The Art of Subliminal Productivity


If, like me, you work on multiple projects at once, and yours is the kind of work that takes thought, planning and strategizing, the subliminal productivity technique might be worth trying out.

This technique relies on a sort of in-office osmosis, the steady percolation of ideas prompted by visual cues, rather than hard, brain-draining hours of relentless attention.

It’s good for any task that requires something of your own creativity. Whether you’re trying to solve a resource issue, work out how to approach a new work challenge, develop a strategy for managing your next project, or create a concept for a client, the subliminal productivity technique has something to offer you.

The Process

The process is simple. All you need is a piece of paper and a wall (or a pinboard if you want to get fancy). OK, technically speaking, you need some tape or pins as well. You could also use a whiteboard if you have one in your office; I’m not so lucky.

Next, settle down with your new challenge and spend some time giving it some thought. Obviously, you may be using any variety of tools or approaches to do this, depending on what the task is, but at the end of the process, you’re likely to have an output of some sort: a project timeline, a mind map, process flowchart, or some other documentation of what you’re working on. Perhaps you’ll have a number of outputs, or maybe just one.

Great! Make a hard copy of this “project evidence” and stick it to your wall. Don’t stick it to a space that’s behind you. Stick the output up somewhere within your field of vision, either in front of or immediately beside where you work. The important thing is that whenever you lift your gaze from what you’re doing during the day, your eyes hit the project evidence.

The Practice

As an example, I have a big, new project — the most important one I’m working on at the moment — and I decided to use the subliminal productivity technique on it. I try to keep the visual space near my desk focused on just one project, though I could include two if I split the space clearly between them.

Initially I had just the four-paragraph project brief stuck to the wall. But I’m a big fan of mind maps, especially when I’m planning things and working out how a variety of inputs can fit together effectively. So this week, my brief was joined by two mind maps that detailed the relationships between different project inputs. Yesterday I added another one that explains how the project outputs might fit together.

Looking at each of these additions, I can see clearly how my thought processes have evolved over the last week. When I look up from the other tasks I do each day, I can’t help but see these documents, scan the keywords on them, and focus on the relationships between the elements I’ve identified.

In short: I can’t help but have this stuff in the back of my mind all the time.

The Benefits

I know, this sounds so simple. Sticking something to your wall improves your productivity? Phooey!

But it does. Productivity; product; operational quality; whatever you want to call it, this technique can help you do whatever it is you need to do better, without a whole lot more work. How? It’s subliminal.

Making hard-copy evidence of your thoughts can help “realize” those thoughts and clear them from your mind — making room for new ones. Like billboards or brand ads, sticking that evidence up where you’ll be exposed to it continuously keeps the issues you’re dealing with top of mind — even if it’s your subconscious mind.

Being repeatedly presented with these issues can help you identify gaps, opportunities, limitations in your thinking, and so on. It can also prompt you to recall more about the project when it pops into your head during the day during “free thinking” time — while you’re doing other things like walking the dog or washing the dishes.

If you’re worried that your project evidence will distract you from the other tasks you have at hand, don’t be. The idea isn’t to read through everything every time you glance up from your work; I’ve found that simply having the documents around me, in view, is enough to let my subconscious make connections and progress ideas basically without me doing anything else. Sometimes, between other tasks, I’ll take a minute to update or annotate a document that’s stuck to my wall with a thought I’ve had about the project, but that’s it.

The next time you come to do some more work on the project, you can expect to discover that you’ve had some new (and possibly strange and unusual!) thoughts about it in the interim. Yes, you probably would have had some new thoughts about it regardless of whether you stuck your project evidence up beside your desk, but since I’ve been using this technique, I’ve found that my ideas have progressed further, and in more depth than they have on projects where I haven’t used this technique — especially those with many inputs, complexities, or layers.

Tips for Subliminal Productivity

  • Apply the technique to one project at a time.
  • Make sure the evidence is within your field for vision when you look up from your work.
  • Stick only a few key pieces of project evidence to your wall — the essentials, not every last thing.
  • Allow yourself to annotate or add to your project evidence during the day, as you develop new thoughts about it.
  • Give yourself time to come back to the project after a few days, to build whatever’s going on in your subconscious back into your work.

Do you make use of any techniques that help you consider your projects over time and develop them further on a subconscious level?


Jurgen Wolff

Another method I use is to collect advertising postcards that have strong images on the front. When I need to come up with some new thoughts about any project, I pick one of the cards at random and then force an association between the project and the image. It’s a variation of deBono’s lateral thinking, and you’ll be amazed at how often it seems there is a clear link between what you’re pondering and what’s on the card. I’ve collected the most useful tips like this into a book called “Focus: the power of targeted thinking,” which is published by Pearson Publishing/Financial Times. Harnessing the power of the subconscious mind certainly is a lot less work than trying to force the conscious mind to be creative–thanks for this post!

Owen Marcus

As the brilliant dyslexic hypnotist, Milton Erickson, MD demonstrated – the unconscious is very powerful. I had clients that were his student or patient that told me stories of how one suggestion given at the right time, in the right way changed their life. Erickson did it primarily through his words. As you suggest, we can set ourselves up to do through our images.

I have used vision boards to make unconscious suggestions. I haven’t put my project in my visual view. I will now. Thanks.

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