I’m always interested in learning about trends and shifts in the productivity space. I enjoy watching the productivity frameworks and products evolve as our work environment changes. As a society, we’ve only been working on computers for a relatively minuscule period of time and we’re still figuring out how to best get things done. This is even more true when it comes to working remotely with people across multiple time zones. As the founder of a productivity company (Rize), I’ve listed a few trends in the personal productivity space that I’ve been noticing.
1. Natural Productivity
Natural productivity seeks to find healthier and more natural ways to improve productivity. These include things such as listening to functional music to boost focus through products like Brain.fm. Another example is Mindset headphones which recently closed a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Sleep is an area of natural productivity that’s gaining popularity as well. Products like Eight Sleep and Rise Science aim to improve sleep and therefore productivity downstream. People are increasingly manipulating their diet for productivity gains. We’ve previously written about how a keto diet can improve productivity. Nootropics like Magic Mind have also been exploding as an alternative to coffee.
Natural productivity is riding the increasing insights we have into how our bodies function. In the past with all-nighters and ungodly amounts of Red Bull, productivity was often at odds with our personal health. It’s positive to see natural productivity changing that dynamic.
2. Async Over Sync
While this trend has been pretty well documented for a few years, I believe that we’re still at the very beginning of the shift to asynchronous (async) work. Async work is closely tied with remote work, especially when working with team members across time zones.
Despite so many of us working from home this past year, very few companies truly shifted to async work. Instead, they tried to recreate the office environment remotely. This essentially meant spending your entire days in Zoom calls. That’s why a recent University of Chicago study found that working from home resulted in a 20 percent decrease in productivity this past year alongside a 30 percent increase in work hours.
Truly working asynchronously requires a fundamentally shift in work habits and behavior. This includes swapping the primary mode of communication from talking to writing. That’s a major change that radically alters our work habits and will take some time to unfold. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, refers to this change as replacing the “hyperactive hive mind” with more structured forms of collaboration.
As people switch to truly working asynchronously, we’ll see a large increase in productivity. The persistence and clarity of writing alone has huge benefits for companies long-term. Additionally, nixing meetings will be a boon for productivity as people can clear up their schedules for deep work. This change will shake up the products we use at work. Some products that I see riding this wave are Loom and Threads.
3. Work Quality Over Quantity
Overwork is literally killing us. A recent study by WHO found that deaths from long work hours are up 29 percent from the year 2000. As a general trend, people are focusing more on productive output over input. This includes recognizing the importance of taking breaks throughout the day and capping the number of hours worked.
We’re most productive when we find time to focus. Yet focus work is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Furthermore, science is showing that focus is a limited resource that requires rest to recharge. That means we can only achieve so much quality deep work each day to stay productive. With an increasing emphasis on the quality of work, we’ll see more people favoring shorter, more intensive, and more productive work weeks. This will be a general shift from busyness towards more productive deep work.
4. Quantified Productivity
The entire world is shifting to data driven decision making and productivity is no exception. I see a real parallel to what happened in personal fitness happening in personal productivity. We’ve seen the incredible rise of personal fitness trackers like Fitbit, Apple Watch and Whoop in the past few years. They quantified and gamified personal fitness which led to improved health for thousands of people. We’re trying to do something similar by leveraging data and gamification to improve work habits and personal productivity with Rize.
Quantified productivity enables us to find the best work habits and routines that make us most productive. Similar to fitness, there’s no one size fits all approach to productivity. Instead, we each need to find which productivity frameworks work best for us.
There’s a dark side to quantified productivity that we should work hard to avoid. Like health metrics, personal productivity metrics are incredibly empowering when shown to individuals. However, those same metrics in the hands of others are a serious breach of privacy. Products like Prodoscore are dystopian and ineffective. Quantified productivity should be used to empower individuals not to rank them.
5. Personal Productivity Tools
The consumption of software products continues to splinter at companies. OpenView Partners has done a great job documenting the shift in the way companies adopt software products and the rise of Product Led Growth. To summarize, software used to be purchased by the CIO for the company, then by the executive for the department, and now by the manager for the team.
I’m betting we’ll see this pattern continue and shift the buyer from the team to the individual. Personal productivity products seem particularly well-poised for this since every individual works differently. Products like Superhuman, Clockwise, and Reclaim.ai are showing how even company-wide tools like email and calendar are being customized for the individual.
I’m excited to watch changes unfold in the productivity space. I believe we’ll see an improved focus on personal health and work-life balance in the years to come. It feels right that improved productivity will go hand in hand with improved personal health.
Macgill Davis is the cofounder of Rize - a simple, intelligent time tracker that improves focus and helps build better work habits.