Seven Simple Steps to Increase Your Productivity
Not one of them includes doubling your caffeine intake.
A great organisation is made up of great people- no one can argue with that, although a number of CEOs and management figures tend more than often to take the credit when it comes to positive results. On a similar note, however, I’m in the business of hiring brains- so I want them in the best possible shape. While there’s an infinite number of personalities out there, on a more basic level, our brains are wired in very similar ways, and from personal experience, exercising some of these simple - and enjoyable - tips in your working life will keep you more motivated and productive, as well as help you enjoy the working day that little bit more.
Start Your Day Right
There’s the old cliche that the early bird gets the worm, however, that worm could mean any number of things. One of the most transformative things I’ve implemented in my life is setting my alarm clock to go off a little bit earlier than normal, and taking some personal time before I think about the day ahead. This comes in the form of a paddle on my kayak, a simple walk to watch the sunrise, or having breakfast with my son. Just because it’s a weekday doesn’t mean there need to be any negative connotations! If you’re simply jumping out of bed and straight into the car for the work commute, you’re likely going to create a negative feedback cycle associated with your morning routine that will take a toll on your creativity and subsequent productivity. Keep this in mind, and try to do something selfish that will raise your dopamine levels for the morning’s attack at the office.
‘The psychology working in the background here is the concept of the way in which you can create a positive feedback cycle when it comes to work.’
Plan Your Attack
On that note, you want to plan your attack on the day accordingly. It would come at no surprise to you that the morning is your most productive time of day, so keep this in mind as you’re planning which task to tick off the list first. I encourage you to bite off the largest, most challenging - or the task you’re looking forward to the least first thing in the morning. On your commute, try to strategize ways you can achieve that task in the most efficient or effective way possible; but keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving! More often than not, employees will peruse their inboxes for a sizeable chunk of the morning, flippantly tossing up tasks they might achieve before lunch time.
This can give off the illusion that you’re working, when you’re actually wasting some of the most productive hours of the day. I encourage you to stop this, and jump straight into the task at hand with the energy and motivation that you’ve got stored up in the tank first thing in the morning. Once it’s done, you’ll more than likely be riding the positive hormones and psychological benefits from having ticked that box by lunchtime for the rest of the day.
If you’ve agreed upon a deadline for a task in a meeting, bring it forward a day or two for your ‘personal deadline’. You might think that this will create unnecessary stress in your working life, but it’s actually a great tool to increase your productivity and time management skills. In practice, this is even more effective if we’re talking about tasks that don’t actually have a deadline; they’re actually the perfect place to start practicing this skill. If you’re imposing deadlines on yourself for tasks that don’t need one, you’ll find yourself working with more purpose, which coincidentally helps the day feel as though it’s dragging on. The aim here is to eventually get you to work with purpose and avoid procrastination on every project you’re working on. Management will surely notice that you’re taking a proactive approach to the day, rather than a reactive one- which is one of the most desirable qualities I find in my staff.
Olenski’s ‘Two-Minute rule’
Steve Olenski, a famed entrepreneur coined the term ‘two-minute rule’ in the context of business, which touches upon a similar theme to what we discussed in the ‘plan your attack’ paragraph of this piece. Olenski encourages everyone to capitalise on even the smallest windows of time in your working day, and to get a simple task ticked off the list. If you take note of an action or task that can be achieved in a small amount of time like two minutes - be it an email you might have forgotten to reply to, or checking your calendar for the next appointment and doing some quick preparation or simply giving a colleague a compliment on their recent effort (see my piece on gratitude- coming soon) - you’re positioning yourself better for a productive day. Often, people will use this time to get absolutely zero achieved, so my advice to you is to capitalise on it!
Start Saying No
In business, you need to be able to multitask, but there’s an inherent trade-off at stake here, and if you get the balance wrong, it’s at risk of all coming tumbling down. The most effective staff members I’ve got in my organisation are the ones that are able to take multiple projects onboard, but also have the ability to say a simple, “I’m sorry, but I’m working on project X and Y at the moment, realistically, I won’t have time to work on project Z.” Some people are terrified of the prospect of turning down a project in fear of their manager’s reaction, and I'll be the first to admit that there are some incredibly unreasonable managers out there that push their employees way too far, but at the very least, you can raise your concerns about having an overflowing workload, and if you underdeliver on a project, you’ve got valid reasons that you raised with your manager. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, and you should be aiming to have several tasks ‘on the fly’ at the same time, just keep it in the back of your mind that a plate that is too full is likely to backfire and begin to work against you.
Break Up Your Day
There’s research out there published by the Florida State University linking elite performers - be them anything from athletes, entrepreneurs to school teachers - perform at a much higher level when they work in broken up intervals of time. This is something that you’ll often see - wittingly or not - factored into the daily plan of high-level executives that need to cover a lot of ground in a single day. The research purports that if you’re to utilise certain parts of your brain for a certain period of time, breaking this up and moving onto another task will leverage a different part of your brain, or give you a seemingly refreshing break from the task at hand.
On a personal note, this is something that I’ve found transformative in terms of my professional and personal life, as it’s helped me manage time more much more effectively. I’ve started with sixty-minute chunks of time, and eventually honed in on twenty-minute periods of time. This allows me to schedule in more meetings with different people in my organisation, clients and family. It’s worth mentioning that the researchers in question found that the top performers they studied worked no more than 4.5 hours per day on their speciality, despite the fact they managed to stay on top of their game. This goes to show that burying your head in a single project for 8-hours without a break can be a complete waste of time.
On that note, this is a perfect segway to wrap these tips up with arguably the most enjoyable piece of advice I can give. What’s the point of grinding yourself down without rewarding yourself? If you’ve finished the day’s biggest task, act accordingly and give your brain a rest, and aim for something that will give you a positive rush of dopamine. The psychology working in the background here is the concept of the way in which you can create a positive feedback cycle when it comes to work. No matter how imperative a task seems, it’s important to realise that your mental health comes first. I mentioned this point earlier, but managers that rule with an iron first shouldn’t be classified as managers at all. Do your best, but remember there’s a big, beautiful world out there and treat yourself.
A Brief Note for Leaders & Managers:
At Best Practice, i’ve been working hard on imparting the principles of what we call the Best Practice High Five, which I’ll go into more detail on in a future piece. At its most basic level, the high five is a way to increase both the productivity and happiness of your staff; you’ll find they’re closely linked. It’s also worth mentioning that you should start stretching! What I mean by this is increase your flexibility when it comes to adapting to the needs of your staff. If you’re perpetuating a working environment that feels strict and regimented, this will more than likely take a toll on the productivity of your staff- avoid ruling with an iron fist, usually it creates little but an upheaval against your organisation.
As always, thanks for your time.