Creative Leadership

What George Washington Can Teach Us About Productivity

Biographer Ron Chernow, discussing his outstanding life of George Washington, recently mentioned how important “focus” was for our first president. Chernow said that at the beginning of his presidency, “[Washington] couldn’t seem to sit down for dinner without 20 people being there—strangers sponging off his generosity, eating his food, drinking his wine. Washington had to create barricades if he was going to be able to function as president. . . . He saw that he needed to carve out some kind of zone of sanity or privacy just so that he could work without constant interruptions.”

I’ve read research that indicates that when we’re interrupted from a task, it often takes as much as 40 minutes to get back to that same level of focus. It doesn’t take many of those interruptions to completely destroy an entire day.

Maybe a lack of talent, passion, or determination isn’t the reason you haven’t achieved your goal. Maybe it’s simply too many interruptions.

What are you doing to “create barricades” around your life as George Washington did?


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  1. Phil, I love Washington. If you liked Chernow’s book, be sure to read His Excellency by Elis. There is a tome called the Crucible of War by Fred Anderson which follows Washington’s early career and the first story in the book is gripping.
    I find there to be a real tension between creating these barricades and maintaining a presence with my team. Both are necessary, and I’m coming to see that one of the key actions is to inform those around me of when I’m going into “barricade mode”, then to be present when I emerge.

    I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on this tension.

    1. That’s a great question Aaron. It took me far too long to realize that while I love and respect my team, they weren’t hired to be my friends. They were hired to do a job. Keeping that balance is critical. Without it, your leadership loses it’s effectiveness.
      Thanks for the suggestion – I may take you up on it!

      1. Thanks, Phil. This has been a timely dynamic to reflect upon this morning. Thinking about it some more, I’m realizing that this discipline of barricading has to become a strategic habit instead of a reactionary move. It’s easy to get overwhelmed then to shift into barricade mode. It’s a healthy thing to build it into my schedule. Well, off to barricade-mode with me 🙂

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