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How to Manage Common Productivity Traps for Improved Productivity

How to Manage Common Productivity Traps for Improved Productivity

    We continuously push ourselves to get more done and work faster, yet it doesn’t seem to work. What if it’s not that we’re not working fast enough or hard enough, instead it’s just that we fall prey to the numerous productivity traps that eat away at our days.

    The simplest way to improve our productivity is to avoid the most common productivity traps and put better processes into place.

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    Interruptions

    Right at the moment when you get in the zone of some really productive work is when co-workers show up, the phone rings and new message notifications pop up. Your focus is ruined, your mind has to make a mental shift and momentum is gone. Interruptions are difficult to recover from, so the best strategy is to avoid them by effective planning and clear boundaries. Try closing email, silencing your phone, shutting your door and sending a strong message that you’re in “focus mode.”

    Social media

    Social media is a wonderful tool for gathering information, marketing your brand and developing relationships, but any tool that is over-used turns into a time suck. Definitely use social media, it can be valuable, determine its true value relative to other activities you could be doing. Try to limit your Facebook or Twitter time to either one reasonable session or a few mini-sessions per day.

    Over-scheduling

    Most of us in this fast-paced society succumb to over-scheduling of our time. We think our value is determined by how much we pack into our days, but all it really does is cause us more stress. We rush everything and pay attention to nothing. It doesn’t have to be this way. First, say no… a lot. Firmly decline any commitments that don’t have clear value. Also be realistic about how much can be done in any given period of time. We usually underestimate the time necessary for tasks.

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    Multitasking

    We mistakenly believe that we can juggle more than one thing at a time and thus accomplish more, but our brains are not wired that way. There is really no such thing as multi-tasking; it’s really “switch-tasking.” Our brains rapidly switch back and forth, with different items competing for attention and it just doesn’t work. It has been shown that we actually do higher quality work, enjoy it more and get more done if we focus on one thing at a time.

    Low value tasks

    Determine the value of each activity. Do you really need to do everything that you are doing? Eliminate or delegate activities that don’t add much value and aren’t your strengths or that can easily be done by someone else. Make the most of the time you have by working on tasks that add the most value or you truly enjoy.

    Email black-hole

    Email is a fabulous technology invention. I would be lost without it. It’s email technology itself, but our obsession with it that’s the problem. We don’t want to miss anything and don’t want to be seen as incompetent or inconsiderate we don’t fail to respond immediately. It will still be there when you get back and if it’s urgent they’ll call. Turning off email notifications and check your email at pre-determined intervals throughout the day if you can.

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    Low energy

    Energy is the unsung hero of productivity. You can accomplish more and get better results if you have sufficient energy. Maximize your energy by getting plenty of sleep, taking breaks, making healthy food choices and staying hydrated. Getting up from your desk to move, stretch or get a drink will increase energy levels more than another caffeine hit.

    Lack of clarity

    This is often overlooked as a cause of poor productivity, but it might just be the most crucial strategy. Be very clear about the end goal, desired result, potential obstacles, deadlines and the guidelines surrounding it.

    Implementing even one of these strategies can make a huge impact on your productivity. It’s well worth the initial effort.

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    (Photo credit: Businessman trapped on mousetrap via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Royale Scuderi

    A creative strategist, consultant and writer who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

    What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

    When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

    In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

    While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

    As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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      Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

      Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

      The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

      But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

      However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

      This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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      Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

      We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

      Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

      Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

      The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

      When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

      When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

      How to Make Decision Effectively

      Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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      1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

      You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

      Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

      Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

      2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

      You don’t have to choose all the time.

      Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

      Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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      3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

      You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

      The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

      Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

      Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

      So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

      More Tips About Decision Making

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

      Reference

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