We are creatures of habit and so are our brains. When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don’t have to think about the task.
Regardless of your job or industry, there aren’t always enough hours in the day to get everything done. As a result, you constantly feel like you’re always behind. And that’s just not good for your productivity or your health.
So, what’s the answer? Work more hours?
Not necessarily. As Bob Sullivan explained on CNBC.com, “Research that attempts to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours — so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published last year by John Pencavel of Stanford University.”
Instead of putting in those extra hours, you can become more effective at work by focusing on what really matters. And you can get started with that ASAP by following these ten simple tips.
1. Trim the fat.
You’ve just been assigned a major project. Naturally your mind is racing with a million different thoughts on where to start and what you’ll need to get the job done on time. As a result, you start creating a to-do-list that is massively bulky.
The problem with these out-of-control to-do-lists is that they’re overwhelming and prevent you from being productive. That’s because you’re multitasking and directing your energy to unimportant tasks and activities.
Instead, keep your to-to-lists lean and mean by only focusing on your 3 to 5 most urgent, important, and challenging tasks for the day, aka your Most Important Task (MIT). Focus on one task at a time before moving on to less critical tasks. When you do, you’ll feel more productive and less anxious.
Lou Babauta of ZenHabits suggests that at least one of your MITs should be related to your goals and you should work on them in the AM Whether if it’s at home or in the office, tackle your MIT first thing in morning.
According to Lou, “If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them. Get them out of the way, and the rest of the day is gravy!”
2. Measure your results, not your time.
When it comes to productivity we often focus on how long something takes to complete; as opposed to what we actually accomplished in a day. For example, you just spent four hours writing a 1,000-word blog post. You may be be a bit bummed since that took a nice chunk out of your day.
But, what if you focused on the smaller parts of the blog post? For example, you broke into five 200-word sections, formatted it properly, added headings, ran a spellcheck and added images. Suddenly you realize you actually completed a lot in that timeframe.
In fact, research from the Behance team found “that placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results leads to a culture of inefficiency (and anxiety).”
“The pressure of being required to sit at your desk until a certain time creates a factory-like culture that ignores a few basic laws of idea generation and human nature: (1) When the brain is tired, it doesn’t work well, (2) Idea generation happens on its own terms, (3) When you feel forced to execute beyond your capacity, you begin to hate what you are doing.”
One way to assist you with measuring results instead of time is by generating done lists. This is simply an ongoing log of everything you completed in a day. By keeping this list you’ll feel more motivated and focused since you can actually see what you accomplished.
Additionally, according to Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich, done lists allow “you to review your day, gives you a chance to celebrate your accomplishments, and helps you plan more effectively.”
3. Have an attitude adjustment.
The team over at Mind Tools state that we’re more effective at work when we have a “positive attitude.”
“People with a good attitude take the initiative whenever they can. They willingly help a colleague in need, they pick up the slack when someone is off sick, and they make sure that their work is done to the highest standards.”
And, you’ll never hear them say that their work is “Good enough.” That’s because they go above and beyond.
Furthermore, a good attitude at work will help you set standards for your work, ensure that you’re taking responsibility for yourself, and make decisions easier since they’re based on your intuition. “This admirable trait is hard to find in many organizations. But demonstrating ethical decision-making and integrity could open many doors for you in the future.”
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Regardless if you’re freelancer, entrepreneur, or employee, there will be times when you will have to work with others. As such, you should strengthen your communication and collaboration skills. When you do, you’ll eliminate unnecessary rework and wasted time from straightening out any misunderstandings and miscommunications.
You can start by enhancing your active listening skills and staying on one topic when communicating. For example, when composing an email, keep it short and to point. Don’t throw too much information in the message since it will only confuse the recipient.
5. Create and stick to a routine.
“We are creatures of habit, and so are our brains. When we establish routines, we can carry out tasks faster since we don’t have to ‘think’ about the task – or prepare for it – as much, and can work on autopilot,” says Hallie Crawford, a certified career coach, speaker, and author.
For me, I use an online calendar management tool to create and stick to the following routine:
- I wake-up at 5:15 a.m., exercise, shower, get dressed, write and reflect, respond to emails, and set my goals for the day.
- From 630 a.m. to 8 a.m. I work on the hardest and most important tasks of the day.
- Work on my next most important tasks from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- Regroup after lunch, which may include a nap.
- Plan for meetings, calls, and distractions from 3 p.m. on.
- 6 p.m. I leave work to relax and spend time with my family.
6. Automate more tasks.
Want to the secret of getting more done? Reduce the amount of decisions you have to make throughout the day. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg wore that same outfit for years. Most days he still does. It prevented fatigue. I will say though, I tried this and it was hard on my relationship with my wife. Make sure you find your balance.
“The counterintuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy,” wrote Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, in the Harvard Business Review.
“It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.”
In other words, build routines and habits so that you’re not deciding. You’re just doing. Hence why Zuck wore the same clothes everyday. By eliminating those silly or frivolous, he could focus all of his energy on more important work decisions.
7. Stop multitasking.
We all believe that we’re multitaskers. In fact, humans just aren’t capable of doing multiple things at once.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
Instead, we’re simply shifting our attention from one task to another very quickly.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said.
“You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”
In fact, researchers have found that they can actually see the brain struggling when multitasking.
So the next time you have the urge to multitask, stop. Take a breather and then go back to focus on the one thing that needs to get done right now. Once that’s done, then you can move on to something else.
8. Take advantage of your procrastination.
This may sound counterproductive. But, there’s actually a method to the madness here.
According to Parkinson’s Law, which was named after after historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson, “If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”
Think about it. You’ve had a deadline at work looming over your head for a month, but you just cranked it during the final week.
This doesn’t give you permission to wait until the 11th hour. It does, according to Thai Nguyen of the TheUtopianLife.com, provide “great leverage for efficiency: imposing shorter deadlines for a task, or scheduling an earlier meeting.”
9. Relieve stress.
Since stress can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral problems – which can impact your health, energy, well-being, and mental alertness – it’s no surprise that stress hinders your work performance.
The good news is that you may be able to relieve that workplace stress.
According to the American Psychological Association, “the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby.”
The least effective strategies, however “are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.”
Another effective stress management technique is to increase your control of a situation in advance. You can start by planning tomorrow the night before and sticking to your routine. This way you know what to expect in the morning.
10. Do more of the work you enjoy.
Not everyone is privileged enough to do what you love for a living. Even if you are chasing your dreams and following your passions, there will still be tasks you’re not fond of doing. In either case, focus more on the work that you actually enjoy doing.
For example, if you’re a chef, then you obviously have a love for cooking. Instead of spending your days doing administrative tasks, outsource or delegate those tasks so that you can spend more time in the kitchen or at the market finding fresh ingredients.
When you do, you’ll feel more fulfilled, inspired, challenged, and productive.
This article was originally published at Inc.com.