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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!

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    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

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    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

    Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

    There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

    How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

    Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

    Why is multitasking a myth?

    The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

    Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

    You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

    Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

    We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

    Your brain on multi-tasking

    Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

    When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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    But I can juggle multiple tasks!

    You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

    For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

    Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

    Why multitasking is failing you

    Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

    Multitasking wastes your time.

    You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

    In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

    It makes you dumber.

    A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

    You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

    This is an emotional response.

    There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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    Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

    It’ll wear you out.

    When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

    We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

    How to stop multitasking and work productively

    Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

    In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

    Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

    1. Consciously change gears

    Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

    As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

    This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

    2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

    Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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    Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

    This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

    3. Set aside distractions

    Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

    If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

    Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

    Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

    4. Take care of yourself

    We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

    Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

    In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

    5. Take a break

    People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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    Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

    6. Make technology your ally

    Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

    Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

    The key to productivity: Focus

    Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

    Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

    If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

    How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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