Do you want to increase your productivity, get more done in less time and get more done with less work?
Often, when we think about productivity, we think about time management tricks, ways to work faster.
Those temporal measures help us work faster and get more done in the short run.
But in the long run, we can burn out.
Since 1888, when Ernst Abbe conducted the first productivity study at Zeiss Laboratory, the findings haven’t changed: people are most productive when they work for around 40 hours a week. Yes, you can push that a little when you’re in crunch mode, up against a deadline. But after 40 hours, you are more prone to error.
Because once our minds get overworked and that can take 6-18 months or more to recover.
The secret of productivity lies in how you manage your mind.
Want to learn more? Watch the path to meaningful work: Chris Bailey
When Chris Bailey completed his Bachelor of Business Administration last May, he received two excellent job offers, but declined them both and opted to start a project called “A Year of Productivity.” For his project, Chris read lots of books on productivity, he conducted many interviews with the most productive people in the world, he himself became the subject of his experiences in productivity, such as meditating for 35 hours during a week, living in complete isolation from the world for 10 days, and watched more than 70 hours of TED conferences in one week. The results of his experiments were seen and read by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. Chris talks about what he has learned throughout his project.
Sean Mize provides us with 12 psychological tricks that can help improve your own psychological state in such a way that you reframe your mindset to create a mental environment that safely results in increased productivity.
1. Recognize that most of what you do doesn’t matter.
If you take a look at what you have done in the last 40 hours of work, you’ll likely see that about 30 of those hours were spent on things that were either unplanned, unnecessary, or even unproductive.
If you don’t believe that this is the case, take the time to do a 15-minute interval diary for the next 40 hours of work. Write down what you work on for each 15 minute period. Tally up all the periods at the end of the 40 hours. You will likely be amazed at the unproductive tasks in which you are engaging, even if you believe you are 80%+ productive right now.
You will likely see that becoming more productive might not be so much a matter of adding something to your day, but instead first eliminating everything that doesn’t belong in your day. Once that happens, and you have pared a 40 hour week down to 10 hours, then it makes it easy to add a little more in. For example, adding 10 hours of truly productive work to your schedule after paring your 40 hour week down to 10 hours, means you get two times as much done in half the time, with half the stress, and with a reduced risk of burnout and other negative effects of trying to do more and more and more.
2. Do what you know you need to do as soon as possible
We tend to spend much of our mental energy putting things off. But if instead you were to prioritize things that need to be done, and do them as quickly as possible, you may be amazed at what happens to your productivity. You see, when you are using negative energy on worrying about doing something you don’t want to do, that energy can’t be used on being creative or productive.
The first thing you do tends to get done!
So your productivity schedule for the day is this:
1) Most important task (MIT)
2) Most needed to be done task
3) Everything else, bounded by a limited time frame (for example, 2 hours per day on these “everything else” tasks)
Stop multitasking: We all like to think we can multitask, but brain science says otherwise. Between each switch is a blind spot – and a waste of energy and destroys concentration.
3. Postpone your rewards
Give yourself a reward for doing something great, and give it immediately after the something great occurs. This programs your brain to believe that you will reward it for tasks well done, on time, and on priority. When you do this consistently, you’ll likely find that you are more motivated to do your MIT each day, and to do the most needed tasks. You may even find it’s easier to just not do the less important tasks – and they may just disappear!
4. Make sure that you have a clear conscience
If your mind is dragging with negative thoughts, worry about what you need to do, or even shame or guilt over things you are doing wrong, you simply can’t be as productive. So get rid of those negative thoughts, fix the things that lead to a negative conscience, and get your mind clear!
5. Congratulate yourself for what you accomplish.
Your mind will subconsciously work harder when it believes that it will be appreciated. But the only way to train your mind to believe it will be appreciated is to appreciate it. Do this once a day for 30 days and you may be amazed at how much clearer your thinking is, and if your thinking is clearer, your productivity should increase!
6. Focus on what you can do
This is a huge key to productivity. Simply focus on what you are good at, and do the things you are good at. Prioritize them. You may find that the things you aren’t good at simply resolve themselves, or you may find that when you have done everything that you are good at, there is only a small part of the project left, and the motivation of being “nearly finished” will drive you to finish faster. When you focus instead on what you are not good at, if may be a small part of the project, but the act of focusing on it makes you feel like it’s a huge part of the task, and demotivates you to get the task done.
When you get the bulk of the task done before focusing on your weaknesses, it simply becomes easier and faster to complete it.
7. Concentrate on how to help those who will use your product or service
When you focus on how you are able to help others through what you are doing, it gives your mind a much-needed reason for finishing quickly. Our minds don’t like to work on things that have no purpose, and if what you are doing is helping someone else, then it gives your project purpose, which leads your mind to get the job done.
(Note how so much of what I am discussing is this idea of giving your mind the ideal environment to be productive, instead of focusing on productivity. When you give your mind the ideal environment to be productive, it will do it for you, instead of you having to focus so much on productivity itself to be productive.)
8. Strive for balance
This goes back to the idea of doing too much of the wrong things, and this limits your productivity. When you, instead, strive for balance in your day, doing more of the right things, and getting rid of the 30 hours a week of non-productive work, you become more productive with less effort.
Take a break: Want to solve a really hard problem? Step away from it. We have all had the experience of having a great idea on the drive home or in the shower. This isn’t a fluke. The more you work a problem, the more narrow the range of options you see. You get, quite literally, stuck inside a neural network too small to offer you a solution. Go for a walk – even just down the hall. Better still: leave the building and go talk to someone who doesn’t work in your industry. The most creative solutions are oblique.
9. Stay connected with people
Sometimes when you work totally alone, your productivity goes down, your creativity goes down, and your effectiveness goes down. As humans, we are social, and if we take that away, you may find you can’t focus as well. So you may need to increase your social time during work, and find that the rest of your time is more productive.
The flip side of this is that if you are spending too much time with other people, your productivity may go down. So use good judgement. Look around and see what needs to change.
10. Change your environment
When you change your environment, you release your mind to be more creative, which often leads to increased productivity. Here’s why: when you change your environment, you release your brain to be more curious (looking around at things that are not the same as before) and when you release your mind to be creative about your surroundings, you release your mind to be more creative about what you are working on. And when you are more creative about what you are working on, you tend to get better results with less work – hence increased productivity!
11. Avoid perfection
Ever been 90% done with a project that has taken 10 hours already, and then it takes 20 more hours to do the last 10%? Is that last 10 % really worth it? Or could you sand the edges of the project, do some last minute dusting, and have a finished project in just one more hour instead of 20 more hours?
You have to use judgement. If you are a heart surgeon or you rebuild engines, you probably have to go 100%. But if you are writing an article, writing a book, teaching a class, or doing many, many other things, you may be 99% at 90% completed. So just do the last 1%, make 91% your very best, and leave perfection alone and you may find your productivity soars!
12. Keep track of your time
When you keep track of your time, you become intimately aware of the time you are losing through doing unnecessary things. One of the most effective ways to get more productive is to simply track your time. Know what you are doing each 15 minutes, and over time, that awareness will yield additional results.
Tie all this together
What is the #1 tip on this list that resonates with you?
What could get you the most increase in results, the fastest?
Do that tip first.
Next week do the next one down in line.
Incorporate 6 of these tips over the next 6 weeks, and you may see your productivity – meaning what you get done each day – double, without any increase in effort, and possibly even a reduction in effort!
Mix it up: Groups of people make better decisions than individuals.
That’s the message of James Surowicki’s wonderful book, The Wisdom of Crowds.
But – and it’s a big, overlooked ‘but’ – that only works where the teams are comprised of people who are different from each other.
What you need is a wide range of experience, different kinds of education, thinking styles and cultural orientation. That way everyone can surface different solutions from which the best can be made or evolved.
Some people think this is about political correctness; it isn’t. It’s about productivity.
Get a good night’s sleep.
Long days with short nights of restless sleep add up. Studying the Texas City refinery accident, the Chemical Standards Safety Board studied one worked who’d worked twelve hour shifts for 37 consecutive days ane estimated that, with 5.5 hours of sleep per night, he was carrying a ‘sleep debt’ of about a month and a half. That didn’t just mean he felt lousy.
Cognitive tunnel vision is a typical consequence of fatigue.
‘It is common for a person experiencing fatigue to be more rigid in thinking, have greater difficulty responding to changing circumstances and take longer to reason correctly.’