Americans are workaholics. According to a recent study, Americans work 25% more hours than Europeans. We also retire later, and take fewer vacation days. And yet despite all of this extra work that we do, it never seems to be quite enough. Inevitably, every day we are left feeling like we didn’t get enough done, like there was more we wanted to accomplish, and that we wish we’d been more productive.
Ever heard somebody say, “work smarter, not harder”? Yeah, we hate that one too. Clearly, that is a meaningless platitude. But the idea behind it is productivity. As Americans, we are bound to be working hard – and harder than almost anybody else. Intelligent people can disagree about whether or not that is a good thing, but the least we can do is try to be more productive in those hours that we are working, so at least we don’t end each day hating ourselves and wishing we’d gotten more done.
Additional productivity is not some mythological state of enlightenment. There are real, tangible strategies you can implement to make it happen. And we’re going to help get you there.
Track Your Time
I wear a fitness tracker, which, granted, some people think is dumb. But many more people are buying in (wearable tech is estimated to be a $34 billion industry by 2020). These days, people are tracking everything from how frequently they stand up, to how much water they drink. There is good and mounting research which shows that when we track things like our sleep and exercise, it keeps those activities at the front and center of our minds, making us more likely to pay attention to them, and thus hold ourselves accountable and engage in good habits. The same is true for our time. There are loads of time-tracking services out there (I like Hours and Harvest, personally) which can put you on the clock and force you to reconcile with the amount of time your tasks are really taking you. You could even go with something as simple as a kitchen timer or a wrist-watch, or if you want to get dead-serious about tracking your time, you can go with a service like RescueTime, which runs in the background on your computer and mobile devices, then tells you how much time you are spending on given websites, social networks and apps. It can be a brutal wake-up call.
Telling you to make task lists would seem like dumb, obvious and lazy advice (and it is). Chances are, you’re already making lists. You’re probably so loaded up with lists that your lists need lists. Finding an increase in productivity is going to be largely about finding a more efficient way to tackle those lists.
Going back to my point above about time-tracking, this is where you can put some of that data into practical use. When you know how long certain tasks are going to take you, you can schedule your time more honestly and effectively. Knock out the short tasks in the brief periods around the end of the day or before lunch when you might be running low on brain-power. Load up the big tasks for when you are at your freshest and know you can dig in for the long haul – or maybe even break up the really big tasks into smaller sub-tasks and spread them out over multiple days. Not only will this honest scheduling of tasks help you get more done, you’ll feel way better at the end of the day when you see you were able to actually accomplish everything you put on your agenda.
Multitasking doesn’t work. It splits your focus, costs you mental energy and makes you less efficient. This is science. Our brains simply don’t work this way (assuming you are human and not some sort of hyper-intelligent robot – if so, carry on).
This is another obvious one that you probably know, have heard a thousand times, and ignore. But I’ll say it again with the hopes of reminding you. Sitting is terrible for you. Sitting for long periods of time is really terrible for you. And the longer you sit and attempt to work for an extended period, the more concentration you lose and the less efficient you become. Again, science.
Those constant notifications you’re getting on your computer and smartphone and smartwatch? They can do the same damage to your productivity that multitasking does. Every time you see a new email pop up while you are in the middle of doing something else you start thinking about that email, stop thinking about whatever you were just doing, and then have to go through that process again to switch back to your task – and where were you? The more times a day you let yourself go through this process, the more time and brain power you are wasting. Chance are, your computer and smartphone already have a button you can quickly access that hides your notifications for a while. On iOS, Android and Mac it’s called “Do Not Disturb”. Windows calls it “Quiet Hours.” I call it necessary for getting things done. Take advantage.
Work With A View
This one is going to sound like silly hippie mumbo-jumbo, but there has been a ton of research that suggests an aesthetically pleasing work environment can have a huge impact on your productivity. That’s why all these Silicon Valley tech companies are painting their offices with bright colors, filling their spaces with natural light and tossing those old “Dilbert” cubicles into a dumpster fire.
Days don’t have to end in frustration about not getting enough done, and empty promises to yourself that tomorrow will be better. Adopting some of these simple strategies to increase your productivity can have a huge impact not only on your business, but on your mental health and well-being.
Want to discuss business strategy or ways to drive your business forward? Contact 10twelve today!