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How to Improve Performance and Maintain Productivity at the Same Time

How to Improve Performance and Maintain Productivity at the Same Time


    Fortunately, this article isn’t going to start with an embarrassing confession that I’ve let the car’s tank run dry and found myself stranded at the side of the road… I’ve only ever done that once and I was barely out of nappies! (Honest)

    Instead, I’m going to look at the idea that cars do need filling up.

    Yeah, I know. Obvious…right?

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    The thing is, when we’re planning journeys we all too often do something which is barely more sophisticated than estimating how long the journey is on a map, and (assuming an average cruising speed of 50 MPH) dividing that by 50 to figure out how long the journey will take. Then we get surprised by the fact that it always take longer than that.

    How much longer?

    Well…generally longer than that by the length of time we needed to stop — and that is either for us (food/water/washroom break) or the car we’re driving (filling it with gas). I’m one of those impatient people who regards time spent filling up the car’s tank as wasted time — time not spent actually getting where I’m going.

    It isn’t, of course. Because if we dont fill the tank, we don’t get anywhere at all.

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    So we learn.

    We learn to add time for tasks that don’t actually do something (like get us somewhere) but which subsequently allow us to do something (like filling up the car). These are referred to as “Performance Tasks” and “Maintenance Tasks”, respectively.

    “Without the latter, the former can’t happen. Without the former, there’s no point in the latter.”

    There is, of course, a balance to be struck. Too much Performance Tasks and you end up performing less than your best because you keep having to stop performing and maintain. That’s the equivalent of entering a race, performing brilliantly so that you’re leading during the whole thing and then realising you’ve got to stop for 10 minutes to fill up with gas. On the other hand too many Maintenance Tasks and not enough performance and you don’t achieve anything at all.

    The seduction of this latter option is dangerous though, because it is all too easy to think you’re doing something because, well…you’re doing something. It’s just not something that directly leads to an outcome. You can be desperately busy without getting anywhere. Just ask almost anyone who rushes around saying, “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”

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    So what to do about it?

    This is an experiment worth trying; I’m doing it myself. Break down each project into tasks in the good old-fashioned way and then to decide task by task if it’s a Performance Task or a Maintenance Task. I colour-code blue on the ‘task wall’ if it’s a Maintenance Task and Performance Tasks are colur-coded pink. (Note: There’s no great significance to this choice of colour, it was just the first set of Post-It notes that came to hand!)

    Then, when figuring out what to do next at any point, I simply think about how my energy levels are. Why? Because my experience is that Maintenance Tasks can be done when you’re half asleep. If I’m below par, then I grab a blue task to do; otherwise I grab pink.

    Importantly, I have to decide on my energy levels before I look at the list of tasks to be done – no picking and choosing based on what sound interesting.

    The key thing is that it means I force myself to do the blue coloured tasks. Around my office, for example, we’d all rather get things done than prepare things — pink rather than blue, Performance rather than Maintenance. But your mileage may vary. It might help to spend a week or two looking at what tasks you do by preference and classify them after you’ve done them so that you get a feel for your natural instincts.

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    And then force yourself to do the opposite.

    So far the experiment is proving very useful — coloured Post-It notes and all.

    (Photo credit: Gas Full Meter via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

    The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

    How about a unique spin on things?

    These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

    1. Empty your mind.

    It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

    Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

    Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

    Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

    How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

    2. Keep certain days clear.

    Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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    This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

    3. Prioritize your work.

    Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

    Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

    Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    4. Chop up your time.

    Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

    5. Have a thinking position.

    Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

    What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

    6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

    To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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    Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

    7. Don’t try to do too much.

    OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

    8. Have a daily action plan.

    Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

    Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

    9. Do your most dreaded project first.

    Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

    10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

    The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

    11. Have a place devoted to work.

    If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

    But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

    Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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    Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

    12. Find your golden hour.

    You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

    Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

    Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

    Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

    13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

    It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

    By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

    Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

    14. Never stop.

    Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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    Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

    There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

    15. Be in tune with your body.

    Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

    16. Try different methods.

    Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

    It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

    Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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