Booked review: How to be Really Productive, by Grace Marshall

Research, psychology and personal advice on how to get more done and feel less stressed

How to be really productive
Author: Grace Marshall
ISBN-13: 9871292083834
Publisher: Pearson
Guideline Price: €16.99

Mindfulness was one of the big themes in the self-help category of management books over the past couple of years but recently there's been a flurry of books on the more specific subject of personal efficiency. While this is by no means a new area – think Dale Carnegie – the more modern genre deals with a myriad of contemporary problems associated with work-life balance, intolerable stress and digital overload.

So to Grace Marshall’s book which promises to help in “achieving clarity and getting results in a world where work never ends’. The author styles herself variously as a “head coach, encourager and productivity ninja” who believes in changing the world “one conversation at a time” whether that’s behind a microphone, in workshops or with clients.

Marshall is clearly a very organised person herself but, not surprisingly, there’s a guiding philosophy behind her ideas which centres on purpose and values.

Purpose is vital, giving us a goal to aim for and fuel to get us there. We should ask how purposeful our current projects are and how much we believe in them. (This goes for both our work and our private lives.)


Expanding joy

Research suggests we have three times more positive experiences than negative but two main tendencies keep us from experiencing, extending and expanding our joy: the negativity bias – our minds are inclined to linger and give weight to negative experiences, and habituation – things become so familiar that they lose their power to amaze and captivate us.

One way to counter this is to focus deliberately on what is going well. Discussing positive experiences leads to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction and more energy. This apparently increases the joy of those around us too.

Once purpose and values have been established, we need to look at the practical stressors in our lives and the best way to start is to identify the chaos in our lives. It comes from issues such as unfinished business, lack of predictability, plot twists and curveballs, noise and too many distractions and interruptions. Then there’s time travelling: the chaos that comes from hanging on to the past and worrying about the future.

One helpful tip is to get the chaos out of your head and down on paper. This “brain dump” will at least stop the worries from floating around your head. A follow-up tip here is to separate worry from work. Not everything you write down can or should result in action. Sometimes our greatest chaos comes from feeling obligated without being in control: having responsibility for a situation without the capability or capacity to do anything about it.

Five-point plan

Marshall has a five-point plan for dealing with heavy workloads. The first stage, “capture and collect”, outlines a robust method of capturing all the incoming stuff and getting it out of your head. Stage two is about organising the work, ie filtering it down from a mass of ideas to “what’s worth doing” and “what’s the next action”.

In stage three, called “review”, we check in with the bigger picture to see how everything is going and allocate resources. Stage four, is “do” and involves ruthless execution. A final and often overlooked stage is called “done” which is the process of ticking off an activity from a list and celebrating that achievement before moving on.

Being productive also involves paying attention to what can be termed "hygiene issues". Open offices and always-on digital devices can result in continuous interruption and distraction. (A study of Microsoft workers showed that when working on a task that required a significant level of focus, it took an average of 15 minutes to recover attention from a one-minute interruption.)

Marshall’s book has plenty of useful tips about this and other issues, and mixes research, psychology and her own personal observations on how to get more done and feel less stressed.