The No-Nonsense Strategy Behind George Washington’s Productivity

Mike Renahan
Mike Renahan




Despite having hundreds of technological advances to help us stay productive at our fingertips, it’s still easy to lose track of our goals. Problem is, sometimes we forget the basics of productivity. Since we have all these tools to keep us on task built into our lives, we rely on them so much that we forget to rely on ourselves.

But what if something happened to our technology, and we could no longer rely on our trusty productivity apps? How the heck would we stay productive?

Well, there are several strategies that date back to the time of America’s Founding Fathers that still work today. Turns out, all we need to achieve maximum productivity is a watch and willpower.

Don’t believe me? Check out this tip George Washington used 235 years ago to ensure he was productive while serving as the first president of the United States.

According to psychotherapist and teacher Michael J. Formica, Washington would only focus on one task each hour. During those 60 minutes put everything he had into that task at hand to ensure he was executing it to the best of his ability.

Imagine you’re Washington for a moment. From 11 a.m. to noon you’re farming to make sure your family has good crops for the weeks ahead, but you also have a meeting at noon with Congress to discuss the future of the newly-founded United States. Instead of allowing that impending meeting to affect his farming, Washington put it out of his mind for the hour.

When 12 o’clock struck, he arrived at Congress on the dot because that’s when he said he would be there. For the next hour, he was all-in on Congress.

This schedule held the key to his productivity. He even used it in social situations. For example, Washington ate dinner at 4 p.m. every day. If his guest arrived late, Washington would begin eating without them. Why? His hour of focus had already started.

Like Washington’s system? Here are two productivity tips you can take away from our first president.

Stop multitasking.

Studies have shown that when you try to do too many things at once, you’ll likely struggle. By ignoring the other tasks on your to-do list and zeroing in on one and only one task, you can devote all your time and attention to ensuring the project you’re working on turns out the best it can. If you quit multitasking, the theory goes, the quality of your work should improve.

Schedule your tasks.

Having trouble putting an end to multitasking? Quit cold turkey by scheduling all your tasks.

We’ve learned that Washington broke his schedule down into 60-minute blocks. According to some research, the optimal schedule for maximum focus is alternating 52 minutes of work with a 17-minute break. If you schedule your tasks according to this or another timing structure that works for you, you’ll decrease the temptation to redirect your focus.

Next time you’re thinking about how to be productive, take some presidential advice and focus on one thing at a time. 

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