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7 Unexpected Ways To Maximize Your Productivity

7 Unexpected Ways To Maximize Your Productivity

You have a digital notebook and you use the best task management system. You know how to make a schedule. You’re awesome at tracking details. You respond to emails quickly. But you’re still looking for ways to amp it up, because you know you can do even better.

1. Sleep more, not less.

Too little sleep, poor sleep, interrupted sleep, and/or health problems which interfere with sleep all add up to one negative: fatigue. And fatigue has a big, bad effect on your productivity. One study, completed in 2010, estimated the annual cost of fatigue-related productivity loss at almost $2000 per employee. Chronic sleep deprivation has some pretty severe results, such as increased anxiety, poor memory, and, ultimately, impaired cognitive function.

In other words, without adequate sleep, your brain just won’t work as well. So even if you have a great plan, a well-ordered to-do list, and all the tools you need, without enough sleep, you are apt to be sluggish and unfocused. All the tricks in the book won’t help maximize productivity if your brain—the ultimate productivity machine—really needs a nap.

2. Do less, not more.

Productivity is not about doing more in less time. What good is doing more if what you’re doing is not the real work that is needed? In fact, trying to do more is often where we waste time. Science has proven that multitasking is not something the human brain is wired to do.

The more you pile on your plate (or calendar, or notebook, or to-do list, or task manager), the more time you have to spend deciding what you’ll do next. And making decisions not only eats up valuable time, it depletes your ever-important reserve of willpower.

One simple solution will solve both of these productivity killers: try to do less.

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Limit the number of open projects you are involved in at any one time. I realize that’s not always possible: sometimes your project list depends on your boss or your significant other more than it does on you.

If you find yourself overloaded, though, an appeal can work: “I’d love to tackle this project; would you be okay if I first complete XYZ project, so I’ll have the time and attention I need to devote to this new idea?”

Severely limit what you allow yourself to put on your daily and weekly to-do lists. At the beginning of the week, choose the top few things you want to accomplish. At the beginning of each day, decide on three tasks you will complete that will move you toward hitting this week’s desired accomplishments.

3. Become less available.

Being the one who is always dependable comes with a certain benefit: people look up to you. They respect you. They know you’ll get the job done.

It also comes with a certain problem: people will ask more of you if they know they can depend on you.

It’s good to help friends, and it’s something you should do. But it isn’t something you should do all the time. Choosing to be less immediately available sets up an automatic filter.

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Don’t be the person with his phone glued to his hand at all times. Don’t be the gal who answers every text, call, or email in five minutes or less. People can wait, and if it’s important that you be the one involved, they will wait for your response.

4. Limit meetings.

Meetings are notorious black holes, eating up productivity in return for, well, nothing. A vacuum. While you might find plenty of good advice for how to get more out of meetings—keep meetings short, keep them focused, meet objectives, and so on—here’s one simple but extremely effective approach: limit meetings altogether.

If you’re the boss, simply quit putting them on the schedule or making yourself available for every meeting request that comes across your desk (see #3, above, Become less available). If you don’t have that authority, start making appeals. Before you just give in and show up, chalking another afternoon lost to the voracious productivity-eating machine that is a meeting, get in touch with the organizer and ask these questions:

  • What’s on the agenda for this meeting?
  • What are your objectives for this meeting?
  • Why do you want me to be there?
  • What do you expect me to contribute?
  • Is there some way I can contribute without being present at the meeting?

If the meeting organizer is also your supervisor or coworker, appeal on the basis of lost productivity. Ask something like this: “Would you rather I make some insanely awesome progress on this project we’re doing, or go sit in this meeting for 2 hours and accomplish nothing?”

5. Measure your production.

We often don’t know how to measure productivity on the projects we are involved in. Maybe it’s an ongoing project, or something big and complex, or something creative and intangible. In any case, it can be hard to pin down what production looks like.

The problem is, however, that if you don’t really know what production looks like, you can’t tell if you’re being productive.

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Solve this problem of fuzzy productivity by hammering out a way to measure the production with each project you have going. This might be something like a timeline, with milestones for certain achievements in the project as you go: you measure your progress by seeing how closely you can stay aligned with the projected timeline.

Or it might be something like a quota, either daily or weekly, of the key tasks or deliverables that need to be done.

Or it might be something entirely different: words written, calls made, money pledged, emails answered, applications sent.

Figure out exactly what production means for each project, and then you can maximize that productivity. Keep track of your production every time you work on the project. Just the knowledge of exactly what you should be doing to be productive is helpful for focusing your brain.

Keeping track of how much you can achieve becomes a game you play with yourself, one that spurs you to perform better each time you do the work.

6. Forget big goals; focus on small gains.

Big goals are good, but tracking progress on big goals can be depressing. We need to see progress in order to be motivated to keep making progress. Otherwise, we get discouraged and start to question everything.

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Unfortunately, we often buy into the idea of having big goals without understanding how to approach them. Every big goal is achieved by a series of small, incremental gains. This is old news: eat the elephant one bite at a time, take that journey one step at a time. Even though we know and understand this concept, we don’t know how to apply it.

The key is to set a big goal, then forget about it for a while. Instead, figure out what small gains you need to make weekly, even daily, and focus on those. Ignore the big goal, for a while, and just focus on getting to those small gains. Every now and then, look up at the big goal again and see how far those small gains have carried you toward reaching it.

7. Build healthy habits.

Your brain is the essential ingredient in any effort at a productive life. And your brain is part of your body. If you don’t take care of your body, you aren’t taking good care of your brain.

Healthy habits include getting adequate and good sleep, exercising, and eating food that fuels you instead of weighing you down. They also include balancing your time between focused work and downtime, solitude and social activities, physical and mental effort.

Focus on building or reinforcing one healthy habit every week, and cycle through the habits you want to establish. The stronger these healthy habits are in your life, the more productive you will be by default.

Featured photo credit: Zach Dischner via flickr.com

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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