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Productivity Approaches That Reduce Stress and Increase Accomplishment

This article was based on episode 251 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

Our outdated ideas of productivity are stressing us out. Most of us no longer work on an assembly line, yet we still subconsciously hold to Henry Ford’s ideas of an efficient eight hour workday. Expecting ourselves as knowledge workers to be productive at every second of the day is simply an impossible ideal. Sandra Halling joins me to share more realistic, compassionate ways for the modern worker to have a successful day instead. Sandra is a marketing systems and technology consultant who has a passion for finding smart, efficient ways of working so we can let go of the hustle. She shares here how much knowledge work is possible in a day, choosing between mind mapping and linear list making, and collaborating with colleagues who operate differently than you.


We need to be intentional about the different types of work we are doing. When we talk about knowledge work, the truth is that we can realistically do this for about three to four hours a day. The last hour or two of that work is often the low level administrative work, such as checking email, tying up loose ends, and preparing for the next day. When we realize that eight hours a day of knowledge work is not a feasible goal, we can plan our days differently.


Within the workday we accomplish a surprising number of tasks. The issue is that so many are small items that we dismiss as unimportant. The opposite is also true; we work on a big project but only get part way through so we undercount it. Pay attention to everything you accomplish. Celebrate the small wins because it is those small wins that lead to bigger ones. Plus, building the dopamine and brain muscles from all of the tiny steps will give you strength to persevere towards your goals over the long run.


Breaking down large projects into 15 to 30 minute steps is a must for making work manageable. If you expect something to take you ninety minutes or more, break it down into a beginning, middle, and end. Doing this helps you create a more clear road map for where you’re going, estimate your time better, and keep track of where you left off when you pick up again the next day.

Breaking tasks down into small steps is especially helpful for neurodivergent workers. Having small things they can get done even when they’re not feeling focused or motivated is powerful for their sense of morale.


There are two major styles for planning: list making and mind mapping. I know that I’m definitely a linear list maker, even though I love the idea of mind mapping, it just never quite worked for me. I recognize that for some of my teammates, the opposite is true. Those who don’t like linear thinking tend to resist the rigidity of planning altogether. But there is another option! It’s important for colleagues to not feel guilty if making lists just isn’t how their mind operates. It’s perfectly normal for creative/relational thinkers to prefer mindmaps. Therefore, we need to give our teams the permission to not have to be chronological thinkers while still holding them accountable to planning and managing their productivity.

Here’s how mind mapping works:

Start with a blank piece of paper or use a tool like Miro. Write down (ie. brain dump) all the things you want or need to do. Your brain will automatically start grouping things. Chunk different tasks/activities in order to understand how you want to proceed.

Even for list-makers like myself, mind mapping can help when we get stuck and want a new, creative way of thinking through a problem.


Whether they are mind mappers or linear list makers, we need to meet our direct reports where they are. If we try to force them to be a certain way (likely our way), they will either resist (if they are mappers) or feel frustrated and unclear about what's happening (if they are listers). Neither way is better, they are just different ways we organize our thoughts and plans.

Ask yourself why you prefer one way over the other and why it’s helpful for you. Understanding this can help you accommodate others who need things differently. For example, maybe you like all your details together in one place, but your employee gets overwhelmed if they see more than what they need to get done next week. You can satisfy both your needs by creating a filtered view with different online productivity tools so you can each view your tasks in the way that works for your brain.

Creating realistic expectations and planning our workload for ourselves and our teams is all about compassion. We shouldn’t leave our offices every day feeling frustrated and guilty for what we accomplished! Rather, let’s rethink what is truly possible for knowledge workers every day. Break down tasks into manageable, smaller ones to slowly move towards larger ones. And consider how each brain needs to plan out their tasks, whether it is mind mapping or list making. When we give people the ability to choose how they move through their daily tasks in the way that’s most helpful to them, they are extraordinarily more effective. What’s more, they feel seen and understood.


Get access to 1 Free Month of Aligned Productivity Membership AND a set of Free Productivity Reflection Templates when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 251 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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