Productivity Repossessed: The Benefits of A “Hard Stop” Mentality

November 25, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

It’s likely that the most valuable lesson I learned during my four years at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration relates to workplace productivity. Ask anyone who has worked for or with me, and they’ll surely recognize my mantra, “work expands to the time allotted”. Hearing that, you would assume that the more you pack into a schedule for a day, the more you’ll get done. Right? Well, not necessarily.

Even before we became faced with that common barrage of social media distractions (facebook messages that tempt you to watch videos, tweets that lure you to reading articles, etc), most of us had already been afflicted by the very human propensity to procrastinate.  Sure, we can push off undesirable tasks until later in the day. But there is a price to pay that surpasses even the unpleasantness of the task itself. You know the experience: you feel the undercurrent of the postponed task seeping into your subconscious, distracting you from concentrating on your current tasks, and ultimately making you less productive.

Good Thing It’s Out-of-the-Way!

Enter: my father Stanley and one of his wise suggestions. From an early age, I could sense he made a practice of thwarting the evils of procrastination with his “hard stop” approach. He would work under the assumption that there was going to be an emergency evacuation at 10:00am, suddenly forcing him and his colleagues from their office, not to return for the rest of the day. And yes, this was the 70’s, in the days before you could sign onto wi-fi at the coffee shop and finish out your work day there. For him, there was no smart alternative to jumping right in and conquering that pesky task from the start. It served his productivity well, emergency or no emergency, and its effect is timeless.

Oh, What A Feeling.

As I matured and navigated through several careers, I realized how valuable this “hard stop” mentality is. By doing the most important jobs first, I get the “icky” stuff out of the way. I then feel a huge sense of accomplishment and increased energy because the dreaded deed is behind me. I can move on to more pleasant tasks and ultimately be more productive during the same period of time. My energy can shift from building anxiety to perpetuating elation, emancipating me from the stress that threatens to rob me of the joy of working in my noble industry.

How do you address projects that are weighing you down?