Productivity: Use your limited energy and time wisely 

The keynote at BigHand’s user conference was, unlike so many other keynotes, the inspiring session it was billed to be. 

Call me a cynic, but generic self-help keynotes at conferences often give me the ick. My conclusion is that they only exist to give people a chance to properly wake up. But let’s face it, people often use the session to catch up on a few emails. Rude. But true. 

That was not the case with Chris Baréz-Brown, who spoke at BigHand’s user conference yesterday (18 October), and who left me feeling quite weirdly inspired and reenergised, which, funnily enough, is what the agenda said would happen.  

Baréz-Brown is an author, speaker (obviously) and adviser to brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Unilever, Roche and WPP. He also has a productivity and wellbeing app called Talk it Out, which is available on the Apple App Store. 

The overarching theme of Baréz-Brown’s talk was something like, humans are essentially former cave people who are not designed for business. His theory is that we spend far too much energy trying to fit in with business needs, rather than the other way round. All well and good in theory, I hear you say. Now back to the real world. But bear with me, because his theory has real world application.

Baréz-Brown pointed out that we are not all the same when it comes to peak productivity. Some of us (me included) love 5am, some function best late morning, some late afternoon, and some in the evening. Understanding when our brain is at its peak capacity and arranging to do tasks that need absolute concentration during those times can be transformative.  

Periods of deep concentration come from the conscious mind and only last around 90 minutes a day, after which much of what we do is on autopilot and uses the subconscious part of our brain, Baréz-Brown said. 

Humans have evolved to use our subconscious or ‘autopilot mode’ up to around 80% of the day. If we have done something before, if it’s not new, we are likely to do it in the same way as we have done it before. It’s our protective layer from the big world, or something like that.  

During your peak productivity period, you are wasting your energy and time if you use it on tasks that don’t require concentration. For example, you are wasting it if you are sending mundane emails, and you are wasting it if you are on your phone, which immediately dips us all into autopilot scrolling.  

Experimenting with what gives you energy and new ideas is also important. Baréz-Brown said that working with whisky and spirit vendor Diageo, the consumer research they were doing was very intellectual but not visceral, so he got the team he was working with to go to a farmers market every weekend to change the way they think and learn. 

If you want to change things, you can’t do it while on autopilot, which is there for things we have done before, and will do again and again in the same way. 

Baréz-Brown talked about Adam Moskowitz, who made a couple of million as a salesman at Yahoo but lost most of it when the bubble burst, reinventing himself as a hip-hop emcee. 

Moskowitz then used his party promoter background to disrupt his family cheese business, founding Cheesemonger Invitational, where cheesemongers from round the world are invited to compete against one another during a rave in a cheese warehouse. During the rave, which combines cheese competitions with blaring rap music, Moskowitz dresses up in a cow costume as his alter-ego Mr Moo. The competition takes place across the United States and has attracted multiple column inches including in the likes of Forbes.  

“He doesn’t do anything in a traditional way,” Baréz-Brown said. “I’m not suggesting that we should all be Adam. But because he takes risks, his organisation does too. And their energy and engagement go through the roof.” 

Deep down I already knew much of what Baréz-Brown said. But I have allowed myself to get in the habit of scrolling through my phone at 5am. This morning, I didn’t, and long may that last. Who knows, maybe Legal IT Insider’s next thought leadership gathering will be a rave in a data warehouse.