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Less Is More: How to Become Productive with Less

Less Is More: How to Become Productive with Less

I’ve just spent the past two weeks in South Africa. I love South Africa, its people, its diversity, its beauty. But one thing that I am reminded of every time I visit is how life in Africa can be much simpler. Time moves more slowly and life takes on a different rhythm; the majority of African people have learnt to live with less. This is my goal and my current journey; to live life with more simplicity, to unburden myself and to eliminate the excess in all areas of my life.

In the first phase of my journey to become more productive. I sought ways to work faster, to do things in a more efficient manner. I never thought to rid myself of the excess, to eliminate the unnecessary or to minimize and simplify. Phase two of my journey is in progress and it’s focused on simplicity. I am actively trying to eliminate the excess in all areas of life which will create freedom from stress, complexity, and excess.

Here are the areas which I am currently working on:

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Less Information

We are constantly bombarded with information of all sorts from all realms of life, Modern life has been coined the “information age”. We have it at our fingertips, the phones which we carry in our pockets connect us to the answers of the Universe ( or rather will connect us when we find the answers). We can play a game, book a flight, call in dinner, buy a tree or anything else at the click of a button and all the information required to make those purchases lies in the palm of our hands. Fantastic yes, but overwhelming at times. One page or link leads to another and another. When is it enough information? When can we say stop?

Suggested Solutions

  1. Reduce the number of newsletter and websites you subscribe to, only subscribe to websites you can’t live without. Rather than let the information come to you, go to find the information on your own time and terms.
  2. Consume less media. Rather than reading a daily newspaper or watching the daily news try reducing it to once a week catching the highlights. (This won’t be possible for everybody in every country but for those who can, consider it)
  3. Reduce the number of meetings you attend, try to get summaries or minutes instead. Only go when your presence is totally necessary
  4. Introduce one low tech day a week. A day where you don’t use the internet, email, or electronic device. If this is impossible try it for just a morning. It’s an amazing way to reduce distractions and create an environment for focus.

Less Stuff

We all have too much stuff, too many clothes and shoes, CDs and DVDs. Excess goods tend to cause clutter and clutter is negative energy. Learning to live without too much stuff is a lesson everyone should learn early in life. Your things do not define you, who you are or who you intend to be.

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Suggested Solutions

Clean as you go

  1. Regularly de-clutter and donate or recycle your possessions you no longer use.
  2. Use the one in one out rule. Every time you make a purchase you must throw something out. This is a great habit for children to implement, it makes them aware of the value of the things they have and the things they want.
  3. Don’t go to shopping centers/malls unless you absolutely can’t buy something elsewhere. If you are in a mall you will always find something you think you need and most of the time you could actually live without it if you hadn’t seen it.

Less Work

Working too hard or too long is usually counter productive. If you are constantly overwhelmed with work the next step is illness or burnout. You need to take steps to eliminate time wasting activities and reduce your workload where possible

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Suggested Solutions

  1. Schedule your work. This will show you what can physically get done in the time you are prepared to spend working daily. Remember when you say “yes” in work what are you saying “no’ to in your personal life. Is your family suffering because you have agreed to take on extra work?
  2. Take regular stretch breaks, if you can go for a short walk or get some fresh air this will be even better. Do a yoga pose or simply breathe deeply. This will prevent muscular and mental fatigue which will help you stay alert and focused for longer.
  3. “Only do what only you can do” I don’t know where this quote comes from but I love it. A regular reminder to delegate and outsource where possible. Don’t try to do everything yourself. If you work for a company and can delegate do so. If you are self employed only do what you are good at, use your strengths and let the experts in other areas do what they are good at. And if you have no control over your workload, do your work to the best of your ability with the highest quality so that you can be proud of what you achieve in a day. As Robin Sharma would say “Be the Bono of the Mail room”
  4. And of course the most important suggestion of all. Take it easy – life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

The Bottom Line

“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…” — Henry David Thorea

If you can reduce the noise and clutter in your life, and eliminate that which is unnecessary and excess you should be able to see through the woods to focus on what matters. In this way you will get more of the important work done in less time with less stress.

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More About Less Is More

Featured photo credit: Norbert Levajsics via unsplash.com

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Ciara Conlon

Productivity coach, speaker, blogger and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

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