6 Current Productivity Experiments That Are Paying Off (+ 1 Fail)

productivityAlmost every leader I talk to these days feels overwhelmed, and a growing number are struggling with burnout.

I get it. The onslaught of information, requests and demands on everyone’s time seem to be growing rapidly every year, and it’s hard to know how to keep up.

I’m passionately interested in the subject, because, as I’ve shared before, I burned out over a decade ago. It was the most painful experience of my life (here are my top insights on burnout).

Since then, I’ve not only recovered, but my productivity has seen some big gains, and I’m always experimenting to try to figure out how to be more effective not only as a leader but as a human being, husband, dad and friend.

This summer I’m diving deep into overwhelm, burnout and productivity for a new book I’m writing that releases in September 2020. Producing a 65,000-word manuscript takes deep focus and commitment, and as a result, I’ve been experimenting with new ways to become not just more productive, but more effective at managing my time, energy and priorities.

What makes this fascinating is I’m doing this during a season of significant growth in my company, hiring new people, seeing the audience for this blog and the others things I do (speaking, podcasting, writing) increase dramatically. So all of these experiments are happening while that’s happening in addition to writing the book.

Here are 7 productivity experiments I’m undertaking. 6 have helped. One was a massive fail. I’m hoping the insights can help you.

1. Not Setting and Alarm and This Weird Sleep Position Thing 

I’ve long been a morning person, sometimes rising as early as 4:30 or 4:45 a.m. to capture the morning hours before the world wakes up.

But a podcast interview I did with Larry Osborne last year piqued my interest. Larry says he never uses an alarm unless he has to catch a flight or has an early meeting. He just lets his body tell him when to wake up. (You can listen to the interview here.) I couldn’t shake the thought after hearing Larry say that.

Can not setting an alarm and sleeping until it’s time to wake up help you be more productive?

Earlier this summer I read Sleep by Nick Littlehales, who coaches elite athletes and performers around the world. He says the key to his system is waking up at the same time every day no matter how late you go to bed and sleeping in a combination of 90-minute cycles. I’m sure his system is amazing, but it felt a little complex for me to do everything right away.

What I did adapt from Littlehales immediately was his suggestion that you should sleep sideways in the opposite direction to your dominant hand, in the fetal position. (See this article and video for more) Being right-handed, I started to sleep on my left side, legs bent at the knees, with my arms resting out and away from me in a V in front of my chest. Obviously, if you’re left-handed, sleep on your right side in this position.

The result? My deep sleep (which I track via my Apple Watch using this app) doubled overnight. Deep sleep is the most restorative sleep you can get, and I routinely now get 2 to 3 and a half hours of it every night, up from 45 minutes to 90 minutes previously. It’s almost impossible to get more than half of your sleep as deep sleep, so 2-3 hours is actually really good.

I also adopted Larry’s idea of waking without an alarm. Which meant for me, for the first time in years, not getting up between 4:45 and 5:15 every day. I was scared I would lose out on the best hours of my morning.

The result? These two changes have left me feeling more rested and more alert, which, when you’re a writer and speaker, come in very handy.

And surprisingly, I was not sleeping in much past my normal alarm time. Some days, I would wake up at the same time or earlier, but deeply rested. The latest I ever slept this summer was 8 a.m., and that’s after getting into bed at 3:00 a.m. after a series of flight delays. Mostly, I’m up between 4:45-5:30 a.m. Still lots of time to leverage the morning.

Bottom line? A rested you is a better, kinder and more productive you. If you want to be more effective, sleep more, not less.

A rested you is a better, kinder and more productive you. If you want to be more effective, sleep more, not less. Click To Tweet

2. Greatly reduced email

Email is one of the greatest distractors, time-wasters and mindless nothingness-generators of our generation (I just made that last phrase up).

I set up an auto-responder earlier this summer that set a few rules.

Here’s the text:


Thanks for getting in touch with me!

I’m completely off email until July 15th, taking some family vacation and writing my next book. Sarah and Lauren will be in my inbox to respond to anything urgent.

As a heads up, but I’ll be in monk mode until late August 2019 working on my next book. Which means I’m not taking meetings or doing interviews this summer so I can devote my full attention to my book, other writing and preaching responsibilities and podcasting. Thanks for understanding!

Enjoy the summer! Talk in a few months!


So what does this do?

First, it set up two rules: no interviews this summer (I get a lot of requests) and no new meetings (same). Those are pre-decisions that mean neither me nor my team is spending time every day figuring out what to do and what not to do. And for any mission-critical meetings or things I must do…well, because I’ve ruled out everything else, I can do them.

Second, I’ve set expectations. It’s not that I don’t like you or think you’re great…it’s that I’m doing a major project and have basically shut down to new opportunities for a few months.

In addition to this, I’ve kept my inbox at zero now for almost all of 2019. Think it’s impossible?

You can get to inbox zero in 90 minutes or less using this method, even if you have a thousand unread emails. If you have fewer than 20, it will take you ten minutes. I show you exactly how in this post.

Long term, I’m thinking about how to cut email down every more. I started that process here (see Step 3). Stay tuned for more.

The problem with email is it exchanges large volumes of your valuable time for work that’s not that valuable. When you give it a minimal amount of time, you extract the maximum value you can from a low reward activity.

The problem with email is it exchanges large volumes of your valuable time for work that's not that valuable. Click To Tweet

3. I’m Spending Less Time On Social

Social media makes a wonderful servant and a terrible master.

I can mindlessly scroll through my feeds for far longer than I like to admit.

So I’ve really limited my engagement to short windows over the course of a day. I’m trying to make reading books my default more than reading my phone. I still have progress to make there.

The result is interesting. Instead of decreasing the engagement on social and number of followers I have, engagement and followers are up. In fact, my Instagram follower numbers have grown by 25% this summer alone.

The place where I still show up regularly is Insta Stories. You can follow me here.  For the rest, I batch it into a few times a day where I engage. That’s it.

Social media makes a wonderful servant and a terrible master. Click To Tweet

4. Not Replying To/Not Initiating Texts

If this seems a little anti-social, it’s only because it is.

Like you, I get a lot of text messages, and I’m more than a little worried that texting is the new email. That’s been a trend that’s developing over the last five years and honestly, I’m not a fan.

I try to restrict texting to close personal friends, close colleagues and urgent things. That’s it. But I’m receiving more and more texts that aren’t urgent or important. They’re just texts, sometimes from people I hardly know.

Of course, old behaviours die hard so it’s easy to think Well this is a text. I have to reply right now.

No, you don’t.

I’ve had to fight a lot of guilt but often now I won’t reply to a non-urgent text for hours or the next day, and sometimes, not at all.

Why? Because every text put someone else’s priority onto my day, scuttling mine. And of course, they have no idea what I’m working on. Nor do I have any idea what they’re working on when I send my reply.

This isn’t about being selfish, it’s about keeping your head above water and focusing on what you’re called to do. The number of distractions and interruptions every day you and I face is unprecedented.

I think we’re going to have to come up with a new protocol for texts. Unless you really enjoying being overwhelmed, treat urgent things as urgent, and everything else as non-urgent, whether it comes as a text, instant message or anything else.

Also, I’m texting and emailing less—only when I want to or have to reach out.

No one will ever ask you to accomplish your priorities. They will only ask you to accomplish theirs.

So text back when and if it works for you.

No one will ever ask you to accomplish your priorities. They will only ask you to accomplish theirs. Click To Tweet

5. Delegating More of What I Used To Do

I’m naturally a bit of a control freak, but I’ve realized that being controlling and being effective are mutually exclusive.

So this summer, in order to focus on the book, I’ve delegated far more decisions and responsibility to my team.

Being controlling and being effective are mutually exclusive. Click To Tweet

The result? Everyone’s happier, including me, and our growth rate hasn’t declined, it’s accelerated 3X over last summer.

If you want to grow, find gifted people and let go. If you won’t let go, you won’t grow.

If you struggle to delegate, here’s a post on what’s really at stake and how to release more.

If you want to grow, find gifted people and let go. If you won't let go, you won't grow. Click To Tweet

6. Changing my Podcast-to-AudioBook Ratio

I love listening to podcasts, and I’m also a podcaster.

Most of my audio listening for the last decade has been podcasts. And yet every year I wish I read more books.

The summer, I still get my share of podcasts in, but I’m adding audiobooks to the mix as well. I’m shocked at how quickly I can get through a book via audio.

I listen to both podcasts and audiobooks at 1.5X, which you get used to surprisingly quickly (some of my listeners tell me they listen at 3X. More power to you…I find that too much!)

Podcasts are great, but books are deeper explorations than a podcast really can be. I love the mix of both and will likely keep that up.

I’m still reading books too, but this has more than doubled my book consumption, which I’m thankful for.

7. The Fail: Working Vacations

In the past, I’ve done more than a few working vacations. From mid-June to mid-July, I was off and we did a combination of travel and stay at home vacations while I tried to write on the book.

I would spend the first 2-5 hours of the day writing, and then by lunch switch to vacation mode.

Verdict? I didn’t write well and didn’t vacation well. I didn’t write well because I hard a hard time focusing on writing when everyone else was playing. And I had a hard time playing in the afternoon and evening because I was thinking about the book. Perhaps that because this is the biggest and most comprehensive book I’ve ever tackled, or maybe it’s just that I’m better at relaxing than I used to be and enjoy it more. I don’t know.

I think I would have been much more effective had I taken two weeks off to relax and tackle the book when I got back…leaving a clear calendar to work on it.

My wife and I agree…no more working vacations.  They used to work for me, but for whatever reason, they don’t anymore.

By the way. It doesn’t take real leadership to quit something that’s dead. If you’ve got something that’s dead in your life, move on.

Working vacations are dead. So I’m moving on.

It doesn't take real leadership to quit something that's dead. If you've got something that's dead in your life, move on. Click To Tweet

Overwhelmed? I Understand. This Can Help.

I’m fascinated with productivity and effectiveness in life and leadership because 13 years ago, I hit a wall. I burned out.

I was seen as an effective leader, but my methods were killing me on the insight.

I moved through burnout and on the other side, got coaching and counselling that helped me create a new normal. A new normal that radically boosted my productivity and helped me beat overwhelm and get my life and leadership back.

I’ve put all my learnings so far into my High Impact Leader course. The High Impact Leader is an online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favor. So far, over 3000 leaders have beat overwhelm using the course and either stayed clear of burnout or come back from it.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – Joel Rowland, First Priority, Clayton County, North Carolina

“Carey’s course was the perfect way for our team to prepare for the new year. Our team, both collectively and individually, took a fresh look at maximizing our time and leadership gifts for the year ahead. I highly recommend this leadership development resource for you and your team.” Jeff Henderson, Gwinnett Church, Atlanta Georgia

“A lot of books and programs make big promises and cannot deliver but this is not one of them. I have read so many books and watched videos on productivity but the way you approach it and teach is helpful and has changed my work week in ministry in amazing ways.” Chris Sloan, Tanglewood Church, Kingston, North Carolina

“Just wow.  Thank you, thank you.” Dave Campbell, Invitation Church, Sioux Falls South Dakota

A game changer.” Pam Perkins, Red Rock Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm and have the time to reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

Any Experiments on Your End?

Anything you’re experimenting with? I”d love to know.

Scroll down and leave a comment!


6 Current Productivity Experiments That Are Paying Off (+ 1 Fail)


  1. J. Livingston on October 31, 2020 at 7:40 am

    I remember listening to a podcast of yours that spoke to “How to Measure Virtual Church Attendance.” If you have “Anything” on this topic you can share with me the Angels in Heaven will smile on you and Jesus would bless you immensely 😇.

  2. Kenny Jahng on October 15, 2020 at 4:34 am

    I will have to try this weird sleep position thing…

  3. Bec on August 12, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    This is great, Carey! Really practical & addresses the things I struggle with too. Thanks for your wisdom & honest sharing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 13, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Glad to help!

  4. Chuck on August 12, 2019 at 8:19 am

    I’m a fan of the bigger picture of getting a good nights sleep wherever that is for you. However I have seen too many supposedly authoritative / reputable sources contradict each other on positions, times, rhythms etc. and I don’t want to risk irritating or alienating readers. I just minutes ago read a similar article saying almost the same thing you did except they say sleep on your back. I say listen to your body. It’s factual that you change positions multiple times at night in your sleep anyway so I question our control over it anyway.

  5. Hannah B on August 12, 2019 at 5:59 am

    You have two #3’s so technically you’ve found six new means of productivity and 1 fail.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 12, 2019 at 6:01 am

      Ha. Fixed! Thank you.

  6. Austin Walker on August 12, 2019 at 4:28 am

    I listened to Sleep this summer and have been recommending it left and right. I usually say it’s the most intriguing book that’s equal parts insanely impractical and insanely practical. It’s been a huge win. I don’t have an Apple Watch or anything that tracks my sleep automatically, but have started logging how many cycles I get per night to better gauge my sleep needs later on in each week.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 12, 2019 at 6:03 am

      Austin…thanks! Did you adopt the 90 minute block idea, where if you miss your bedtime you spend more time up and then go to bed at the next 90 minute window.

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