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The Better You Work, the Easier You Fall Into This Productivity Trap

The Better You Work, the Easier You Fall Into This Productivity Trap

The longer your working career goes on, usually the more responsibilities you gain. These could be promotions, managing teams, or taking on more projects and tasks. They’re positive changes, as it’s good to grow and encounter additional opportunities.

However, in time, you may come to realize that there’s a limit to the amount of responsibilities you can handle. You’ve become busier and busier, but you’ve ceased to achieve big things. You may be setting yourself daily, weekly and monthly targets, but when you look back at the end of each month on your tasks and goals, you see that progress has been poor – or even non existent.

The Productivity Trap

In most cases, as your career progresses, and you gain more responsibilities, there are more things that hinder your ability to work efficiently. Here are just a few:

  • More people want to contact you because of your good work, knowledge and expertise.
  • You receive tons of emails, invitations to meet, and connections on LinkedIn.
  • You manage a team with members who constantly ask for your help or feedback.

Unless you’re superhuman, you’ll find that your own tasks are swamped by the above. And while it’s fair to say that the above tasks are valuable, they’re not the most meaningful or productive for you or your career.

Put another way, you’ve fallen into a productivity trap. This trap is called shallow work.

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By being constantly occupied helping others and dealing with unimportant communications, you lose the time and energy to focus on the vital stuff. You may be helping to make your team or department run smoothly, but you’re not really moving the needle in your favor. For example, you’ve no time left to seek continual improvements, and no inspiration left for innovative thinking and big-goal achieving.

It might help you to think of it this way: 80% of your work is probably spent on low-value tasks, while just 20% is spent on high-value tasks. You sit in meetings half a day, and spend the bulk of the remaining time processing your expenses, answering emails, helping colleagues, etc.

If you want to get your career back on track, and start to achieve big things again, then you’ll need to time manage your work. Let’s see how it’s done.

How to Spend Your Work Time Wisely

The Pareto principle is a good way to start. It refers to the observation that often 20% of what we do produces 80% of our results. And conversely, 80% of what we do produces only 20% of our results.[1]

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    In terms of your personal work, it’s likely that 80% of your efforts are focused on shallow work – which only gives you minimal results. However, the remaining 20% of your efforts (which you put into non-shallow work), is the part that produces the results that really matter.

    What steps should you take to reverse this? There are two things you can start doing right now.

    1. Minimize non-essential work activities

    When I say minimize, I don’t mean cut off. Most tasks have value, but you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the high-value tasks as a priority.

    To achieve this, you may want to consider ‘time blocking’. This is where you schedule time to do your own important tasks – without being interrupted. Imagine saying to your team: “I’m going to work in a private office for the next two hours so I complete a piece of urgent work.” By saying this, you’ve set the boundaries, and also given yourself time to commit to whatever important tasks or projects that are on your list.[2]

    Another suggestion for you, is to set a maximum limit per week (and even per day) for responding to peoples’ enquiries or announcements. This can stop others from reaching you too easily. For instance, if colleagues normally expect near-instant responses from you when they send you an email, start to loosen your response times. By doing this, you’ll demonstrate that you’re genuinely busy, and your colleagues may start to look elsewhere for answers – or even come up with answers of their own.

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    2. Delegate tasks and responsibilities

    Are you doing work that people who report to you could do? It’s a common problem that many managers (especially new ones) experience. However, if you’re to achieve your goals, you must learn to delegate some of your tasks to members of your team.

    To do this, first decide what you can delegate. If it’s not something that only you can do, consider delegating it to others. You should be the one who takes care of the big picture – but is not lost in the details.

    How best to delegate? The most important thing is to set clear guidelines for people. Don’t allow any ambiguity in your instructions, and don’t assume others will understand everything you ask them to do.

    Often, it makes sense to delegate responsibilities, rather than just one-off tasks. For example, instead of asking one of your team to prepare this month’s stats for a presentation, make them responsible for all the stats that your team needs. By doing this, they’re likely to become experts at sourcing and collating stats, and will enjoy the extra responsibility that has been given to them.

    Of course, there will be times when people don’t meet your expectations. This might leave you thinking: “Why can’t they do what I asked?” or “Why can’t I make then understand what I want?” Be careful, as when you start asking these type of questions, your stress levels increase, and you’ll begin to think about taking back some of the tasks you hoped to delegate.

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    The answer to the above dilemma, is to regularly review the performance of people you’ve delegated tasks or responsibilities to. This will enable you to ensure that they understand what’s required of them, and if necessary, you’ll be able to provide added guidance if needed.

    It’ll also be helpful to both parties, if you focus more on the overall skills needed to complete tasks, rather than going over every single step required to finish specific tasks. In other words, learn to let go.[3] For instance, instead of going word-for-word through how to write a sales email, simply focus on the key elements, such as punchy headlines, concise sentences, and strong call-to-actions.

    Reap Powerful Rewards by Making Time Your Friend

    If your career has gone off the rails, then you’ll need to spend some time reassessing your priorities, and how you manage your workload.

    Make sure that the important tasks are your priority, and let these occupy around 80% of your work time. Use the remaining 20% of your time to work on non-essential tasks. If this results in you having insufficient time to complete the non-essential tasks, then this is where delegation comes in.

    Train competent members of your team to take on tasks and responsibilities that you no longer have time for. They’ll benefit from learning new things, and you’ll benefit by having time to focus on the important stuff.

    There’s only so much time in a day, so make sure you’re using it wisely. Do this, and you’ll begin achieving more than you ever thought possible.

    Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com

    Reference

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    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on November 12, 2020

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

    When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to the final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

    In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison and granted parole, or a change in the parole terms.

    While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges’ mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

    As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

    Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position.... | Download Scientific Diagram

       

      Does the time of day, or the judges’ level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

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      The research went on to show that earlier in the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

      However, as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

      However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

      This is no coincidence, as according to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges’ lunch break.

      This is just one of the negative effects of decision fatigue.

      Are You Suffering From Decision Fatigue?

      We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

      Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily small decisions and weekly or monthly big decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right headspace.

      Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine-induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue, which can lead to poor choices. Just like every other muscle, your brain starts feeling drained after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

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      Looking at the chart below, it may look quite similar to one of your average days[2]. Considering that this is just a handful of the decisions one has to make throughout the day, it’s easy to see how decision fatigue begins to manifest.

      Decision Fatigue

        The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

        When you are in a position such as a judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does.

        According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day-to-day stresses at work and in their private life.

        When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. Once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues, such as impulse shopping, poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after-work relationships.

        You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

        How to Make Decisions Effectively

        Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks to avoid decision fatigue and make better decisions.

        1. Make Your Most Important Decisions Within the First 3 Hours

        You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so do so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

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        Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[3] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

        Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals and make good decisions?

        2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

        You don’t have to choose all the time.

        Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut out that step of your morning.

        If you can’t decide what to wear, pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

        Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limit their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision fatigue.

        By choosing to make less decisions throughout the day, you’re choosing to free your mind for the most important decisions.

        3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

        You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks to improve your mental energy. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

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        The reason for this is because the belly is now full, the hunger is gone, and you likely have a bit more energy. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[4] found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

        Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh.

        Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

        One study found that the ideal work day consists of work periods lasting around 50 minutes, followed by a 15-20 minute break[5]. Try to follow this pattern for a more productive day.

        The Bottom Line

        Instead of slogging through your day and succumbing to decision fatigue, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break and eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

        More Tips About Decision Making

        Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

        Reference

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