost be seen as a state of bliss where ones best work is being produced without distraction or hindrance and it is enjoyable – we are reaching our highest potential and this is highly satisfying.

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