Do you sometimes start your day equipped with a long, but manageable checklist of things to do and with the best intentions to get it all done, yet you soon find yourself focusing on seemingly urgent situations and distractions instead? If you feel that most of your work days quickly turn into a race against time and a frantic attempt to put out fires, maybe it’s time to take back control of your agenda.
Here are 4 simple ways to increase your productivity and get to complete the tasks you plan to do in your day.
1. Stop Multitasking
People often confuse “feeling busy” with “being productive”. They wear their “busy badges” proudly, taking on several tasks at the same time (if you are reading this article while you are on a call, we are talking to you!)
Taking on several tasks at the same time will not only slow you down and make you tired much faster, but it will also increase your chances of making errors.
The best way to be productive is to focus on one task at a time. As a more of fact, some researchers suggest that multitasking can actually hinder productivity, reducing it by up to 40%.
2. Work in Intervals
We can all remember the college days when we spent an all-nighter studying for a final exam. However, how many of us remember even 20% of what we studied in those cramming sessions?
Sitting at your desk for hours on end working on the same task doesn’t do your brain, body and productivity any good.
It has been proven time and time again, that working in time blocks is the most effective way to work.
Time blocking your workday will not only increase your ability to concentrate and help with mental block, but it will also encourage you to structure your work efficiently.
Structure Big Projects Into Smaller Tasks
Working in intervals will inevitably lead you to structure big projects into smaller tasks; and that’s a great thing to do!
When you need to tackle a larger project that may take hours or even days to complete, breaking it down into smaller tasks that fit into your time blocks will:
1- create a sense of accomplishment for completing specific tasks within the predetermined time frame
2- create a feeling of progress which will help create an attitude of productivity and efficiency.
Breaking up your workday (and larger tasks) into smaller intervals, will soon allow you to perceive your daily routine as being clearer, more organized and much less stressful.
3. Pay Attention to Your Internal Clock
Approximately 20 000 neurons located in a structure deep in our brain called the hypothalamus, are responsible for coordinating our body’s unconscious functions, such as blood pressure, breathing and regulating certain metabolic processes. These 20 000 busy bees are also in charge of regulating our sleep–wake cycle.
This sleep-wake cycle essentially determines how our body responds to the passing of time over the course of a 24-hour period. This cycle has a direct impact on our body’s physical, behavioral and mental changes throughout the day.
Do you tend to be tired in the afternoon or moody in the morning? These are cues from your internal clock, so pay attention!
Trying to fight your natural, internal process is counter productive. Instead, work with it to improve your health, wellbeing and productivity!
Scheduling your day around your internal clock will allow you to utilize your time most effectively.
For example, if you instinctively have a sharper focus in the morning, don’t waste that precious time clearing out your inbox!
Instead, reserve that block of time for your most difficult tasks and save the more repetitive, routine tasks for when your energy levels are naturally lower. Managing your energy rather than your time will go a long way in increasing your productivity.
4. Avoid Distractions
We have inherited our tendency to become distracted from our ancient ancestors who needed to react instantly to potential threats, like predators. For them, it was a mechanism of survival that could save their lives.
Today, unlike our cousins from the past, our distractions are rarely a matter of life and death, yet our brain has not let go of this mechanism of survival.
We find ourselves physiological reacting to urgent situations at work in the same way our ancient ancestors reacted when faced with danger. Our bodies release hormones that create a chain of reactions resulting in an increased heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. This happens so the body has the energy and oxygen needed to fuel a rapid response to danger.
However, in our case, we are merely answering emails.
What’s even more interesting is that, following this “alarming situation”, our body takes up to 60 minutes to get our nervous system back to normal. However, in a corporate setting, we are often presented with several potentially stressful situations arising throughout the day that directly attack our nervous system.
What this means is that, when we go to work, we put our bodies through the same stress response levels we would potentially experience if we were a character in a real-life action packed blockbuster movie.
And we repeat this everyday.
The good news is that the more we work on focusing on the task at hand, and ignore everything else, the more we strengthen our prefrontal cortex and our ability to focus, hence avoiding the rise in our stress levels.
How do we do this? By avoiding distractions.
If you are in the middle of a work block, do not open that incoming email or instant pop-up message.
Instead, assign specific times in your schedule to answer calls, emails or instant messages. This will avoid you having to multitask or getting your stress levels to skyrocket several times during the day!
By the time you are in your answering emails block, you will have already planned for that time in your schedule. Your reaction to these “urgent situations” will therefore be a lot more controlled.
Don’t Forget About Other Screens!
Temptations come in the form of any other screen, so remove cell phones, a second monitor or even a second laptop from your eyesight while you are working.
Cell phones are the biggest distraction in modern society and having your phone next to you while you are working on an important task can drain away your productivity faster than you can imagine.
As a matter of fact, a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology found that just having your mobile phone (or tablet) visible nearby, may distract you from completing complex tasks. That is, even if you are not using it!
This is because our phone unconsciously reminds us of the broader community that surrounds us, from friends and family, to social media connections and even our connection with the world through online news, weather apps, etc. Our mobile phones also remind us of our family obligations, like scheduling doctor appointments.
So having your phone sitting on the desk next to you while you are working on an important task is a productivity killer, because your brain will be constantly distracted by it, without you even knowing it!
Our bodies were not meant to be sitting at a desk for hours on end.
This means that, even if you are working in intervals and taking a short break in between intervals as you are supposed to, you will still feel tired and distracted if you are always using your breaks to browse the internet or join a conversation on social media.
Instead, step outside and take a short walk around the block or try any activity that will get you moving. This might feel like a waste of your time, but it’s actually the opposite! Moving your body allows you to raise your energy level, win over fatigue, combat stress and improve wellbeing.
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