Getting to the important stuff.
4 tips for better productivity.
How many times have you thought, ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day?’. Between running a business and running a family, I think that fairly often. And it seems the world is getting busier. I saw one statistic that said over 206 billion emails are sent a day, and that’s in a world where I’m hearing email use is on the decline. As just one example of the ‘noise’ of our daily lives, it’s no wonder more and more of us are interested in how to be more productive and more focussed. After all, we can’t add more hours to the day, so we need to make the most of the time we have.
Between the work we do here at ethree on performance and the elements of neuroscience understanding we have picked up along the way, there are some things we have learned that can help with personal productivity. We’re going to ‘simplify’ the science, so don’t shoot us if we aren’t quite technically correct on the neuroscience front – we just want you to get the concepts.
The obvious first step to being productive is prioritizing what is most important, but I would argue most of us know what the important stuff is, we just don’t always get around to doing it. So, I’m not going to talk about prioritizing but share 4 tips to eliminate what gets in the way of us getting to the important stuff.
1. Minimize distractions
Your brain is wired to notice things around you, so learning to minimize distractions is key. Today’s world is filled with distractions. For every minute you are distracted you can lose up to 15 minutes of productive time, so those 4 minutes of checking your social media account can turn into an hour of lost time! Turn off your notifications. Put your phone away. Find quiet places to work where you won’t be interrupted (the open plan office won’t help!). And for one week keep track of where you spend your time. You might be surprised by how often you end up doing things that are essentially just a distraction.
2. Break things up
Your brain can’t cope with “big”. It’s not about your ability, potential, bandwidth or anything else, it’s how our brains are set up. So that big initiative you need to get on with? You might be putting it on a back burner because it’s too big for your brain to take on. As much as it sounds cliché, we really do need to eat the elephant in bite size pieces, so break up any big initiatives or goals into smaller steps. A good rule of thumb is to identify an action that will move you forward but that is small enough you can do it in the next week. After that is done, pick another one, and another one and so on. Before you know it, you’ll have the thing done and dusted.
3. Stop trying to multi-task
Sorry to say this, but multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains are linear; they can’t do think about two things at once. When you think you’re multi-tasking you’re just flipping back and forth between different activities. Don’t believe me? Try it. In our workshops we ask participants to write down everything they ate yesterday at the same time as telling the person next to them who their top 10 favourite singers and songs are. When you watch what happens, you can see it in real time; everyone is simply flipping back and forth between the two tasks.
Why does this matter? Well, if you’re going to focus on something important or potentially complex, flipping back and forth doesn’t help the brain focus, so the likelihood is that you won’t get to that challenging task, or at least won’t get it done. The back and forth can make you feel like you’re more productive, but your brain works best if you group like tasks together, like writing all your reports at the same time, even if they are on different topics.
4. Create some space
Complex problems often require unique, different solutions. That comes from insight. We don’t generate insight when we are busy, or by following problem solving or decision-making processes. We generate insight when we are quiet, introspective and slightly happy (yes, that’s my favourite, only slightly!). Think about it. When do you have your best ideas? In the shower? In the car? These are times when our minds are free to wander. So as counterintuitive as it sounds, you might find that you are your most productive at solving problems when you are not trying to solve those problems. We can get stuck in the ‘busy’ trap, but to be really productive, we need to have some space where we are not actively doing.
So, there are 4 ways you can cut through the noise of your day and get the important stuff done. Hopefully reading this article was not a distraction getting in the way of your important stuff, but if it was, we hope it was a useful one! Try the tips out, and we’d love to know what worked, or if you have any other productivity tips you would share!
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