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5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder

5 Productivity Tools To Work Smarter, Not Harder

Modern day life constantly demands our time, attention, and energy. We put pressure on ourselves to juggle more tasks as we increase our workloads to get more things done quicker. Instead of accomplishing enough to be satisfied, we are often left feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, disconnected, and unfulfilled.

This frantic lifestyle not only diminishes the quality of our results, it’s also impossible to maintain. Something has got to give eventually and if it’s not your relationships and happiness, it will become your health. Just like a car needs regular maintenance to perform well and batteries need to be recharged, our bodies need nurturing, rest, and rejuvenation.

Although working burnout style is an easy habit to slip into when you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, research shows that workers get no more done when they work 50-hour work-weeks than when they work 40-hour work-weeks. So, what does that say for working 70 plus hours a week? These extra unproductive hours are usually spent engaged in disruptive activities such as answering emails, phone calls, and unnecessary meetings, or recovering from stress, lack of sleep, and sugar or caffeine lows.

The best way to balance out our demanding lifestyle and become more productive at what we do, including work, is to manage our energy. Do more activities that recharge you and give you energy, so you can can be more successful in what you choose to focus your energy on.

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While building up an executive marketing and design career over the past 14 years, I have successfully been able to accomplish all my work tasks within a 40-hour work week. This left me time for rest, travel, hobbies, building relationships, and being a competitive athlete. I did this by managing my energy outside of the office, so when I was at work I had the energy to be more productive and successful.

Here are five energy management tools and activities you can do to create more clarity, productivity, and success in your life.

1. Start your day right.

How you start your day has a big influence on how productive you are for the rest of the day, and I’m not referring to how much coffee you drink. Setting a relaxed mindset and making sure your body and brain receive adequate nutrition is vital for productivity. If you wake up with worry, fear, or any other troubling emotions, do what you can to get back into a calm state. Remember you choose how you feel; no one else can dictate that. Express your thoughts in a notebook, meditate, or exercise to get the tense energy out.

Next, feed your body and brain healthy food. Aim for natural non-processed food that isn’t going to give you a sugar crash later on or encourage junk food cravings. Feed your body and mind what it needs to create success.

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2. Visualize success.

Visualizing success paves the pathway to tangibly achieve success. Just like athletes visualize their race over and over in their heads, visualizing your day going well energetically and mentally sets you in alignment with your goals.

Each morning, create a plan of how you want your day to go by visualizing all your goals. Visualize the main tasks, meetings, or conversations of that day going well. Play out the events in your head one at a time using only positive thoughts and emotions.

At a neurological level, our brain doesn’t know the difference between what actually happens and what we visualize. The brain reacts very similarly to both real and imagined experiences. That’s why chronic worriers feel the stress in their body like the potential disaster has already happened. Visualizing success can decrease fear and worry, as your brain has already experienced a positive outcome.

3. Set a strict finish time.

Before starting work, set a hard deadline of when you will finish. Knowing you only have a certain amount of time to complete your tasks often leads to more focus and less temptation for distraction. That’s why cramming students can get more study done close to the exam time since they have no choice but to solidly focus.

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If you are a serial workaholic and can’t see yourself finishing when you plan to, then make solid commitments after work. Reserve a dinner table, book a yoga or exercise class, buy tickets to an event, or park your car somewhere you have to move at your finishing time. In other words do whatever it takes to get 1-3 tasks done for that day within the allotted time. It’s amazing how much your productivity increases when you have focus and are not multitasking/time-wasting.

4. Meditate or exercise during your lunch break.

Taking a mental and physical break from work allows you to relax, recharge, and return with more focus. Throughout my professional career, I have been very consistent in taking at least a 1-hour lunch break to do exercise, yoga, or meditation. No matter how busy I am that day, I know taking a break will provide me with more energy and focus to be more productive when I return. In fact, during heavy workloads and intense deadlines my exercise/meditation break is one of the main tools to reduce my stress and recharge me to continue to focus.

Choose a cardiovascular activity such as a 45 minute spin class, weights workout, or running, to increase the adrenaline in your body and provide more creative energy for when you return. If you don’t have a gym near your workplace or a shower in the building for exercising outside, try meditation. Get some fresh air and sit in a park to do your meditation, listen to a guided meditation, or practice mindfulness while walking.

5. Set boundaries.

Having the strength to say “no” and setting your boundaries keeps your energy in tact and increases productivity. Get clear on what you need in order to do a good job then say no to people, meetings, extra work, disruptive activities, and tasks that don’t serve your highest good and ultimately the company’s success.

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Assess and pick only tasks and activities that you need to complete to move forward. If someone wants to have a 2-hour meeting and ramble on, make it clear you only have 20 or 30 minutes, then get out of there. If someone wants to disrupt you with emails and phone calls when you are trying to focus, tell them you have a deadline and you will get back to them another time. If other people want you work long hours and burnout with them, go to the gym or do yoga then return the next day much more refreshed and sharp.

Conclusion

To eliminate time-wasting and burnout habits you need to take a stand and try a different approach. Even if you stand out from the crowd, the results will speak for themselves, both professionally and personally. To be more successful and productive than the crowd, you need to break free from the crowd.

Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

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Kelly Weiss

Purpose-driven business + lifestyle coach

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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