As we are all aware, we’re coming up to the Christmas slump, people are winding down for Christmas thinking of food and cosy, lazy days with the family.
However, when you get back into the grind, the hard work, you’re going to want to be the best you can be, it will be the New Year New You after all! So here are our tips to make you as productive as possible, making the new year an absolute doddle.
Three Basics of Productivity
Use these principles to help guide you through your workday.
No two work days are ever the same. With the 9-5 becoming increasingly irrelevant the need for productivity in increasingly varied environments is paramount. There are three overarching ideas that apply:
- Trust the small increments. You can’t expect to change years of working habits overnight. Small changes in how you work can gradually add up to big changes in productivity. Try one tip to start, and keep adding more as you find the strategies that work best for you.
- Be accountable. Whether it’s weekly check-ins with a co-worker or setting your own deadlines and announcing them to others, having to answer to someone else can often force you to get the job done.
- Forgive yourself. You are human: Accept that you are sometimes going to slip up, become distracted and have a bad day. It’s more important to move on than to dwell on your mistakes.
“Oh, this will only take two minutes.” I’m sure you’ve either heard this or said this yourself at some point. We as humans are notorious at underestimating the time we spend on tasks and activities. So try and keep a much more accurate eye on it with a timer.
We all have the exact same 24 hours in a day. By keeping a more vigilant eye on how much time your spending on each task you can accomplish more and in future better gauge how long that next task or project will take so you can better carve your time.
Another aspect to using a timer is that you can use the “Pomodoro Method”. This is a really popular way of breaking up and structuring your work day. The principle is for 25 minutes, you concentrate solely on one task and work it. No distractions, no anything else, just that one thing. Once that bell dings you can have a 5-minute rest and then back at it. After 4 cycles you can take a longer break (think 15-15 minutes) before going back to it. This has become a really popular way of working as it incorporates regularly scheduled breaks to make sure you can stay focused for longer today.
However, your focus block of time should be tailored to what works best for you, within reason. Researchers at Florida State University have found that elite performers (athletes, chess players, musicians, etc.) who practice, focus and work in intervals of no more than 90 minutes are more productive than those who work more than that. They also found that the really top-performing subjects tended to work no more than 4.5 hours per day.
This is a finding corroborated by Cal Newport in all of his research for the books Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You. We can only, truly manage about 4 hours of intense productivity in any single day so find your peak times, block out time and assign the most important tasks accordingly, focus well and you will see your productivity spike.
Take regular breaks.
It sounds counterintuitive, but taking regularly scheduled breaks can actually help improve concentration. Taking short breaks during long tasks helps you to maintain a constant level of performance. It may feel that if you’re constantly going at a task you’re more productive but in reality, working at a task without breaks leads to a steady decline in performance.
This ties in closely to the idea of blocking your time. After each block, refresh yourself. This will help you maintain and keep focus for longer, thus keeping your mind sharp for your daily work.
Also make sure you rest. When you schedule these breaks or downtime, make sure you’re actually giving yourself a break from the intensity.
Deadlines are your Friend
While we usually think of stress as a bad thing, the stress and pressure of a deadline can actually be helpful. Setting yourself a hard deadline to meet will give you focus and help you in meeting your goals.
This is especially true of open-ended tasks, projects, or extremely large projects that need to be broken down into smaller chunks. So try giving yourself a deadline, and then stick to it.
You may be surprised to discover just how focused and productive you can be when the clock is against you.
Follow the “two-minute rule”
Entrepreneur Steve Olenski recommends implementing the “two-minute rule” to make the most of small windows of time that you have at work. The idea is this: If you see a task or action that you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. According to Olenski, completing the task right away actually takes less time than having to get back to it later. Implementing this has made him one of the most influential content strategists online.
Just say no to meetings.
Meetings are one of the biggest time-sucks around, yet somehow we continue to unquestioningly book them, attend them and, inevitably, complain about them. According to Atlassian, the average office worker spends over 31 hours each month in unproductive meetings. Before booking your next meeting, ask yourself whether you can accomplish the same goals or tasks via email, phone, or Web-based meeting (which may be slightly more productive).
While we tend to think of the ability to multitask as an important skill for increasing efficiency, the opposite may in fact be true. Psychologists have found attempting to do several tasks at once can result in lost time and productivity. Instead, make a habit of committing to a single task before moving on to your next project.
Staying organised really helps your productivity. By knowing what you’ve got to do, what needs completing and what’s coming up you can keep your mind clear to focus on the important work at hand. Creating a to-do list before going to bed gives you a head start on your morning as you’ve already planned what needs to be done in a day. However, it’s important to note that your to-do list shouldn’t include more than two or three items. Keep it realistic and simple. Cramming numerous items on your list will only make you feel disoriented and overwhelmed.
Value Exercise and Sleep
Using work time to exercise may actually help improve productivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. If possible, build in set times during the week for taking a walk or going to the gym. Getting your blood pumping could be just what’s needed to clear your head and get your focus back.
Also, don’t forget the restorative power of sleep. If you’ve ever had a bad night’s sleep and had to try and power through a day tired, then you know how much your work suffers.
Drain The Shallows – But Don’t Ignore Them
There’s a fine art to how you do your “shallow” tasks. Shallow tasks are the usually unimportant tasks that are constantly interrupting your day such as phone calls, responding to emails, checking social media etc.
No one can be expected to resist the allure of an email, voicemail, or text notification. During work hours, turn off your notifications, and instead build in time to check email and messages. This is all part of being proactive rather than reactive.
Having a colleague pop her head into your office to chat may seem innocuous, but even brief interruptions appear to produce a change in work pattern and a corresponding drop in productivity. Minimizing interruptions may mean setting office hours, keeping your door closed, or working from home for time-sensitive projects.
Productivity is a slow climb, but worth it
If you feel the need to increase your productivity at work, resist the temptation put in longer hours or pack more into your already-full calendar. Instead, take a step back, and think about ways you can work smarter, not harder.
Remember, your productivity at work should be about the big jobs, the ones that matter to your position and to the company at large. So keep your focus sharp and your skills honed in 2020!