Leon McCarron: Fast Track to Productivity

In need of some motivation or tips on achieving your 2013 goals?

Following on from his top tips for achieving your goals, Leon shares his advice for improving your productivity including an app which gets rid of pesky distractions.

Leon McCarron, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and cameraman spent 2012 completing a gruelling 3000 mile walk from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to Hong Kong and a 1000 mile walk through the Empty Quarter desert from Oman to UAE.

Leon McCarron


I am currently trying to write a book, and also keep up to date with all of the other admin and desk-bound work required to be a self-employed writer and speaker. It’s still a very foreign world to me, and if I’m honest, I have a hard time being productive when I’m at my desk. My mind wanders, jumps from task to task, and inevitably ends up back in some wild place on an expedition, free from all the emails and paperwork.

One of the biggest differences I notice on an expedition is that I have clearly defined goals – each day I wake up knowing my purpose, and the path to achieving that is much simpler than mapping out a day in my ‘office.’ So I’ve tried to apply some of those experiences from the adventure world to the one which I currently inhabit. I’ve also been reading a book called ‘Your Brain at Work’ by David Rock, which does a great job of condensing a lot of neuroscience to explain why it requires training and effort to achieve a high level of productivity. That it’s hard work is the bad news…the good news is that a little hard work never did anyone any harm (and it is very feasible!)

So below are five tips for productivity. I write this as much for myself as anyone – I have by no means mastered them. But, I’m getting better. And the quicker I achieve these, the faster my work will be done, and the sooner I can head back off into the wilderness without a desk in sight…

1 – Prioritise

The brain uses a lot of power on heavy, energy-consuming jobs, and prioritising is one such task. That makes it tiring to even think about and beginning a working day by launching into something easier or quicker seems much more attractive. However, if we don’t prioritise then there’s a tendency to keep jumping around all day, never focusing or finishing. Prioritise right at the start of the day when the brain is fresh and ready for action. Everything else will flow easier after that.


2 – Focus

Sounds like a simple one, but it’s the key to high levels of productivity. A study in the US showed that the average employee jumped between tasks 10-20 times per hour – thats an average of only 3-6 minutes per task! One your priorities are set then map out the day accordingly, and try and stick to the plan. Remember that you’ll be more alert at certain times of day (after morning coffee, directly following lunch etc.) so play to those strengths by doing harder, more creative tasks at those times.


3 – Avoid distractions

This links in with the previous point nicely. If emails are pinging through, your phone is ringing constantly and you can’t stop checking Facebook every five minutes, then you’re not going to get anywhere. The brain is naturally inclined to want to wander around between points of interest and to avoid getting immersed in heavy work. Prevention is the best cure – turn off phones, shut down browsers. Use an app like Self Control to avoid tweeting your life away.

4 – Embrace the fear

Fear and stress are bad for us in large doses, that much is clear, but there is such a thing as positive stress. Studies have shown that people are most productive and creative with a medium level of stress, while no stress at all and a large amount both produce poor results.

Manage higher levels of stress by reminding yourself of the bigger picture, and giving yourself plenty of time to complete the task at hand. If on the other hand you’re too relaxed, try imagining a stressful scenario (perhaps submitting a piece of work that is heavily criticised, or setting off on an expedition to find straight away that you’ve forgotten a key bit of kit.) This will trick your brain into releasing the chemicals associated with being under pressure, helping you increase how effective you can be.

5 – Find the right place

Some of us have the luxury of being able to work from home. This is a brilliant thing to be able to do, but many people find it very hard to be productive in a space which they also associate with relaxing. Try to demarcate – have an ‘office’ area which is only used for work. Alternatively, go to a coffee shop, or shared office space. The social buzz in these places stimulates our brains much more than sitting alone at home.

If you have to be in an office, then never fear. Apparently, even something as small as changing the height of your office chair can change your perspective and help you to be more focused. Alternatively try a ‘standing desk’ – I’ve just started using this method, and I love it. It’s a pretty self explanatory concept – you just raise your desk and stand instead of sit. Your body is more alert and mobile, which help keep your brain similarly active.

Any other top tips on staying focused, creative and productive? Let me know – I could use the help!

Apparently, calming pictures are also good at helping us relax and work harder!

Leon McCarron

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