top of page

Understand Behavior Change to Improve Productivity

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

There is no shortage of information available to help us be or feel more productive.

The majority of it focuses on tips and tricks. What is sometimes missing is a discussion about behavior change, which is the hardest part about improving productivity.

Every person on the planet struggles with changing their own behavior and it is because our brains resist change (see here, here, and here.)

It is no wonder that (depending on the source) about 80% of New Year’s resolutions aren’t met and around 70% of organizational change initiatives don’t fully meet expectations.

If there is something you want to change about your behavior to be more productive, know that your brain is working against you to make that change. Change is uncomfortable and no one likes discomfort for long.

An easy example is weight loss. It requires less effort over time to lose 3lbs pounds than it does to lose 23lbs. You can imagine the success rate of people wanting to lose 3 pounds versus 23 pounds.

This means the more effort required, the less likely you will succeed. Not very motivating, is it?

But here's the real message: Just because you have tried to change your behavior and failed in the past does not mean you are weak, ill-disciplined, or ineffective. It means you are human.

So, to improve productivity, begin by employing strategies for behavior change.

Tips to Maximize Successful Behavior Change

Don't let past failures stop you from attempting something again. Try employing these approaches, all of them, to maximize the success of changing just one behavior.

  1. Define success. What will be different as a result of changing your behavior and what impact will it have? Understanding this will ground you in the reason why you are trying to change your behavior in the first place.

  2. Start small and narrow. If you want to be more productive. Try one new technique over a sustained period of time. Avoid trying to apply multiple new tips at once.

  3. Give it time. How long does it take to change a behavior? If you said 21 days, you have fallen victim to a misnomer. It is more like two months. Consistency is created over time and it is consistency that makes new behaviors stick.

  4. Enlist a pal. Tell another person what you are trying to do and ask them to check-in with you about it. Peer accountability is powerful.

  5. Set reminders. We get distracted, lack sleep, or just forget. How will you remember and remain focused on this change you want to make?

Understanding the basics of behavior change will position you to harness your productivity and maximize it.

3 Ways Boost Your Productivity

These tips are backed by science and are the most compelling to me. I employ them and they have made a significant impact on my productivity. Perhaps they will be helpful to you but if they are new to you, pick just one, and follow the five steps above.

End your day well

Whether we compare ourselves to others, have a saboteur in our head telling us “You’re not doing enough”, or focus more what is undone rather done, it is not unusual to have a belief of being unproductive. If this is the case, then the next step is to change the belief, not the behavior. Intentional thought about what you have accomplished is the next best step.

For example, a former boss of mine had a practice of concluding his workday by reflecting on what he accomplished. It did not matter if what he accomplished was on his list or not. He wrote it down and took a minute or two to ponder the value of that accomplishment. Then, he thought about another. Sometimes, the accomplishment was eating lunch or just making it to his meetings on time.

Try this. At the conclusion of your day, spend 15 minutes focusing solely on what you accomplished and the value of that accomplishment. Do it consistently. Your beliefs about being unproductive may very well change.

Manage your energy, not your time

Productivity is really about energy management and what research has found is that our minds and bodies fluctuate between energy expenditure and recovery. We work best when we “oscillate” between these two.

However, what so many of us do is expend energy by treating our minds and bodies like computers with a start button. We expect to perform at the same processing speed all day. We attend back-to-back meetings and swallow our lunch while checking email. While we may perform okay, often we end our day with a short temper and a headache. We are spent.

Taking intermitted breaks throughout the day enables our body and mind to recover from energy expenditure. Ideally, take a short, recovery break every 90 minutes. Make it physical and a complete divergence from work. Better yet, go outside.

A break is not staying seated, staring at social media instead of a spreadsheet. Rather, get up, walk for five minutes, stretch, breathe deep, channel Richard Simmons and dance to some oldies. It doesn’t matter. Move your body, think about something else, then get back to work. It’s likely you’ll end your day with a bit more gas in your tank.

To learn more about energy management for productivity read this book. It changed the way I work. If you prefer a 8-9 page article by the same authors covering the same content, read here.

Call in Reinforcements

Sometimes trying to change behavior on our own is not effective. We become stuck in a cycle of applying all the same strategies that used to work but no longer do.

It’s like my colleague who was recently promoted to an executive level position. Her time management strategies from her previous role are not effective when applied to the expectations of an executive role. She is overwhelmed, burning out, and feeling powerless.

If you find yourself feeling similarly, it might be time to ask for help. This looks like partnering with a mentor who has a similar experience and can share new strategies. Or hiring a coach or asking others for advice and then trying something new.

We often think our productivity is solely up to ourselves but in reality, tapping others can have a positive and direct impact on it.

Personal productivity is a popular topic for many of us, and it begins with behavior change. Understanding it and practicing change in small increments is what positions us to perform. Take one of these tips and apply those principles. Odds are, you’ll feel better about what you’re getting done.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog at the top of the page to get an update when each post is published.

Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

Start learning online now with GPC Academy.


You have been subscribed.

Blog images designed by Freepik

bottom of page