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Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

Revealed: What Really Makes You Lag Behind At Work

Picture this: you’re sitting at your desk, hunched over your computer, then suddenly you catch a glimpse of you clock—it’s 12:25pm. You swear it was only 8:30am when you put down your coffee mug and opened Gmail. But you don’t recall the slightest what you have been doing in the morning, and there’re still 53 tasks to on your to-do list, unchecked.

This is when you realize there’s something really wrong with your productivity, and you’ve got to find out why this is happening…

Let’s go through the following things together and see if you’ve actually been doing any of these:

Many people make checking emails the first thing they do at work only because of the illusion of having completed more.

But you should know that emails most likely are not the most important piece of work, and such false sense of accomplishment can be dangerous. You may end up spending more time on your inbox than you can imagine, making the rest of the day a rush.

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The problem is that you have no control over the order of emails in your inbox,[1] you only respond to them passively. This forces you to put what’s truly important or urgent on hold while drowning in emails.

And very likely, checking emails is just a way to escape from real work (remember those 53 other things on your to-do list?).

If you don’t set a goal and expected time to complete a task, you’ll likely spend much more time and energy than you need.

Goal setting allows you to better manage your time, and is crucial to maximizing your productivity. A goal tells you which direction to go, and where to go eventually.[2] It helps you focus on your way forward. If you don’t have a clear goal, you may find yourself wandering around and not making progress.

Also, committing yourself to a time limit gives you motivation to keep pushing. Do not allow yourself to go slow or switch tasks until the one at hand is finished. That way, you’ll be able to take control of your time and get to the end of that to-do list fast.

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When it’s difficult to visualize the possible outcome of work, we’re likely to waste time on things that have little impact on productivity.

If we don’t have a clear expectation on how we want the completed works to be like, it’s easy for us to want to make it even more ‘perfect’ when we’re so into the work. And it’s easier that we may make unnecessary changes when the work is in progress, which may cost extra time and effort.

And very often, we’re unconsciously being distracted by the minor things such as phone messages or the Facebook news feed.

It’s the curse of living in the modern world. We just can’t live without our phone, and this means we’re constantly having to react to whatever notifications it sends us. But they are the sneaky productivity thieves you should get rid of.

You may think taking 8 seconds to reply to a DM on Twitter doesn’t hurt but it actually takes 15 minutes to gain back the momentum because of the interruption.[3]

All the small bad things we do can add up to a lot of wasted time every day.

What have been mentioned above may seem too small to cause serious damage to your productivity. But if you really want to maximize your productivity and get the most done every day, you should cut out the bad habits.

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Small things do add up — as little as 5 minutes lost per day can become hours by the end of the day. Try to work that out in terms of the number of DMs you can reply to!

Here are some helpful tips for you to get started:

State a clear purpose of each task, make it actionable and estimate the time you need to complete it.

Suppose you have a proposal to write, a bunch of spreadsheets to fill out, etc.

Write down (or type) each item and estimate the amount of time you will need. You may even want to break down a larger task to smaller sub-tasks, and assign a time limit to each of them. Then, arrange them according to the order of importance, and start working. Keep track of how much time you’re using as you go.

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Stop checking emails every morning. Do something creative (first) instead.

What you should do instead is to prioritize your creative tasks over others because morning is the best time for thinking.[4]. You want to focus your energy on tasks that require more thinking, such as drafting the proposal for a meeting this afternoon, or comparing price offerings from potential suppliers, etc. over the reactive tasks like checking emails.

Consider logging out of your work email at the end of each day, so you’re not tempted to access it as soon as you switch on your computer. You’ll be able to take your mind off of your inbox and work on the bigger things first.

Silent the notifications of anything that’s not related to work.

Just like removing emails from your collection of distractions, remove whatever notifications that will distract you. And silent mode isn’t enough—vibrations are distractions as well. You will need to put your phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode if you can’t resist checking your phone when it vibrates.

Even when you allow yourself a short Instagram break, set a time limit for that too. Having a reminder helps you to get back to work and focus again.

These are some of the things you want to pay attention to if you feel you suffer productivity issues. Get started on the tips and get through your work day with ease!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

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Wen Shan

Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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Last Updated on September 17, 2020

5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

5 Practical Ways to Get Over a Mental Block

There’s nothing quite like a state of “flow” when you’re working. The rare moments when your inspiration aligns with your motivation likely lead to some of your most creative work. Plus, it feels great to actually check a task or project off the list so you can move on to the next thing. Meanwhile, a mental block — its opposite — can cause work to feel laborious and uninspired. Forget creativity when you have a mental block — it makes it difficult even to start working on what you need to do.

A mental block can manifest in several ways. Perhaps your imposter syndrome is squelching your creative ideas, for instance, or you’re overwhelmed by the breadth of a project and its impending deadline. Maybe you’re just tired or stressed.

Either way, having a mental block feels like being trapped in your own head, and it can seriously dampen your ability to think outside the box. The problem is, you’re so locked into your own perspective that you don’t see more innovative approaches to your problems.[1]

Luckily, jumping over these mental hurdles is simpler than you think. You just need the right strategies to get your flow back.

Try these five practical ways to overcome a mental block.

1. Break Your Project Down

A few years ago, I was working on changing a company product that I believed would hugely benefit our customers. Sounds great, right?

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As inspired as I was to make people’s lives easier, though, the sheer magnitude of the task at hand felt overwhelming. Every morning, I cracked open my laptop to work and felt totally paralyzed. I loved the idea, yes, but actualizing it felt risky. What if it didn’t turn out the way I pictured in my mind? More importantly, where would I even begin?

A former colleague gave me great advice over coffee:

Change how you think. Start by breaking the big project down into small tasks.

When a major project overwhelms you, you only see the entire forest instead of the individual trees. And as you stare it down, you start to feel discouraged by your own lack of progress, thus slowing you down further.

Breaking down a massive task into smaller chunks makes the work feel more manageable. You’ll have multiple clear places to start and end with, which will lend a motivating sense of productivity and mastery to your process. Learn more about it here: The Motivation Flowchart: The Mental Process of Successful People

Think of it as accumulating small wins. When you realize you’re more capable than you have once thought, you’ll develop the momentum and confidence needed to get your big job done little by little.[2]

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2. Change Up Your Scenery

Of course, there’s a time and place for sitting down to get things done. But if you’re experiencing a mental block, switching up your surroundings can make a big difference in your output.

Have you ever noticed how your environment directly impacts your performance and mood?

Your brain associates your physical surroundings with certain feelings and activities. So, if you feel mentally stuck, your mind may need some new sensory stimuli.

During this time in your life, it may not be possible to set up shop at a cafe or move from your cubicle to a conference room, so you may need to think outside the box. If you’re working remotely in a home office, try going to your dining table or couch. If the weather cooperates, sit outside for a bit with your computer or take a walk around the block.

You can also simply rearrange your workspace. Not sure where to begin? Try decluttering. Some studies show that an organized desk enhances productivity.[3]

The point is to stimulate your brain with new sounds and sights. You may find a much-needed dose of inspiration when you work while breathing in the fresh air, listening to city sounds, or staying in the comfort of your own living space.

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3. Do an Unrelated Activity

When it comes to productivity, a bit of distraction isn’t always a bad thing. That’s especially true if your chosen distraction helps you get things done in the long run.

Have you realized how your most creative thoughts tend to bubble up when you’re, say, lying in bed or taking a shower? In their research of the “incubation period,” scientists have discovered that people’s best ideas seem to surface when they aren’t actively trying to solve a problem.[4]

In a 2010 study, participants needed to look for a roommate or new employee based on the profiles that the researchers gave. The people who had a brief “incubation period” — in this case, working on an anagram — consistently made better choices than those who spent more time weighing their options.

If you can’t seem to prime your brain for a project, try doing something completely unrelated to work, such as washing your dishes, working out, or calling a friend. Some experts say finding another low-stake project to work on can help jump-start the creative part of your brain and activate your flow.[5]

The key is to allow your unconscious mind to do its best work: eliciting the new knowledge your conscious mind may be ignoring or suppressing.[6]

4. Be Physical

Feeling antsy? When your mind won’t seem to settle into a state of flow, it may help to swap out your mental activity for a physical one and see how it impacts your perspective.

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While any physical activity is beneficial for your body — and getting up to move can serve as a helpful form of distraction — certain forms of exercise can more directly impact the mind. To be specific, relaxing, flow-based exercises like dance, yoga, or tai chi can create a gentle sense of momentum in your body, which can prime your brain for the same state.

Stress-reducing activities may also be necessary. Meditating or taking slow, deep breaths will also calm your nervous system if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Evidence shows that the logical, creative part of your brain essentially shuts off when you’re stressed.[7]

On the flip side, when your mind and body are relaxed, you can think more clearly, be more creative, and focus for longer periods — all of which will help you overcome a mental block.

5. Don’t Force It

It can be frustrating to fight against your own mind. If your mental block won’t go away after some effort, it may be time to take a break. Forcing creative thoughts only adds to your stress levels, which in turn inhibits your ability to think creatively. And if you sit and stare at a project for too long, you’ll not only waste valuable time but also begin to associate this specific work with frustration and produce work you’re not proud of.

“I know that forcing something is not going to create anything beyond mediocre, so I step aside and work on a different project until it hits me,” the artist Ben Skinner said about his creative process.[8]

If your work isn’t time-sensitive, then it may make sense to step away for a while to focus on something else, be it an administrative task that requires less creativity or a project that you feel motivated to work on.

When the time is right, you’ll find your way back to the original task with a fresh, creative perspective (hopefully).

More on Getting Rid of a Mental Block

Featured photo credit: Jonas Leupe via unsplash.com

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