Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could get eight hours’ work done in six hours? There will have been days when you’ve done exactly that. Perhaps a deadline was looming, or you needed to get something important done. Similarly, there will have been days when the opposite was true and it took you eight hours to do just six hours’ work.
The following tips will help you improve your focus, work smarter, and increase your productivity every day.
Master your mental energy
It’s not how long you sit at a desk that determines the value you generate. It’s the energy you bring to those hours that is important.
Use your morning for your most high value tasks
Most people feel their mental energy it’s highest in the morning, between 9am and 12pm. Do your most important work during your best hours. Start each day knowing which three most valuable tasks and, if your best hours are in the morning, do your single most important task first. And stop replying to emails first thing! As soon as you start replying you’re using up your best few hours and you risk spending your highest energy on low-value tasks.
Work in 60 minute sprints with breaks in between
Just as your mental energy fluctuates predictably throughout the day (‘circadian rhythms’), your energy also oscillates in 90-minutes cycles (‘ultradian rhythms’). To stay at your best it’s important to have a break at least every 90 minutes.
Master your attention
Have you ever noticed that you turn down the car radio when you’re lost? Or maybe you’ve seen people stop walking in the middle of the street because their phone call suddenly required their attention? Multitasking is a myth. Your brain can’t multitask, it attention shifts.
It’s been estimated that multitasking causes your productivity to drop by 40% and that you make up to 50% more mistakes. A study by the University of London found multitasking caused people’s IQs to drop by up to 15 points – what you’d expect from a night without sleep – or the average IQ range of an eight-year-old child. To maintain your productivity you therefore need to reduce or eliminate any distractions:
Turn your alerts off
Any external distractions can get in the way of your focus and subsequent productivity. These may include multiple tabs open on your browser, a very noisy environment, clutter on your desk, and interruptions from other people. The biggest culprit is surely our email and text alerts. Turn them all off.
Check your email only 3-5 times per day
Batch process emails a few times a day (aim for three) and turn your email application off when you’re not using it. Some working roles demand immediate email response – but most don’t. And speedy responses become self-perpetuating because you create, and then reinforce an expectation. If something is urgent people can always call you.
Challenge your tech habits
Do you ever find yourself watching television, and simultaneously flicking through your smartphone or tablet? If you were reading a book, would you also be flicking through a magazine? Do you check your phone the few minutes after waking up, or in the last half hour before you sleep, and if you do, is this behaviour you would recommend to someone else? Behaviours like these create and perpetuate a state of ‘continuous partial attention’. Forever switching our cognitive gaze, it must come as no surprise when we find it hard to focus. Become more aware, more conscious and more deliberate with how you use your tech.
Do a brain sweep once per week
Carrying things around in your head is another form of multitasking and it’s a waste of your mental energy. As David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done notes: “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” To enable your mind to focus, you also need to empty it regularly.
The best way to do this is with a weekly ‘brain dump’. It is a simple exercise that helps you to empty all the unattended clutter and miscellaneous ‘to-dos’ that are in your head. Get a pen and paper (or a task based app) and empty your mind. A list of prompts you might find useful:
- Personal – home, friends, family, admin, insurance, bank, holidays, events, birthdays, books, leisure, creative projects, learning, errands, to fix, to buy, to clear, to sort…
- Professional – email replies, phone calls, meetings, things to follow up on, things you’re waiting for, stuff to chase, project next steps, projects to begin, business development, things to communicate, ideas to capture..
Remember, the trick to become more productive is not to work harder or longer. It is to work smarter. I hope these ideas will help.
Best of luck!
3 point review
- Manage your most value work in the morning and have regular breaks
- Turning off all your alerts and eliminate any other external distractions.
- Empty your brain once a week with a brain sweep