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Fundamental Theory of Productivity: Less is More

Fundamental Theory of Productivity: Less is More

The art and science of productivity improves your results and your life. One of the basic theories of productivity can be summed up as “less is more.” Let’s explore the various ways you can grow your productivity through less. After all, we cannot increase the hours in the day but we can increase our focus and our creativity.

1. When you write down fewer priorities, you’ll achieve more

One of my favorite insights from Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek is about the impact of setting fewer priorities. As Ferriss writes:

“Don’t ever arrive at the office or in front of your computer without a clear list of priorities… I don’t recommend using Outlook or computerized to-do lists, because it is possible to add an infinite number of items… There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never.”

I have found this recommendation valuable and absolutely worth implementing. Besides, writing a to-do list with one hundred items due on a single day will simply discourage you.

2. When you limit yourself to 7-10 annual goals, you will be more likely to achieve your goals

Entrepreneur and author Micheal Hyatt advocates setting approximately seven to ten annual goals that cover your entire life (career, health, intellectual, financial and so forth). Setting challenging goals is a vital to living a life you are proud of, rather than simply checking off tasks. In my experience, 7-10 goals is the “Goldilocks zone” for major annual goals.

3. When you avoid work emails at home, you will be happier and more productive

A study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that professionals often become angry when they receive emails and text messages from their company after usual working hours. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. After all, there is often little you can do to solve a work problem in the evening when you are away from your files and ability to seek input from others. If you keep answering work email and obsessing over problems, you will find it more difficult to relax and rest.

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4. When you insist on meetings with written agendas, you will waste less time.

Following a written agenda is a key habit for effective meetings. Even better, insisting that all meetings have agendas will reduce the number of meetings you attend. You may face a difficult adjustment at first. You will gain back hours of productive time each month. If you receive resistance to a written agenda, simply tell the person “Before attending meetings, I always seek to prepare so that I can make the most of the time.”

5. When you avoid email and social media first thing in the morning, you will be more productive

As Henry Ward Beecher said, “The first hour is the rudder of the day.” It matters how you start the day. Many successful people follow a defined morning routine and take the time to exercise or read a book. Starting the day with email puts you into a reactive frame of mind. That approach means you are neglecting your goals and priorities.

6. When you limit work hours, your focus will improve

In the public accounting industry, there is a “busy season” at the start of the year as thousands of professionals work on audits. The deadline pressure of the season means a great deal of stress. Unfortunately, some people in the sector become neglect the rest of their lives. Even worse, when you assume you will be in the office for twelve hours, you think nothing of wasting an hour or two in the morning.

7. When you take naps, you will manage your stress levels

Carving out twenty to thirty minutes during a busy work day is one way to improve your productivity. Vincent Walsh, professor of human brain research at University College London, commented that naps improve creativity. Simply continuing to grind away on a tough work problem is not always the right strategy. Of course, not every company has an enlightened policy on afternoon naps so use your judgement.

8. When you take all of your vacation days, you will be happier and more productive.

Did you know that New Zealand law requires staff have 30 vacation days per year? That high commitment to vacation is doing nothing to hurt New Zealand’s economy according to a recent OECD findings reported in USA Today. Taking time away from the office allows you to expand your interests, build new experiences and get much needed rest.

Stuck for ideas for how to use your vacation? Get some new ideas from the following resources

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35 Most Exotic Destinations For Your Next Vacation

8 Reasons Why Taking A Vacation Makes You Better At Work

9. When you reduce email notifications, you will focus more

Notifications – beeps, buzzing devices and sounds – were once a fun idea. However, the time has come to reduce notifications to improve your productivity. If your work or focus is broken to check email every few minutes, it will take you time to refocus on your work. That’s why you should take the time to disable notifications (e.g. disable email notifications on the iPhone and Android phones) or reduce the frequency (e.g. check email every hour instead of every 5 minutes).

10. When you block your calendar, you will receive fewer distractions

In many large organizations, it is a common practice to have a shared calendar. This type of system makes it easy to schedule meetings because the meeting organizer can find a time when everyone needed for the meeting is free. Unfortunately, some people start to view their daily office calendar in a reactive way: a place to store meeting requests. Instead, make sure you block (i.e. schedule “a meeting with yourself”) at least 2 hours per day to permit you to focus on your high priority activities.

For example, the Manager Tools podcast recommends avoiding meetings on Monday mornings.

11. When you reduce television consumption, you have more time to apply yourself to satisfying activities.

According to research firm Nielsen, the average American watches over 3 hours of television per day.  What if you reduced your intake by one hour? That would give you time to apply yourself to other activities. For example, you could finally start learning how to code, attend a night class one day a week or simply get to bed earlier. This idea is especially valuable if you tend to watch television (or video) for hours on end, regardless of the program.

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12. When you cut back on watching the news, you will be happier and less anxious.

Psychology Today magazine recently reported that viewing TV news and current affairs programs can make people more anxious. Over the past 20 years, there has been an increase in sensational negative news coverage. According to the research: “Not only are negatively balanced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.”

13. When you avoid making major decisions when tired, you will make fewer mistakes.

Your energy level impacts your ability to make good decisions. For example, it is often difficult to keep your temper under control after a stressful day at the office. In fact, economists have reported that you are more likely to make impulse purchases (e.g. junk food) when you are tired.

Armed with this information, you can decide to “sleep on it” whenever you are prompted to make a significant decision late in the day.

14. When you go to bed earlier, you will be better rested and effective

If you are used to going through your days feeling tired and worn out, simply going to bed an hour earlier will improve your productivity. Getting more rest will improve your ability to stay focused and help you make better decisions, including on the road. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that over 200,000 American car crashes are caused by sleepy drivers.

15. When you eliminate clutter in your workspace, you will waste less time

Clutter is a common problem for many of us. When your workspace is filled with clutter – old magazines, receipts for expense claims, piles of old Post-It notes – your productivity suffers. Specifically, you will spend time multiple times per day looking for important materials. According to the Daily Mail, searching for lost items takes up at least 10 minutes per day (that’s equivalent to spending over $1100 per year looking for items if your annual salary is $70,000).

16. When you reduce unproductive commuting time, you can achieve more

Commuting to and from the office takes up a great deal of time that could be put to productive use. The average American spends 50 minutes per day commuting, an activity that many consider tiresome or frustrating. Fortunately, you can transform commuting time into education time! If you drive a car to work, listen to podcasts or buy a subscription to Audible (a service that has 100,000 audio books). In addition, you can also look into commuting by train or subway, you can read, study or even get a head start on your work.

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17. When you streamline your morning routine, you will become a morning master

Your approach to your morning makes a significant impact on your productivity. If you are disorganized and sleep in, a mad scramble to make out the door in time will be your daily reality. Instead, you can follow the morning ritual of successful people who get up early so they can read, exercise and take care of other important activities.

To streamline your morning, look for recurring tasks that you can optimize. For example, consider placing your keys and cell phone in the exact same place each night so you can easily locate them as you depart. During the winter, place all your cold weather clothes (hat, gloves, boots etc) so you they can dry out and be ready for another day.

18. When you set a timer on your work, your foucs will improve

In most professional work environments, individuals have a high degree of autonomy in how they organize their days. Generally, this freedom is a blessing. It is also easy to fall into bad habits – reading articles on the Web, watching silly videos or simply day dreaming. Instead, set a timer for 25 minutes to improve productivity. Once you master the routine of working according to a schedule, you can gradually increase the duration of your focus periods.

19. When you reduce the icons on your computer desktop, you will be more productive

Your computer desktop is not an effective filing system. For the best results, I recommend a maximum of one column of icons for your most frequently used applications. I suggest including your main productivity applications (e.g. Microsoft Word and Excel) and web browsers (e.g. Firefox and Chrome). The rest of your desktop will then be free and clear.

Once you have your computer desktop tidy, look for an inspiring wallpaper image that will put you in a good mood. Explore these seven websites for wallpaper images to get your imagination started.

20. When you moderate your alcohol consumption, your health will improve

On cruise ships and other vacation destinations, complimentary beer, wine and other drinks are served to guests. While enjoyable, downing too much alcohol hurts your productivity. Heavy drinking causes health problems which takes time away from other pursuits. Not sure if your drinking habits are excessive? Make an appointment with your doctor to ask his or her advice.

Featured photo credit: Pocket Watch Classic/Tentes via pixabay.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

More Resources About Boosting Focus and Productivity

Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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