In an era of compulsive distraction, it’s growing more difficult to get real work done. As research is pointing out, all the electronic interference is creating a tax on our attention and effectiveness. Email takes over a quarter of most people’s day, although it’s usually effort spent on doing someone else’s work. We train one eye on the system tray and one eye on our real work; the envelope or chime sends us scurrying to read what just arrived.
If you’re looking for some ideas on how to do more better, here are 8 things to do less of. Consider these suggestions as building blocks to improving personal productivity.
1. Sleep late.
Rather than staying up late working and sleeping late, shift your schedule to an earlier pattern. Early hours are quieter, removing interruptions of others. And your energy level is higher when you start the day well-rested, rather than trying to accomplish tasks when your energy is lower.
2. Dive right into email.
One email or news article can ruin your entire day, so rather than diving into bad news, feed your body and mind good things to start the day. Consider using “the 20s”: twenty minutes each of reading (something you enjoy, like a novel or personal development topic), writing (a journal) and vigorously exercising. Do the first two with coffee to wake up, if you like, then be energized by exercise. After you solidify this habit, you’ll be addicted to the endorphins!
3. Focus on email.
McKinsey reports the average worker spends about 28% of the workweek managing e-mail. You may consider email a priority, but don’t let it be number one. An email is often designed to cross something off someone else’s to-do list. To get more of your work done, schedule email periods between more productive tasks.
4. Living for meetings.
It appears that when we’re not reading email, we’re in meetings. Make sure you only attend meetings where you’re going to be a critical contributor. If you’re invited, try to find out what the agenda is and make sure it matters to your role. Improving personal productivity starts with saying no a few meetings. 🙂
The penalty for switching into email or text messages is the same as trying to manage more than one task. Your brain not only cannot do two things (well) at once, but you’re more likely to make errors. If you’re updating a spreadsheet, for example, and you look over to your phone to read an incoming message, you lose your place, and it takes a few moments to get back in flow. Over the course of a day, that switching grows slower, reducing your ability to be productive.
Noteworthy author Cal Newport has written extensively on the mental taxation of multi-tasking in his latest book Deep Work. You will get more done by scheduling time for important tasks, when your energy levels are high, and focusing exclusively on them. Do shallow work (like email) when you’re breaking from your deep work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ignited a movement years ago with his book Flow, which showed the mental benefits to working without distraction. The proof is found in the pudding of many successful people.
Here’s a method to consider: 90/90/1. At the start of each day for 90 days, for 90 minutes, do 1 important thing . You won’t believe your momentum.
6. Tackling too many projects.
As a corollary to multi-tasking, trying to stripe your time between too many projects will also have a negative impact on your productivity. You’re better off doing one big project to completion than trying to juggle three. Just like multi-tasking, switching big projects reduces your effectiveness.
7. Looking for shortcuts.
There are none. If you want to get results, you almost always have to put in the work. Want good grades in school? Study. Want a promotion at your job? Tackle hard projects and do good work. Lifehacking can optimize some areas, but for real gains, you have to focus on important work.
8. Skipping sleep.
Rest is a critical element in improving personal productivity. Personally speaking, I have gone through extended periods of reduced sleep (4 hours per night), and it led to health issues, work errors and personal unhappiness. Although I was ‘busy’, the quality of my work suffered. Shifting back to regular sleep patterns (I’m good for 6-7 hours max…) almost immediately removed the negative impact of short nights. Your brain continues processing in your sleep, sorting and storing information for retrieval – you’re still working anyway!
Big Steps to Improving Personal Productivity
This list of 8 changes represents a tectonic shift for many people. It would probably be impossible to tackle all of them at once (multi-tasking!). Each can have a strong impact individually, so consider adding one at a time to your routine. Get used to going to bed at a reasonable hour and waking up early. Then add some healthy mind & body time for the first hour. Then add 90/90/1…
Pretty soon, you’ll be crushing it at school or the office.