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Last Updated on February 7, 2018

You Might Have Missed This Simple Way To Increase Your Work Performance

You Might Have Missed This Simple Way To Increase Your Work Performance

When it comes to productivity and time management, you’ve no doubt seen (and maybe) used some of the countless apps and tech tricks that are designed specifically to help with these life skills. Many people put all their faith in these external tools and techniques because the apps and tips are easily found on the internet. Some people seem addicted to trying out the latest ones.

If you’re a regular reader of Lifehack, you’ll know that we have plenty of articles that feature these apps and tech tricks. All these techniques are useful, but if you’re not careful, you may forget one of the basics of productivity – your personal energy levels.

On this point, I want to introduce to you the 3 Tiers of Productivity.[1] These can be explained as a pyramid, with the base (and biggest part) made up of fundamentals, the middle part of psychology, and the apex (and also the smallest part) consisting of details.

    The fundamentals part is the least sexy, and therefore, typically attracts the least interest. However, it’s actually the most important part. Fundamentals refers to adequate sleep, a healthy diet, a clean environment, and knowing exactly what you’re going to do. In other words – how you manage your personal energy. If you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, then you may be lacking personal energy.

    Why Your Energy Levels Are Low, and Why This Matters

    If you’re like most people, you probably respond to rising demands in the workplace by putting in longer hours. However, this takes a toll on your physical, emotional and mental health. This inevitably leads to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction – and a significant dip in your productivity.

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    As I mentioned in the introduction, once our productivity takes a hit, we gravitate towards “magical” tools and tricks to help us keep on track. But there’s a problem with this. Namely, that most of these tools and tricks focus almost exclusively on psychology and details. They fail to address the fundamentals, thus leaving us with an artificial, and oftentimes unsustainable boost in productivity.

    If you want to be a productivity superstar, then you need to get the fundamentals right. Luckily, there is a little-known method that can help you out with this.

    How Natural Cycles Help You Perform Better

    Most people aren’t aware that their personal energy is determined by natural cycles known as ultradian rhythms. These are recurrent periods or cycles that are repeated throughout a 24-hour day.

    When you work with instead of against the ultradian rhythms, you will perform better. When your energy levels are high, you can concentrate on the tasks at hand; when your energy levels hit rock bottom, this is the best time to rest.

    Psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie conducted a series of experiments that revealed the following:

    1. In the morning time, we get sleepy every 90 minutes.
    2. In the afternoon and evenings, we get sleepy at two specific times: 4:30pm and 11:30pm.

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      These daily cycles reveal when we’re most likely to feel at our best – and when we’re most likely to feel too groggy to continue.

      Align with Your Natural Cycles and Boost Your Performance

      You must get the fundamentals of personal energy right if you’re to reach the heights of the super-productive.

      It all starts with getting adequate and regular sleep (at least eight hours per night). Good sleep allows you to rest and rejuvenate. It gives you the energy to get on with doing what you want to do. In turn, this leads to a significant boost in your performance. You’ll also find yourself easily surpassing the energy and productivity levels of people who don’t sleep well.

      A Federal Aviation Administration study of pilots on long haul flights shows the vital importance of resting when your energy levels are low:[2]

      “One group of pilots was given an opportunity to take 40-minute naps mid-flight, and ended up getting an average of 26 minutes of actual sleep. Their median reaction time improved by 16% following their naps. Non-napping pilots, tested at a similar halfway point in the flight, had a 34% deterioration in reaction time. They also experienced 22 micro sleeps of 2-10 seconds during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The pilots who took naps had none.”

      You may not be aware of this, but sleep can also help you solve problems. For instance, it’s not uncommon to wake up with the answer to a problem that you’d earlier been unable to resolve. Find out more about this in another article Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

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      Clearly, if you can learn to follow your natural daily cycles, you’ll be able to do your best work when you have the most energy, and you’ll also know the most suitable time to take naps, rest and sleep.

      How to Take Care of Your Energy

      Want to get started with boosting your energy and productivity levels? Here’s my recommendations.

      Identify your energy cycle

      The first key thing to do, is to calculate your biological prime times. You can do this by:

      1. Cutting out stimulants or mood enhancers such as caffeine, alcohol or antidepressants.
      2. Turn off your alarm, and allow yourself to sleep and wake up naturally.
      3. Record your energy levels every waking hour, on the hour.
      4. Collect a minimum of three weeks of data.

      By doing the above, you’ll be able to determine your peak activity times – and your best times to rest and sleep.[3]

      Schedule activities according to your energy levels

      It’s critical that you know the effort and energy needed to complete upcoming tasks. Having this information will allow you to set the priority and importance of the tasks.

      You can then easily schedule the important tasks (or tasks that require a high level of concentration) at times when your personal energy is at or near its peak. Examples of these tasks include creative work like writing, or problem solving work such as learning to file your tax returns.

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      And of course the opposite is true. Tasks that need less thought-power or energy should be scheduled to take place during your low-energy periods.

      Break your work sessions into 90-minute blocks and take 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes

      When you break your work into 90-minute blocks, you’ll immediately experience a boost in your productivity. This is because 90 minutes is the ideal working duration before your mind and body needs to take a break. And how long should your break be? Well, it appears that 15-minute breaks are the ideal complement to the 90-minute sessions.

      By following the above routine, you’ll notice that you’ll have enhanced motivation to work because 90 minutes seems a manageable amount of time to work, especially when a 15-minute break is on the horizon.

      While the 15-minute break can be used to simply go for a walk, or make yourself a drink, you may want to consider taking a nap. Napping for just 15-20 minutes enables you to recharge your personal energy. (Be careful with longer naps, as these can disrupt your sleep cycle.) Read more about napping at work in another article A 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

      As you can see from the tips in this article, to manage your productivity levels, you need to get the foundations right first. This means getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, ensuring your environment is clean and orderly, and most importantly, learning how to align your work with your natural cycles.

      Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Published on January 16, 2019

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

      You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

      You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

      That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

      Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

      1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

      Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

      We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

      To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

      At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

      The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

      2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

      Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

      The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

      In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

      It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

      It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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      So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

      • Are you a great strategist?
      • Are you an effective planner?
      • Is Project Management your strength?
      • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
      • Are you the ideas person?
      • Is Implementation your strength?

      Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

      3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

      One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

      Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

      Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

      Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

      4. Take Time for Planning

      “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

      One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

      You can take the time to think about:

      • What’s the purpose of the project?
      • How Important is it?
      • When does it need to be delivered by?
      • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
      • What are the KPIs?
      • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
      • Who is working on this project?
      • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
      • What tolerances can I add in?
      • What are the review stages?
      • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

      Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

      5. Focus on Priorities

      Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

      Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

      One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

      1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
      2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
      3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
      4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

      James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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        The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

        If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

        If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

        6. Take Time Out

        To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

        If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

        Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

        In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

        Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

        7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

        Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

        I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

        Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

        If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

        8. Stop Multitasking

        Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

        So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

        When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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        If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

        9. Work in Blocks of Time

        To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

        I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

        Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

        Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

        Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

        Then take another 10-minute break.

        Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

        By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

        10. Get Rid of Distractions

        Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

        “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

        Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

        If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

        11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

        You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

        Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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        Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

        12. Take a Time Audit

        Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

        Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

        You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

        Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

        Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

        At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

        If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

        13. Protect Your Confidence

        It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

        When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

        Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

        When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

        Final Words

        A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

        The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

        If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

        Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

        Reference

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