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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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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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