Productivity is the ratio of output over input. The more we get out of what we put in, or the less we put in to get the result out—the more productive we are.

So, how productive are we? Not so much these days. Reuters reported that U.S. productivity suffered its “biggest ever drop” in second quarter 2022.

And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from my practice and elsewhere that not everyone is operating on all cylinders lately. From a Science News article in my earlier post on Post Pandemic Time Warping:

“All of a sudden, everything went on stop.… We could not be the people we were used to being in the world anymore,” says health psychologist Alison Holman of the University of California, Irvine. “People who experienced temporal disintegration… got stuck in that past experience. They couldn’t put together the flow from past to present to future,” she says.

People got stuck in the past, and a lot of them are still stuck there, even as we are moving on more and more beyond the restrictions of the past.  So, here’s what I’m noticing. A lot of people I know really want to feel in charge of their lives.

“All of a sudden, everything went on stop.” And now y’all want everyone to go from Stop to Go, just because who said so?  Not so fast, not ready yet? Don’t exactly appreciate the demands? Whose life is this anyway?

Maybe we liked some things about that slower pace. Maybe we are not ready to give it all up. Maybe we want to be the one to decide.

So, a lot of people are saying NO, much the way a two-year-old does. NO for the sake of NO.  NO to assert oneself, even to things they really want to do. NO even to themselves.

But not everyone even has the energy to be that willful. A lot of people are just feeling too low. As we know from the news, 90% of Americans believe the U.S. is in a mental health crisis.

Anxiety and depression affect productivity, as even ordinary tasks may feel overwhelming. My colleague, Ed Segal, writes for Forbes that burnout is an international crisis. “Burnout Without Borders,” as he calls it.

But this works the other way around too. That is, our mental health affects our productivity, but our productivity also affects our mental health.

Effects of Low Productivity

Low productivity lowers profitability, which then lowers team morale, and heightens workplace friction, absenteeism, presenteeism (there but burnt out and not really working), or just leaving altogether.

Harvard Business Review reports:

Stewart’s research team calculated the total cost of presenteeism in the United States to be more than $150 billion per year. Furthermore, most studies confirm that presenteeism is far more costly than illness-related absenteeism or disability. The two Journal of the American Medical Association studies, for example, found that the on-the-job productivity loss resulting from depression and pain was roughly three times greater than the absence-related productivity loss attributed to these conditions.

So round and round it goes, mental health (or lack thereof) affecting productivity, low productivity affecting mental health—and with skyrocketing costs—if we don’t do something constructive about it.

#1 Productivity and Burnout Hack

Faster decisions. I have been writing and speaking about this (recently at the Wharton Innovation Summit) ever since I learned that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. Whoa, I thought, no wonder people are exhausted.

Then I learned that “Decision Fatigue” is actually something that doctors are talking about now:

Decision fatigue is “the idea that after making many decisions, your ability to make more and more decisions over the course of a day becomes worse,” said Dr. MacLean, a psychiatrist. “The more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult it can become.”

Yes, but it’s not just the number of decisions. It is also the time and energy spent on each one.

Just think how much energy could be freed up—for work, or rest and relaxation, whatever you like—if our energy was not sucked dry by overthinking every decision all day long.

So let’s go fast, or at least faster than we otherwise might, especially if we are tired. From an earlier post, here is the story of Bouridan’s Ass:

An equally hungry and thirsty donkey, placed exactly halfway between a stack of hay and a pail of water, cannot decide which way to go. Paralyzed with indecision and, therefore, approaching neither the food nor the drink while he tries to decide, the donkey dies.

Either way, whether impulsively choosing lesser options or procrastinating one’s way to nothing at all—it is not hard to imagine how the opportunity costs can degrade our lives and the lives of others around us.

The toxin associated with overthinking’s cognitive exhaustion is called glutamate, which:

…typically excites neurons, playing key roles in learning and memory, but too much of it can wreak havoc on brain function, causing problems ranging from cell death to seizures.

Good to know because I, for one, did not have any idea there was a toxin involved. As with most studies, there are questions and controversy (e.g., is this the only toxin involved, is there something other than the toxins involved).

So, as always, the Power Breathing exercise on my website pulldown, scroll down to “Complimentary Managing Your Mind Exercises,” will help you kick the decision upstairs to the higher brain for a quicker, better result.

That’s on the front end. On the back end, try the Focus and Release productivity tool found on the pulldown as well. Humans have a hard time cleaning out the memory the way we can on a computer when we want to go faster.

Focus and Release will help you do just that, clean your plate and clear your mind for whatever comes next in a happier, healthier, more prosperous, and productive way!

Practice, practice, practice… see what happens and let us know.



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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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