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Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

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Where are the aids for increasing GENUINE personal productivity?

Too much of today’s personal productivity is stuck in repeating the past
To-do list

A genuine increase in productivity means getting the same, or greater, output with less effort and a smaller use of resources. Yet most personal productivity software still relies on various ways to categorize old-fashioned to-do lists.

That focuses on getting more done by improved organization; it’s working harder for longer (mostly by virtue of avoiding distractions and procrastination), not doing things better or with less effort and input. It’s not increasing genuine productivity. I suspect that, in reality, it’s sometimes even a substitute for doing much at all; spending time instead categorizing and rearranging lists of what is there to be done.

Where is the software that would help people find better ways to do things? To free up time for what matters be eliminating the unnecessary and trivial? The software that would ask tough, meaningful questions about every to-do item, such as:

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  • Do you need to do it now — or ever?
  • Is this something that you could — and should — delegate to someone else?
  • Is there a way to get the same result with less effort and input?
  • Is there a way to get a better outcome? Have you considered fresh options? What ideas could you find to improve, simplify, or — best of all — eliminate this activity?
  • Are you jumping to conclusions about what to do? Should you allow circumstances to unfold further, so you can see better what needs to be done (if anything)?
  • How can you develop your creativity, so that you can either find better ways to achieve the same, or greater, results, or find ways to stop doing things?

These are all questions it’s easy to forget in the rush to “get things done” — especially when someone is breathing down your neck and time seems to be slipping away. Software that both reminded and challenged you each time you tried to add something to your to-do list might be a boon to anyone caught up in the rat race.

Not doing things may be more productive

The Tao Te Ching suggested, more than 2200 years ago, that by doing nothing, everything would be done. What I suspect the author meant was that, if you think about things long enough and carefully enough, a great deal of your present activity can be removed altogether; if you’re patient, still more will resolve itself without any input from you; and whatever is left, you can do in half the time and with a quarter of the effort. Everything that matters gets done. The rest is irrelevant.

By following that advice, you can eliminate so much clutter — plus those actions only done because you’ve always done them that way — that you will fly through what is left. That’s true focus, not the false kind that comes from putting items into an ordered list and starting from the top. You may be working on item 1, but all the others are still there, preying on your mind and tempting you into swerving aside to deal with them too.

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What about something that actually limited your to-do list to no more than, say, six items? Something that would force you to prioritize and drop something, before you could add any more? It’s easy to build up a to-do list of almost infinite length, then feel stressed by all the things still waiting to be done.

Realistically, the chances of getting to item 27 on your list — now or ever — are so small as not to be worth considering. Software could not only help you to set sensible priorities, it could recall just how long something had sat at number 3 or 4 and tell you either to do it now — make it number 1 and get it done — or stop kidding yourself and forget it.

It could also remember how long something had been on the to-do list in any position and kick it off automatically after, say, 5 days. If you haven’t even started on it by then, you aren’t going to today. Push it into a back list of “to do sometime;” and remove altogether if it stays on there for more than two weeks.

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The real keys to increasing productivity are creativity and discipline

I know this sounds brutal, but sometimes it takes “tough love” to bring home the key point: a to-do list should only contain what you are definitely going to do within the next day or so. Everything else should go somewhere else, or it will simply clog up your list and convince you that you’re so weighed down with unfinished tasks that you don’t have time to do anything — except, of course, continually polish and re-categorize your natty software to-do list!

Productivity should be about creativity — finding new and better ways to do what me must with less effort — and discipline — to ignore anything that isn’t truly important.

For example, if your to-do list and calendar are full of meetings, you can probably double or triple your productivity instantly by taking these simple steps:

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  • Cut out all the time wasted in meetings you’re only attending as an observer. If you haven’t got anything on the agenda that is vital to you, don’t go.
  • Refuse to stay in any meeting for more than one hour. What can’t be accomplished in that time probably doesn’t need to be done.
  • If you are in charge, eliminate all the time wasted by people “updating” the group. If anyone needs to know, ask for a summary beforehand by e-mail. In a meeting, it’s wasted time.
  • Only hold meetings at all if there is genuinely no other way. About a third of meetings take place because people are too lazy to handle what needs to be done more efficiently. The other two-thirds take place to allow people to spread the blame and protect their butts.

Until you stop focusing on the mundane — organizing lists — and start considering genuine productivity — improving the ways you do essential things and dropping all the rest — you’ll stay stuck at about the place you’re in today.

Until now, nearly all software advances linked to personal productivity have been based on automating what people once did by hand. That process has reached the point of diminishing returns. The real innovations will only come when we start using software to let us do what was either impossible, or unimagined, before we had it.

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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