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Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Do you REALLY need to get yet more things done?

Maybe today’s fashion for increasing personal productivity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

    Increasing your personal productivity is the subject matter of a slew of books, magazine articles, and more than a few successful blogs. It’s fashionable, popular, and, most of all, highly profitable for the authors and writers of software. But does that make it right?

    I believe that more cookery books are published each year that any other genre, followed closely by diet books — surely one of the great symbiotic relationships of all time. You stuff yourself, then diet, then fall off the diet and stuff yourself because you feel guilty. Oh hell . . . back to the diet.

    Maybe it’s the same with recipes for getting yet more things done: you overload your time and brain with impossible expectations, hype yourself up on the latest fad for coping with the overload, then crash and burn — swearing that, next time, you really will to find a way to crack the whole, messy problem of doing more in your waking hours than those hours were ever designed to hold.

    From where I stand, this looks to be almost the ultimate in self-inflicted madness: people stuck in a have-it-all, instant-gratification society demanding techniques for organizing the lives they are systematically filling with the effort to have yet more, every minute of every day.

    Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against helping others to be more organized or better able to juggle life’s necessary demands. But I am starting to wonder how many of those demands are really necessary; and whether the cure isn’t in danger of becoming more onerous that the disease.

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    Our gas-guzzling lives

    Our addiction to getting things done is not unlike that other addiction: the one to huge SUVs and trucks. Both the trucks and the productivity software and ideas are undeniably flashy and pack a lot of horsepower under the hood, but neither are good for us in the long run, nor strictly necessary.

    Using an SUV, or a truck the size of a semi, to go to the mall, as many people seem to do where I live, must empty your pocket-book even more quickly than it sucks up gasoline. Filling your every moment with constant activity, however carefully and expensively organized, is going to suck you dry of energy just as quickly, then leave you as exhausted as a worked-out oilfield.

    And if huge, gas-guzzling autos threaten to destroy our physical environment through global warming, what are people’s huge, energy-guzzling lives doing to the mental and social fabric of our world? What are they doing to our organizations, where it’s become commonplace to expect highly-trained professionals to work harder, for longer hours, than we would judge humane for laboratory rats?

    Whatever happened to “working smart?”

    Why are we now so devoted to getting more and more things done in less and less time? Not so long ago, we were all urged to “work smarter, not harder.” Whatever happened to that idea?

    As a natural skeptic, I suspect part of the emphasis on constant busyness is simple: it makes some people a good deal of money. It’s just that those people aren’t often the ones doing all the extra work. They’re being smarter while you’re working harder.

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    I also suspect it’s far easier to write a book about how to aspire to a four-hour week than it is to do what the book recommends — once you’ve had the book idea, of course. That’s really smart. The rest is the age-old business of selling snake-oil.

    In America at least, my long-time bugbear, the Puritan Work Ethic, is a major contributor to today’s fashion for finding still better ways to work more.

    According to the work ethic mythology, work is a GOOD THING IN ITSELF. Hard work is what makes you into some kind of hero (most often an exhausted, burned-out one), so more of it is bound to be better than less. There’s a nasty suspicion in the Puritan mind that people who appear to do things easily are probably up to something immoral, because they AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH; and their achievements, however impressive, are really NOT WORTH MUCH.

    If effort is what gives work its value, then whatever is gained with most effort will be most valuable.

    A sideways look at personal productivity

    This Calvinistic belief that effort is what gives value is, of course, total nonsense. If it were true, a crook who spent months of hard effort organizing a complex robbery would be commended; and a doctor who had a moment of insight that cured a sick child would be given a stiff dressing-down for laziness.

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    What gives value to anything, work or play, is the importance and worth of the outcome, not how much effort and organization went into it. In a world that was truly progressing towards a better state, there would only be one kind of productivity that was valued: the productivity that comes from finding ways to get worthwhile results with less effort than before.

    That, of course, is what productivity actually is. Doing more by working longer hours and focusing your efforts more closely isn’t increasing your productivity; it’s only the result of working harder. To be more productive means to do more with less effort, not more with more effort. And if the only way you get more done is by wasting less time in a muddle about what to do, that’s a trick you can only play a single time.

    NOT getting some things done is what we truly need

    What’s wrong with today’s fashion for a thousand ways to up your personal productivity? Too much of it is about filling every moment with activity. It’s about doing when you would be better employed thinking. It’s about focusing on getting results when you should be focused on whether you need those particular results at all.

    We’re creating a world of hard-driving ants, not a civilization where people find ways to increase their time enjoying life through becoming cleverer at doing only what has to be done — then doing it with the minimum effort.

    What rational being would devote one minute more to work than is essential — let alone find ways to pack more and more into every waking moment?

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    Look around you at the world of nature. Which animals spend most time at the “work” of finding food? The answer, of course, is those that eat the least nutritious things in terms of their bulk. Cows and other herbivores must spend hours grazing because they need prodigious amounts of grass, which has little energy value. Lions and tigers, in contrast, spend most of their time sleeping and lazing about, because their meat-based diet is extremely high in energy per pound of dead gazelle.

    Here’s the choice then: do you want to emulate a cow or a tiger?

    Is your life based on gathering lots of low-energy, readily available input of the kind that never runs away? If so, any help you can get with packing more activity into 24 hours is well worth it. Or are you aiming for the kind of life that feeds on highly energy-rich inputs — even if you have to devote a good deal of intelligence, skill, and speed to catch them — so you can spend the rest of the time enjoying yourself in the sun?

    The day that someone comes up with a good technique for getting much less done, with much less effort, while still meeting life’s needs, you can bet I’ll be there at the front of the line to get my copy.

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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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