health Sep 29, 2021Nootropics 101
Jan 12, 2022
How to Increase Your Productivity
Many people think “being productive” means working for long stretches, usually multitasking, and without feeling tired or unmotivated. That is not true. “Productivity,” at its core, is about being able to get the most work done in the least amount of time.
We all know that being productive has a lot of benefits: It makes us feel accomplished, often leading to a more successful career. It promotes a healthy work-life balance because we can control how we spend our time. But learning how to be more productive isn't always intuitive. In fact, there are a lot of behaviors that people correlate with productivity that actually work against it.
Let’s debunk the 4 most common misconceptions about productivity:
1) The Misconception About Time:
“I don’t have time” is the phrase I catch myself using to justify why I have delayed a goal for weeks (or months). But while we don’t have control over time itself, we do control how we spend the time we have each day.
Though it may not always feel like it, our time is almost always under our control. So instead of not “having” time, the truth is that you have decided not to prioritize that goal or task.
2) The Misconception About Multitasking:
This is a big one. Research has shown that multitasking leads to lower quality work and less productivity. Switching from one task to the next takes time, which ultimately slows you down. Multitasking can because it can limit our focus, hinder our working memory, increase stress and mental exhaustion.
Our culture tends to glorify multitasking, but the human brain simply isn’t wired that way. Instead, it’s best to focus on one thing at a time
3) The Misconception About Motivation:
Even though motivation does play a positive role in increasing productivity, it is not the secret ingredient. We do not need to be in a particular mental or emotional state to work effectively. If we rely on the assumption that we must feel energized and motivated in order to complete a task, then we are at risk of a gradual yet subtle form of procrastination. We often think that motivation leads to action, but we have the equation flipped. The feedback loop begins with action: Action helps build motivation, which leads to more action, which turns to more motivation.
4) The Misconception About Pressure:
One thing to note here is that there are always individual differences in how we handle stress and work under pressure. There is a law in psychology known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. It states that there is an ideal level of investment to perform a given task. Most of us perform at our best when the task is not too simple or boring, and when it isn’t so difficult that it results in anxiety or stress (that threshold varies from person to person).
Under pressure, with few options left, we usually have to go to extremes to meet our goals. This can become a recipe for disaster very easily. Plus, the extreme pressure from completing one goal can leave us feeling too exhausted to do anything else for the rest of the day. Many people who procrastinate on a task till the very last minute usually end up doing a poor job relative to their best ability.
How to Increase Your Productivity
Although we are in control of our time, there are only so many hours in the day. This is why it is important to make the most of the time we have and increase our output, preferably by working smarter, not longer. Luckily being productive isn’t rocket science. All it takes are three key ingredients: prioritizing, planning ahead, and batching.
It is impossible to prioritize tasks if they are all swimming around in your head. Our brain has a limited capacity, so it is helpful to get everything down and organized in a Master List. The goal is to get all your upcoming tasks and deadlines out of your head and onto a piece of paper or planner.
- List out everything you need to do on a Master List for the month.
- Break the Master List of tasks into weekly and daily goals.
- Separate the urgent tasks from important tasks. Urgent tasks are those that need to be completed right away (i.e., emails, client calls) while important tasks are ones that are important in achieving long-term goals (i.e., building a website for your business), thus yielding the most output.
- Lastly, prioritize each of the ‘important’ tasks on a weekly or daily basis. This ensures you are dedicating time to these tasks that you might otherwise keep putting off.
2) Planning Ahead
Sometimes, despite trying hard to manage our time, we end up with a massive list of urgent and important tasks that need our attention. When this happens, it is important to create a plan that allows us to complete these tasks based on true importance. We can do this by using the Ivy Lee Method:
- At the end of the day, write down the six most important tasks you need to accomplish the next day. Try to not go over six tasks to ensure realistic expectations of yourself.
- Prioritize those six tasks based on their true importance. Pro-tip: If you have two tasks with equal importance, do the most difficult one first.
- The next day, focus on completing the first task entirely before moving on to the next. Work through each task this way.
- At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
- Repeat this process every day.
Research has found that batching similar types of tasks together allows for optimal performance as opposed to grouping different types of tasks. Time batching helps minimize distractions and enables concentration, attention to detail, and productivity.
When you have a list of 10 small tasks, it can be easy to get one done rather quickly and then scroll through Instagram. Separating your to-do list items into batches helps you dedicate your full attention to those particular tasks, as opposed to multitasking and getting distracted every now and then.
Why does time batching work? Because it eliminates the presence of multi-tasking. Research has found that multitasking actually has the opposite effect on productivity. People tend to lose time by switching from one task to another (especially if the tasks are more complex). One classic study (Rubenstein et al., 2001) found that trying to complete two tasks at once decreases productivity by 20%. This number increases to 80% with five tasks.
These productivity tips will help you work smarter, not harder. It is crucial we manage our time so as to meet our deadlines and achieve our goals without getting to the point of burnout. Remember, not every day will be perfectly productive. Consistency is more important than perfectionism. Try to create a system for yourself that works, and with more practice, it will become easier to implement on a daily basis.