Dec '15 | 5 Secrets I Would’ve Asked the Most Productive People

Dissatisfied by Fast Company’s November 2015 cover story, “Secrets of the Most Productive People,” I decided, rather than snub the magazine that promises to inspire readers to think beyond traditional boundaries, to heed the article’s advice and present my beef with an idea for improvement.

Fast Company is the world’s leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design–accordingly to their about page. And in a city where start-ups and progressive leadership are as dense as San Francisco’s summer fog, I rely on the magazine to shine through the bleakness and spotlight helpful words of wisdom and advice. But when interviewing eleven highly successful people, Oprah being the headliner, Fast Company chose to highlight how much sleep one gets per night–(six hours being the average)–along with ideas such as scheduling every single minute of every single day, or never taking any time off. It only takes me a minute of Googling to realize that those ideas have not been proven productive, nor are they progressive. Arianna Huffington’s Sleep Revolution and Sara Robinson’s claim that 150 years of research proves that long hours at work kills profits, productivity and employees are two articles that quickly come to mind.

But choosing irrelevant interview questions or highlighting ideas that don’t seem to deliver on the promise of the article–“72 Real World Lessons From Airbnb to Google, CEOs to Chefs,”– only speaks to my dissatisfaction. My disappointment in not receiving any helpful lessons that I can implement in my own life is the real feeling that lingers. As a thirty-something female small business owner of San Francisco video production company, Patina Pictures, I’m constantly reality-checking my productivity limits, and seeking out ways in which to improve my process so that I can achieve the work-life balance that I desire and require as a professional creative. So instead of sulking, which isn’t a good look, nor my style, I came up with five questions I would’ve asked the most productive people had I the opportunity, and just as a rehearsal for when Fast Company calls to interview me, I also provided my answers.

Q: Is there one thing you’ve discovered about your productivity ability over the course of your career?

Yes: I’ve learned that my right brain works completely different than my left. As a producer, multitasking, spreadsheets, and budget software allow me to be highly productive. But as a writer, daydreaming, walking, and long stretches of quiet are mandatory in order to produce. Earlier in my career, I used to jump in and out of both tasks, but shifting gears constantly always left me feeling like I was a kid just learning to drive. Today, I bulk my tasks. For two days straight I’ll work on financials; then I’ll shift gears and spend three days on the creative.

Q: As a creative, do you believe there’s a finite amount of creative juices allotted per day? If so, how do you get around that restriction when constantly forced to produce?

I definitely come up against a wall when writing, whereas producing I could multitask for days on end. When on a deadline, I get around this restriction by ruthlessly scheduling my time. I know I’m more creative and productive in the mornings, so that’s when I write. I’ve also learned that writing under pressure doesn’t always equate to my best work. So I give myself a fake deadline that’s much earlier than the real one.

Q: Have your beliefs on productivity changed over the years? If so, how?

Yes: when I was younger my To-Do List and daily goals were unrealistic which left me with a continual feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing enough. This would lead to longer days spent at my desk, and unhealthy sleeping, eating and exercise habits. Over the years, I’ve realized how much sleep and a healthy lifestyle directly affect my productivity. I’ve also become a big believer of brainstorming while being active. Walks are built into my daily work routine.

Q: What’s the one thing you’ve had to let go in order to be more productive?

Perfectionism. I know a tidy workspace, and keeping up with receipts and admin tasks are linked to productivity. But in my reality, the two hours spent every day on those tasks would mean two hours away from things I really needed to finish. Instead I schedule one day a month to do things like: open the mail, file and input my receipts, organize my office, call customer service agents with questions about upgrades, invoices, etc.

Q: Where do you keep your To-Do List?

Producing tasks go in a notebook where I can circle, underline, cross items off, and transport to each meeting. Writing tasks go on my whiteboard, where I can stare, color, and daydream about them. Really big To-Do’s, like “Do not fake your way through this project!” are written on Post-it notes and stuck to my computer screen.

I’d love to hear some of your productivity lessons!

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K'Dee Miller is the Founder & Creative Director of Patina Pictures.

Her feature films have premiered at Sundance Film Festival, AFI Fest, Newport Beach Film Festival, among others. Her corporate video clients span from technology companies such as Microsoft, RingCentral, DocuSign and Adobe, to Bay Area nonprofits such as Team4Tech and Hamilton Families.

She's studied her industry from every angle, receiving production training from The Juilliard School, an MFA of Writing from University of San Francisco, and a BFA of Acting from Marymount Manhattan College.

She is currently in the process of writing a memoir about growing up in the wilderness of Alaska.