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How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity

How to be Productive and Counteract Low Productivity

There you are, sitting at your desk and feeling tired: it has been a long week and you’d like to stop working and relax a bit, but at the same time, you know you can’t do this since you have still work to do. In a way you are stuck: no matter how hard you work, you don’t seem to make any noticeable progress, which makes you even more frustrated and tired and you finally feel like giving up the project you have been working on.

You may be thinking that there has to be a better way to do things, rather than banging your head against the wall, and you are absolutely right!

be productive

    Are you taking the right action at the right time?

    There can be many reason behind your frustrations:

    First and foremost, are you sure you are focusing on the right action steps? If this is not the case, then it’s time to stop for a moment, see the bigger picture and redefine the tasks you should be doing right now. Could it be that perhaps you didn’t prepare in advance for the tasks you are doing? This could happen when you are dependent on other people’s input before you can continue your project for instance—if you didn’t see this situation coming, you could be wasting your time because you don’t have any backup plan for these situations.

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    It could also be that you just have too much work to do. Ask yourself whether you are optimizing and automating everything already, or are there processes or tasks that could be eliminated by those two methods. If the answer to the latter part of the question is “yes,” it’s time to take action on improving the processes. The sooner you do this, the sooner your workload will decrease and the less chance there is for unproductivity.

    Finding the source of low productivity

    It’s time to take a closer look at your situation, so that we can see the sources behind unproductive action.

    To do this, it’s time to do some checks.

    The first check is related to your mindset: do you feel that the time is lost if you spend time on planning your tasks? If this is so, then it’s no wonder that you are wasting time on something unproductive.

    Next, check your environment: does it allow you to work in a focused manner? If you are getting easily distracted because of the environment, it’s time to start finding alternative locations for doing the work.

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    Finally, make sure that your project isn’t too big to handle. If you are trying to tackle it all by yourself, it’s no wonder if you are feeling frustrated and tired. Additionally, if you find the tasks are too big in size, then this could be another reason for the stress you are experiencing right now.

    Destroy the unproductive action with a right mindset

    To fix the situation, I suggest developing a mindset that you can start using from this project and onward. This mindset consists of the following six cornerstones:

    • Stop rushing into things by planning them first
    • Know what you are doing and understand the importance of doing so
    • Pick the right location
    • Break the project into smaller pieces
    • Don’t try to handle it all by yourself
    • Review your progress and take corrective action if needed

    If you implement this productive mindset, then there is a much bigger chance of completing tasks in time and finishing your projects sooner than later.

    Get your true productivity back with these 6 steps

    1. Stop rushing. I know that you’d like to take action as soon as possible, but don’t make this mistake! Instead, spend a little time by creating a plan to follow. Know your next action steps, as well as your outcomes and keep them clearly in your head. If you understand what they are, then you are already on a better track of keeping things in control and reducing your workload at the same time.

    2. Know what you are doing. Ask yourself what you are supposed to be doing next and why you should be doing it—when you can answer to these two questions, then you are on the right path. Keep asking these questions all the time. They are a great way to make you aware of what you are doing. They also prevent you from taking the wrong action, if you can’t see the value of the task.

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    3. Pick the right location for your work. It’s of the utmost important to pick the right location for your work. If you can’t work at home, then take your laptop with you and go somewhere else. Go outside (if the weather permits), to a public library or to a coffee shop. You can also rent a co-working space, or if money is not an issue, even a separate office to get your work done.

    4. Break the project into smaller pieces. Take your project and break it into smaller pieces. Focus on one piece at a time and then move on to the next one. For instance, if you are developing a piece of software, one task would be getting the user interface to be more compelling. Then, you could decide on different subsections that specifically create that great user experience, like setting the right fonts or defining the right color theme. When you have finished one area, you can move to the next one (like improving the performance of your application) and so on.

    5. Gather a team. It’s easy to think that only you can do the tasks and that you are irreplaceable: you aren’t! There is always someone who can do the task faster and better than you.

    For instance, when I’m building my blog, I have a virtual team doing various things for me: a designer and a developer for creating new functionality for my blog; a coach for telling me what things to focus on; maintenance guys for keeping my blog updated; and a proofreader for checking my written content before it’s published. Doing these things myself would be just madness and I would have quit blogging a long time ago, if I was still trying to do everything by myself.

    6. Review your progress and analyze. This is perhaps the most common thing that people forget to do: Reviewing progress.

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    You need to do this so that you can avoid mistakes or prevent taking action on things, which are not getting any results. I suggest doing the review at least on a weekly basis, where you reflect what you have done, how it went and what you are doing next. Even if this might feel like just a waste of time, you are wasting much more time when you end up taking unproductive actions later on.

    In conclusion

    As you now know, there are many reasons for taking unproductive actions. When you focus on things like planning, the right environment and breaking the project into smaller pieces, you can cut down your workload a lot and the chances for unproductive action decreases. A little bit of pro-activity can save you from unnecessary work later on.

    Over to you: How do you make sure you are not taking unproductive action?

    Featured photo credit:  Empire state building – new york city via Shutterstock

    More by this author

    Timo Kiander

    Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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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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