This is a bit of a trick question. You might think that doing the most productive thing at every given moment means that you should always be working or always doing something tangible that moves you closer to your goals. In reality, top achievers realize that there are numerous “things” they can do, that on the surface may not appear to move them closer to their goals, but in fact actually do.

Leonardo da Vinci, certainly one of the most successful, productive and prolific persons in history, approached productivity in a unique way. According to the 16th century writer Giorgio Vasari, as da Vinci was painting “The Last Supper,” he would sometimes spend half a day “lost in contemplation” and not make any visible painting progress.

Frustrated by the slow pace of the painting, da Vinci’s patron—the Duke of Milan—summoned him to a meeting where the Duke urged da Vinci to pick up the pace.

Knowing the Duke’s intellect was “acute and discerning,” da Vinci told the Duke, “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work the least, seeking out inventions with the mind, and forming those perfect ideas which the hands afterwards express and reproduce from the images already conceived in the brain.”

In simple terms, da Vinci was telling the Duke that “my definition of work and the popular definition of work are two different things.” To the outside world, da Vinci was “lost in contemplation,” but in reality, he was “working.”

For a painter like da Vinci, doing the most productive thing at every given moment didn’t mean slapping paint on the wall of the church for 10 hours a day. Instead, he allowed time for creativity. He allowed time for dreaming. He allowed time for the ideas of his painting to coalesce in his mind before his brush ever touched that now famous wall.

Following in da Vinci’s footsteps, your strategy for doing the most productive thing at every given moment could occasionally include some of the following:

Reading a book


Getting a massage

Going for a walk



Doing yoga

Listening to music

Playing with your kids

Spending the afternoon with your spouse

Rather than being a way to avoid work, these activities will be the pause that refreshes.

Action Item:  Over the next 30 days, engage in some of these activities. Put them on your calendar and make sure they happen. And when you’re doing your most productive thing, make sure that you give it 100 percent of your attention. Don’t feel guilty about going for a walk or listening to music if that’s what you need to do to be productive. Don’t think about the other things on your to do list. Just pay attention and enjoy.

Your job is stressful. You need to take periodic breaks. Remember, your best ideas aren’t going to happen sitting at your desk. They happen when your mind is free and you’re not distracted by office business.

There’s plenty of time to get your work done when you approach it with a clear mind and a rejuvenated body. Like da Vinci, by stretching your definition of “productive,” you’ll end up accomplishing more with greater ease and satisfaction.

What’s on your list of the most productive things you do during the day?

Steve Sanduski, CFP®, is the Managing Partner of Peak Advisor Alliance, a financial advisor coaching and practice management resources organization. He is also a New York Times bestselling author and co-author of, Tested in the Trenches: A 9 Step Plan for Building and Sustaining a Million-Dollar Financial Services Practice. To learn more, visit, and