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The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days

The Top 10 Things I Learned about Productivity Living in Total Isolation for 10 Days

I almost quit this productivity experiment on day five.

I hated this experiment. Hated hated hated hated hated this experiment. Every morning I woke up with no energy, no motivation, and feeling like the life had been completely sucked out of me. I had no social support network to fall back on, felt completely isolated nearly all of the time, woke up sick most mornings because the basement was so goddamned cold, and experienced deep, emotional trenches that left me tired, exhausted, and depressed.

And at the same time, I loved this experiment. I loved living on an island, a cocooned paradise where no one could contact me or reach me. I felt unburdened by the commitments that come with people. All of my time was mine – I wasn’t being tugged in a million directions – I could move freely, productive or otherwise, in whatever hell direction I wanted.

You could say that this experiment had its ups and downs.

The purpose of living in reclusion was to dive deep into how social interactions impact productivity, and I certainly did that. At 5pm today I’m stepping out of my cocoon and back into the real world, but not before writing about the things I’ve learned down here. Here are the top 10 things I learned about productivity while living in reclusion for 10 days.

10. Wait a bit before sending important emails/messages

I think almost everyone has Tweets, emails, text messages, pictures, and other online stuff they’d like to take back, and can’t.

On my computer’s desktop I have a big-ass text file with a ton of emails, tweets, and blog comments that I wasn’t allowed to send during the course of this experiment. Here’s the interesting part: as the file has been sitting there for the last 10 days, I have significantly revised the more important messages in the batch, and sometimes completely changed some after I would have already hit ‘Send.’ Most of my edits took place in the 24 hours after I wrote the original message.

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When you give your mind time to collect and form thoughts, what you say is more complete, valuable, creative, and generally better. Before hitting ‘Send’ on your next important email, try waiting several hours, or even a day if you can. The world certainly won’t fall apart, and you’ll be able to get your point across much stronger.

9. Don’t eat several mandarin oranges when you’re going to live in the same small room for 10 days

The room I lived in for the last 10 days is tiny, and mandarin oranges give me a lot of gas. Needless to say, this is a lesson you should take to heart if you ever find yourself spending time in reclusion.

8. It’s easier to ‘let yourself go’ when there aren’t people around

Toward the end of the experiment, especially as I began to write more and make less videos about the experiment, I began to care a lot less about my appearance. I dressed sloppier, ate poorer, and didn’t care a hell of a lot about impressing people (and not in a badass kind of way, either).

I’ll personally admit that one of the reasons I want to become fitter, more focused, smarter, and so on is vanity. It isn’t the only reason, but it’s one of them. I want people to look at me and think, “Holy s**t, is that man ever [blank]!” Without people around to impress, I found myself letting go of my appearance.

I’m not sure if this lesson can be generalized, but I’m going to do it anyway. When you’re surrounded by more people, especially if receiving validation motivates you, you will try harder to make yourself into a better person.

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    7. Meditation is the key to staying sane

    Over the last 10 days, I’ve meditated for 47 minutes a day, on average, and this has undoubtedly kept me sane in reclusion. At the beginning of my experiment, I found my mind racing and restless, but after each meditation, my mind revved down considerably. Meditation may just be the key to keeping your mind calm and in check.

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    As the old Buddhist saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”

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      6. Digital connections provide a much smaller return than real connections

      Over the last 10 days, as I separated myself from my real and digital connections (people I haven’t met), I came to the realization that my real connections are profoundly different than digital connections. Real connections are deeper, more valuable, and provide greater returns as you invest more time and energy into them.

      The problem is, and maybe you’re like me with this, I invest way more time into my digital connections than my real connections. That’s not to say that there isn’t a human being on the other end of every Twitter account (except for Horse ebooks, of course), but that is to say real relationships will provide you with much larger returnsThe trick is to spend your time in a way that matches up with that fact.

      5. The most boring, cliché things are the things that actually work

      I think that behind every cliché is a truth that’s so powerful that people feel compelled to repeat the phrase over and over and over. Work out. Get a good amount of sleep. Eat well. Take a vitamin every day. Drink a lot of water. The problem is that they’re repeated so often that they lose almost all of their meaning.

      By day three, I was sick, stuffed up, had trouble breathing, and generally felt terrible. But then I started drinking a ton of water, taking vitamins, eating impeccably, and began to focus more on getting a good amount of sleep each night instead of trying to wake up at 5:30 every morning (for another productivity experiment). As soon as I started doing these boring, cliché things, my health, attitude, motivation, and energy levels all instantly perked up. These things work.

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      I-made-a-list-of-what-to-get-on-my-two-trips-up-a-day

        Every day I was allowed two, 10-minute trips upstairs, and throughout each day I made a list of what to get.

        4. Without people around, you have high highs, but lower lows

        Two news articles were published about my project while I was in reclusion, and to be honest, this made me feel just as good down here alone as I would have felt surrounded by friends.

        But when I hit the ‘lows’ of this experiment – taking three hours to fall asleep, battling a huge cold, getting fatigued because of a lack of sleep, and becoming sadder than I had been in months – I had no social support network down here as a safety net.

        I think a lot of people think they don’t need people when they’re on top of the world, only to find they’re alone when they inevitably come back down again.

        As a rule, I think people embellish pretty much everything.

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          3. Sunlight elevates your mood, regulates your sleep, and gives you energy and motivation

          This was a lesson so big that I wrote a whole other article about itWhen you don’t have enough exposure to sunlight (like me throughout the experiment), your sleep quality severely suffers (since the sun regulates your sleep cycle), you’re less able to handle stress and manage your attention, and you have significantly less energy.

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          2. Stepping back from what you do gives you a valuable, bigger perspective

          We spend most of our time at ‘ground level‘, entrenched in whatever we’re doing. It isn’t until we step back from what we’re doing that we can see it from a broader perspective. Living in reclusion, I focused mostly on work, and I found it incredibly difficult to step back from this project. But at the same time, I was about to gain an incredible perspective on where things like my relationships, finances, and health fit into who I am, mostly because I was able to step back from those elements of my life. Stepping back from the elements that comprise your life gives them meaning, gives you purpose, and allows you to see how what you do fits into the bigger picture of who you are.

          1. People matter (more than you think)

          At the end of the day (well, 10 days), I was less productive in reclusion than I would have been normally. Everyone has a different definition of productivity, but most of the benchmarks I use to measure how productive I am involve people, such as how happy I make other people, and the difference I’m able to make. When you take people out of that equation, either a) you’re not able to accomplish much, or b) what you do accomplish doesn’t mean a hell of a lot.

          For me, people are my tapestry; so interwoven with who I am and what I do that I take them for granted. But over the last 10 days, like electricity, I’ve missed all of the people in my life when they were gone.

          Throughout this experiment I have been less motivated, energetic, enthusiastic, and happy than I have been for a long time. Sure, some of that is because I’m not getting any sunlight, but I think it’s mostly because I have had no social interactions for the last 10 days.

          People matter, perhaps a lot more than you think. This isn’t an experiment I’ll repeat, but that said, I sure as hell learned a lot.

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          Last Updated on January 6, 2021

          14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

          14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

          Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

          In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

          For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

          For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

          Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

          Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

          Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

          How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

          Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

          1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

          Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

          For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

          2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

          Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

          Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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          Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

          3. Create a System

          Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

          This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

          You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

          Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

          Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

          4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

          We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

          If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

          Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

          Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

          5. Use a Ratings Scale

          Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

          Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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          It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

          6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

          This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

          You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

          You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

          7. Offer Feedback Forms

          Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

          First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

          Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

          You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

          8. Track Cost Effectiveness

          This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

          Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

          Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

          9. Use Self-Evaluations

          Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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          Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

          10. Monitor Time Management

          This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

          Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

            The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

            While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

            11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

            We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

            Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

            For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

            Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

            Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

            From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

            12. Utilize Peer Feedback

            This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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            Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

            Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

            It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

            13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

            When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

            Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

            Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

            14. Use an External Evaluator

            Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

            They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

            While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

            Final Thoughts

            These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

            The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

            The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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            Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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