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The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done

The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done
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If only. Most of you are probably thinking, but it’s not quite as unrealistic as it sounds. Working for fewer hours each day is actually proving better for concentration, health, and productivity.

We are all time wasters. That might seem like a harsh statement, but it’s almost impossible not to be when we’re chained to a desk for long, inflexible hours surrounded by multifold temptations to procrastinate. In Forbes last year, Cheryl Connor revealed that people who now admit to wasting time at work every day has reached a whopping 89% (up more than 20% than the year before), supplementing her argument with shocking statistics from a CareerBuilder Poll which blamed unsurprising suspects for the demise of hard work (social media, gossip, smoking, internet browsing, phone calls, etc.) and essentially came to the conclusion that we’re all a bunch of no good slackers.

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In my view though, we’re not the ones to blame. It’s the outdated structures around which business is based: inflexible working weeks, unreasonable hours, and ridiculous expectations.

Last year, Filimundus, an app developer based in Stockholm introduced the 6-hour working day with minimal meetings, social media banned and distractions eliminated, following the lead of another tech company, Brath, who made the leap three years ago. Linus Feldt, the company’s CEO told Fast Company, “To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the work day more endurable.”

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Banning social media seems extreme, particularly when platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are positively transforming the way we do business, allowing companies to reach new audiences, increase sales, and foster customer relationships across the globe. However, the concept is an important one and it demonstrates a shift away from an outdated and highly restrictive professional structure.

The 8 hour working day is based on the idea that employees are productively working for those 8 hours, but, tweeting and gossiping aside, even when employees are actually “on the job”, productivity is still a struggle with concentration continually disrupted by emails, phone calls, and meetings.

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Then there’s the serious health risks of working long hours. A frightening recent study published in Science Alert reported that individuals working 55 hours or more per week had a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. This could relate to the inactivity of employees, but also to high stress levels. When we are expected to work or exceed conventional hours, there’s not enough time leftover to properly unwind. With shorter or flexible office hours that allow people to leave when they’ve completed their work, employees feel rewarded and proud of what they’ve achieved. They start to associate the office space with productivity rather than boredom and exhaustion.

Most importantly, people get to leave with enough energy to enjoy spending time with their families, to exercise, to learn, and to relax, so that when they return to the office the next day they’re refreshed and enthused rather than exhausted. Working less hours shouldn’t mean you get paid less either. Most companies would be willing to pay the same salaries for a higher productivity and fewer hours, if that meant for bigger profits and faster development.

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A Happiness at Work survey run by Nic Marks in 2012 showed that happy employees are 3 times more creative, sales increase by 37%, and productivity by 31%. Redesigning office spaces, introducing team yoga lessons and better food all help with morale in the short term, but it’s the long term restructuring that’s going to make the biggest impact.

Shorter days in the office means a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. What have we got to lose?

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More by this author

Richard Walton

Founder of AVirtual

Boost your creativity, be more productive Hitchhiker by Atlas Green Why asking for help isn’t the same as giving in The Secret to Productivity: Work Less, Get More Done Clearing the office to clear the mind 8 Tasks You Should Be Delegating

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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