As adults, we’re constantly encouraged to be more productive. I have mixed feelings on this. Personally, I love to play. My life motto is have fun and I am most productive when I’m in a state of fun. In my opinion, it is very important to take adequate time out for yourself to recharge and recoup, to play and just be, instead of chasing the next deadline.
That said, deadlines are a reality and nobody wants to stress out as they loom before us. So here are a some tips to keep you sane in the face of these potentially stressful situations. These are some of the habits behind the world’s top entrepreneurs and business people.
Contrary to the convention of most corporate establishments, we’re not designed to work flat out for a relatively continuous 8 hour period. In fact, the most productive people in the world are the ones that pay attention to their internal clocks, and take breaks when needed. As a general rule, our energy levels run in 90-minute cycles of ebb and flow, so we can be fully engaged for an hour and a half before we need a recharge or simply a break. Add to this that we are also more alert and able in certain hours of the day than others, and these don’t always fall into the scheduled workday hours.
Each person is uniquely different as well. For example, I find that my most productive hours are after the sun goes down. Although there are days when I can sit in a cafe and be very efficient during the daylight hours, provided there’s a healthy supply of good filter coffee and the odd cookie. Find your own rhythm and honour it. It doesn’t help anybody when you’re pushing yourself to be productive while your brain desperately needs a recharge.
There are several techniques that you and your team can try out, one of which being the Pomodoro Technique in which you work for 25-minute spurts with a 5-minute break in-between.
Have you heard the old riddle asking how does one eat an elephant?
One bite at a time is the answer.
The most successful people in the world start with their mission statement. They know what they want the big picture to look like first, then start breaking it down into more manageable goals, and breaking those down even further, until each task is a bite-sized chunk. The more manageable the chunks, the less likely you are to be demotivated to do them. And as you complete each chunk, you’re steadily get through the entire elephant.
You’ve probably heard it a million times but it bears repeating; if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there. Think of your GPS navigation system. You put in the destination so it can work out a path from here to there. If you have a clearly defined end-point, you can better create a path from where you are to where you want to get to. When you have a clear path, there’s less hacking away at tasks that consume time but are unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
Having a manageable to-do list that you can easily follow make take a bit of time setting up in the beginning but don’t underestimate this step. In the long run, this “map” will help you get done what you need to faster, and keep you motivated through the process.
Today’s world is laden with distractions from social media feeds to news sites to online tv. It’s very easy to opt for a distraction and leave the work lagging. As somebody who works from home, it can sometimes be very easy for me to slip into my bed with a good book. In these cases, I actively have to remove the temptation by putting on some pants and heading off to the local coffee shop to work instead.
We have to be diligent and, if necessary, force ourselves to avoid the distractions. If social media or checking your email is your thing, download a website-blocking app that will limit the time you can access sites like Facebook or Twitter. If you’re able to work without Internet, turn off your WiFi. Most phones have a Do Not Disturb feature, and if yours doesn’t, there are several apps available to silence your phone for a period of time.
These help deal with distractions that are self-inflicted. But especially in an office environment, you’ve also got the distraction of your co-workers. In this case, it comes down to prioritising the tasks that need doing and the distractive requests. Maintaining your boundaries is important here. If you set the precedent allowing others to take over your time, they will keep doing so. Instead politely but firmly say that you will attend to the new task later in the day, or when you can. More often than not, your co-worker will be happy with this.
And then add this task to a separate to-do list that you can tackle once you’ve done with your main one.
Of course, sometimes a distractive task is urgent and needs immediate attention. There is a tool called the Eisenhower Matrix which could help you out here. Determine where the task falls in the matrix and prioritise it accordingly. The key is to become aware as to what really needs attention now and what can wait.
Often times, we wind up wasting time because we don’t have a go-to system in place. Take the time and energy to develop a system that works for you, whether it’s a to-do list that you can run through and tick off, or a graphical matrix. There are several apps that can help with your productivity. Simply find the one that suits you, or failing that, build your own system.
Research shows that the most productive people are the ones who have a basic roadmap for getting things done, know where their tools are, and have ritualised ways to accomplish their tasks.
We are a complete unit and our exercise and health regimes tie into our productivity. Eating well and regularly, having a good night’s sleep (or day’s sleep if you work at night), and overall physical fitness contributes to better mental health, and hence a better ability to focus and work. Highly productive people build healthy practices into their daily routines.
Once again, there are numerous apps to help you. I use two. One is called HabitHub, which allows you to add any habit you want to build with numerous reminders and a way to take the activity until it becomes a proper habit (such as exercise every morning, or drinking a glass of water every 2 hours). The other is called Insight Timer, which I use to track my meditations. While it is possible to put a reminder to meditate into HabitHub, Insight Timer is specifically designed for meditation, yoga, and the like with timers that can be set up with gongs and pleasant background sounds.
Again, find something that suits you best.
Over the last year, I have discovered the amazing website that is udemy.com
It is an online University with free and premium courses for virtually any topic you could think off, including productivity. As a computer whizz-kid, I am well versed in keyboard shortcuts and I can type at roughly 92 words per minute. These two little skills help me cut my work time down significantly. Add to this speed-reading, and an affinity for puzzles, and the minutes get shaved off a variety of tasks.
Sure, the courses do take time and energy and money now but they will pay off in the long run, as you increase the speed and efficiency at which you are able to tackle tasks and problem solve.
This tip is entrepreneur 101. Every so-called failure is an opportunity to learn and possibly do it better next time. Having a mindset that allows for growth means we accept that we don’t know everything and that there’s always room to learn and develop. Virtually every skill is learnable. We may not have an affinity for everything, but we can certain improve somewhat. The most productive and successful people are the ones who are willing to try. They have the mindset of wanting to be better.
Not only is this good psychologically, but it also fosters an approach that ensure you are constantly improving your processes.
And for those things that you’re definitely not good at, hand them over to somebody who is good at it and enjoys doing it.
Many starting-off business people try to do everything themselves for two reasons. One is because they don’t trust somebody else to accomplish the task. Two is they want to save money.
However, this approach will definitely affect productivity negatively in the long-run. Nobody can do everything. There just isn’t enough time nor energy in the day. We simply need to delegate intelligently, finding the people who are as passionate as we are, perhaps offering an incentive to help with that passion, or outsourcing to people who do the required task for a living. In the same way as you would have somebody clean your house so you can spend your time on more pressing matters, you can also outsource minial tasks to others, so you can focus on the things that you specialise in.
Check out freelance websites like Fiverr for potential outsourcing options. Peer-rated systems like Fiverr ensure that you are getting somebody who takes the task seriously. There’s too much competition and room for negative reviews to do less than a great job. Of course, for tasks that require a physical presence, you may need to research a bit more.
I’ve mentioned meditation already but it is so important it warrants its own point. People who make the time to meditate are often calmer, more relaxed, and more focused in their pursuits. Virtually all the top CEOs and entrepreneurs in the world admit to having some sort of meditation practice.
Regular meditation, in a nutshell, help settle our brains and calming our frontal lobe. This allows for greater focus, more creativity, less anxiety and less stress. Take at least five minutes a day to focus and prepare for your day. A great start is Vishen Lakhiani’s six phase meditation. It’s a 15 minute guided meditation that helps get you center yourself and properly prepare for your day and long-term goals.
Oft times, we lose our productive edge because we are too quick to help other people over ourselves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as we are leaving time and energy to complete our own pursuits in time. It doesn’t help constantly being there for everyone else when our own deadlines suffer. This leads to stress and anxiety as we rush our tasks in limited time, and with limited energy.
Saying no doesn’t mean flat out refusing to help somebody else. It could be simply adding them to a queue as mentioned in the distraction tip.
Have any other tips or tools to add that help you in your work day? Please share them in the comments 🙂
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