THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Multitasking 1/3

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THE MULTITASKING MYTH

Around a decade ago some employers suddenly started to ask during work interviews: Are you able to multitask? Some still do this although many people are already familiar with the most recent studies which indicate that multitasking is impossible in humans and is merely switching from one task to another. On top of that, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 30-40%.

It may sometimes be okay to combine a physical activity with a cognitive one, e.g. listening to an audio book while riding a bike or washing dishes, but many employers got the idea of multitasking completely wrong. Some of them believe that multitasking is needed and can be done in busy office environments where one needs to answer a lot of phone calls, reply to emails and provide face-to-face customer service. No, it can’t.

Research shows that trying to multitask will actually make you slower and also … lower your IQ! Our human brain can focus only on one task at a time and people who try to work this way and avoid multitasking achieve the best results.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England carried out a study using MRI scans. The findings revealed that people who spend time using multiple devices, for example texting while watching TV, had less brain density in a part of the cortex which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control. Emotional control is a simple term but some of you may wonder what cognitive control means. It basically means that your brain allows you to make decisions based rather on our goals than habits and reactions. It allows you to be flexible and adapt more easily in different situations.

If you are interested to read more about multitasking I’d recommend this book: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw (available here).

Avoid the 3 Biggest Productivity Traps

  1. CATCHING UP

Working more hours often to catch up with the demands at work, or while working on your personal projects, sometimes ends up as a normal working pattern that lasts weeks or months. Working some extra weekends may be a good solution once in a while. It’s really satisfying to feel we are ahead and everything is nicely organised and ready for Monday morning. However, if you do it for a longer period of time, for example a few weeks, your productivity, attention and energy will decrease enormously. According to studies, working approximately 40 hours a week, is ideal in terms of our productivity. Working more than that is a great recipe for burnout, depression and exhaustion! If that’s what you need right now then keep going! … but I’m sure it’s not.

2. EXTRA ACTIVITIES
Many pieces of advice about productivity come down to one thing: try to squeeze in various productive, healthy and personally beneficial activities into your day, whenever you can. I’ve read tonnes of them by now:

  • if you are on a break you can quickly check and reply to your personal emails
  • read and watch news while eating your breakfast
  • listen to audio books while doing gardening/cleaning your house/looking after children
  • write, read and work while you are on a bus or train
  • use an app to learn a foreign language while waiting in a queue

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Some of the advice may be really good and useful for you as long as you don’t try to squeeze in too much. Otherwise you will end up:

– without any breaks and time for recharging your batteries

– with no opportunities to do something without using many of your cognitive skills, such as walking without occupying your mind with work and foreign language courses. Even cleaning house or gardening can be great opportunities to let your brain rest a bit from hundreds of emails, tasks and queries related to your work and projects.

If you forget about your needs to rest and disconnect you will feel tired more often and become a lot less productive.

3. LOW IMPACT VS HIGH IMPACT TASKS.
Every work has some more and less important tasks. You are probably familiar with the 20/80 Pareto principle, which believe me actually works! And it’s pretty straightforward. It says that:

20% of your input on tasks and effort translates into 80% of results.

Make a list of tasks that you need to do on a regular basis – to make it simple choose a maximum of 10 tasks that you tend to do most often. Then think which 2 tasks from this list give you actually the most meaningful and biggest results.

We often tend to spend a lot of time on things like answering emails and making phone calls – and although these things are important, we usually do them way too often. For example, on average most of us check emails every 15 minutes while studies show that to be most effective and productive you should do it only 3x a day if you do an office job. If you can check and reply to your emails only 2-3 x a week, then that’s even better. Of course, your personal email can be checked daily but hopefully you don’t use it as well as a work email.

If you are writing a book your high impact task will be writing and then maybe editing or researching your materials. Plan ahead to do your high-impact tasks when you have most energy, for example, 2-3 hours every morning. Try to do everything to avoid interruptions then. Maybe you can get up earlier, switch your mobile to airplane mode and let others know that this is a very important time for you when you need to work and can deal with their questions and requests later? Whatever you do try not to skip the planning stage which is crucial.

How much your happiness can be affected by a major event?

When psychologists talk about happiness, they don’t mean a temporary emotion and people who are happy just in a particular moment in their life (although of course ‘being happy’ is also considered as a short-term state of mind). Positive psychology as a science perceives happy people as those who are optimistic and content with their life more in general and in the long term. They use the terms life satisfaction or SWB (subjective well-being) to cover this in their research.

There is a term called the hedonic treadmill in psychology (which I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts) and it basically means that we get used to new things and situations quite quickly and come back to our usual happiness level after big events have happened in our life – which are significant in either a positive or negative way. Thus, lottery winners and people who lose a limb in an accident are on average, after around a year, as happy as they used to be before these major events took place! It sounds quite unbelievable but there is a lot of evidence that external factors, situations and events, even if significant, don’t have that large an impact on our well-being as we think they would have.

Happiness can be achieved and enhanced by using the power of your mind and inner abilities! We now know, for example, that a change of habits is possible. Our mind is a lot more powerful than we think it is. We often underestimate what we can achieve just by changing our mindset, setting goals and taking actions; and we overestimate external factors. Maybe because that’s easier? What do you think?

Have a look at my recent video about science & happiness: https://youtu.be/xd0KT9gJask and let me know what do you think about it! Thank you!:)

Productive Mondays! Are you a night owl or a morning bird?

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To tell the truth I’ve always struggled to define myself as either a night owl or a morning bird. Which one are you?

…On a daily basis fully 85% of the people follow an early bird schedule in the morning, but given any choice in the matter, only 22% would continue to do so.” (read more about it here )

Some periods in my life I could say that definitely working and/or studying late evenings or even at night felt most productive to me, and yet on different occasions (depending on my circumstances such as having vs not having children, work shifts etc.) I felt that I kept falling asleep around 9pm-ish but felt so much better in the mornings! Why is that, then? I was curious as to how to find out how my natural biological clock works and if this is even still possible in a world as artificial as the one we have created: we have light at night and technological devices that distract us all the time.

Thomas Edison apparently used to promote his idea of the light bulb a lot by emphasising that future generations won’t sleep much and they will be able to have longer days due to the breakthrough of electric light, and because of this they will be able to achieve more! He wasn’t entirely mistaken BUT… sleeping less than 7-8 hours isn’t part of our human nature and leads to many negative consequences, like bad mood, stress and even to some health conditions… We can control light but it doesn’t do us much good, does it?

On the other hand, when we count how much time we sleep in our BUSY, PRODUCTIVITY-BASED & ACTIVE lifestyles it seems like a huge waste of time and we feel that if we could sleep “just a little bit less” we could accomplish SO MUCH MORE!

I’ve read the book The Power of When (available HERE ) and it got me thinking… The author suggests that each of us can be one of four (rather than just two) types of people or actually… as he prefers to call it – type of an animal. It was great to find this book because it sounds so unfair to categorise ALL PEOPLE simply in one out of two categories: early riser or night owl.

It looks like I’m a bear type and I feel most energetic if I can get up when the sun is rising and go to sleep when it’s getting dark outside. It is a bit problematic where I live, in England, because during most of the cold months days are really short and I can’t do everything just within 6-7 hours a day because that’s the only time we get light! So although I may be a bear, I still need to make a choice and decide whether I can feel better and accomplish more when going to bed very late or by getting up very early. I tried both.

According to studies, night owls can often be associated with intelligence and creativity but there are so many more different benefits that you get when you get up in the morning (read more here).

I think the real breakthrough in my thinking about it was a book which I didn’t want to buy because I felt that the title was somewhat silly… What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: How to Achieve More at Work and at Home by Laura Vanderkam. It turned out to be a fantastic and useful book (available HERE ).

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The author convinced me that getting up earlier and not spending my time on ANYTHING I have to do – such as cleaning, working, cooking, etc. – but on the most meaningful tasks and activities which make me happy, are connected to my passions and are important to me, can be a great way of improving my work-life balance and life satisfaction! Lack of tiredness and little or no distractions help me to achieve a lot more in the mornings in terms of completing different tasks related to writing, for example. Yes, that’s true, it is difficult to get up early… but once you start to do it you just need to stick to the routine even at weekends/ your days off and then it becomes so much easier.

Time Management myth

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I was into time-management techniques a lot when, quite a few years ago, I came across some interesting reading which made a good point that we actually can’t manage, bend or control time in any way. Time exists there in the background of our lives, minutes are ticking and you can do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to slow it down, stop it or allow it to move in a way you’d like.

You can only manage your life, your tasks and activities, your energy levels and perhaps motivation.

Many of us think, “If I only had 2 more hours a day I could accomplish SO MUCH!” As Tony Robbins puts it well: No, you wouldn’t! We wouldn’t do more if we had more time available on a daily basis because the problem is not the amount of time. Everyone has exactly the same amount of time which is 24 hours = 1440 minutes a day. No more, no less.

Some of us come from “nowhere” with no connections, money and other resources and manage to achieve great success, and others don’t.

We often simplify and say that we lack time and that’s the problem. I tend to say it sometimes as well which annoys me a bit, but I guess it’s like a common proverb or a phase that we use now and then to express simply that we can’t manage more tasks and responsibilities than we have.

I don’t like to use the phrase ‘time management’ but if you read my posts you can see that I use tags such as ‘time management’. This is to make the posts easier to find because that’s such a popular term nowadays!

Chris Bailey outlines in his book the Productivity Project that more important is how you plan your days, taking into consideration your energy and attention levels rather than just the time you have. While setting goals and tasks for next week, make sure that you plan to do your most important and difficult tasks when you feel you have most energy and, whenever you can, limit distractions (put your phone on airplane mode and don’t check your emails too often). It’s not always as simple as it sounds, though. Life is unpredictable and there may always be some new urgent tasks to do; however, if you have a flexible approach then you will be doing well.

Just make sure that you try to protect this special time like a lion. If people ask you to have a chat with them on the phone, or invite you for a meal, or try to ‘steal’ this precious time of yours in any other way you need to be firm and learn how to say NO to all these tempting and great offers and invitations. Use your time wisely, on meaningful and significant tasks and activities that matter to you a lot and that help you achieve your goals.

Productive Mondays! How many hours should we work, ideally?

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We often confuse productivity with being busy. What exactly does it even mean? We feel productive when we are very busy, when we have a lot of tasks and complete most of them. Usually the more hours we work, the more productive we feel.

HOWEVER

There has been plenty of research where findings show that if we work too many hours we decrease our productivity A LOT!

What’s more, if we work a lot of hours for a few weeks or more – that’s just a perfect recipe for depression, burnout and anxiety which may even lead to a nervous breakdown!

Labour Economics published an article by Collewet and Sauermann where the researchers outlined their study done on call-centre workers. Even with part-time employees, increasing their number of working hours created more fatigue than productivity! (more about this study here )

Too few hours = we won’t achieve much.

Too many hours = we are tired and our productivity decreases a lot.

What’s the golden rule? What’s the perfect solution, then?

Chris Bailey in his book The Productivity Project (available HERE) talks about an experiment that he did. Namely, he worked alternate weeks for a very different amount of hours. One week he worked 20 hours and another one 90 hours, and in this way he did several weeks.

An important lesson that he realised? That while working 90 hours he did only a bit more work than while working 20 hours!

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When he had only 20 hours to do his tasks, he felt a bit of pressure that his time was so limited so he focused on using his more valuable time (when he had most energy and attention) to do the most important, difficult and meaningful tasks. With that limited amount of time it was also easier not to procrastinate too much (and, apparently, it’s impossible to completely avoid procrastinating) because he had to focus on what must be done, on priorities! During the 20-hour-work week he had more time to recharge and restore his energy levels in various ways too (meditation, exercising, sleeping well, socialising, etc.).

When we work a lot, it’s hard to remember all the time what’s most important, what we should pay more attention to, what’s the bigger picture. Although we work more, we don’t have enough energy and focus to do planning or to do it properly, and to think of possible improvements and solutions to various problems.

Chris dug deep in his research to find out the ideal amount of hours that one should be working so as not to get too tired and to be able to complete a lot of tasks in a productive way. He found that although 46 hours felt like the best working week for him most studies indicate that 35-40 hours a week is perfect to get the job done with maximum productivity.

Surely the more you enjoy your job, the more you are able to work. However, breaks and time to rest are crucial for your creativity, maintaining an innovative and open-minded thinking and approach, and your efficiency.

How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any control over it? Can you improve this aspect in your life to become more productive?

Personal Growth project. When things don’t always go as they should.

What do you do and how do you feel if some days you can’t really do what you plan to do? Do you just ignore it, accept it and keep going or do you get frustrated? Life is unpredictable and it’s difficult to be prepared for everything. We may feel hopeless, but it’s important to remember that some aspects we CAN control and some others we won’t be able to. If we can’t control something – why waste time on worrying and getting stressed about it? If we can control something – again, why allow too many negative emotions to cross our mind? We can decide what to change and how so as to make our plans work.

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This week’s Personal Growth project update isn’t what I thought it would be because the third week of January has surprised me a lot…

Apparently the last two weeks have been the worst in England in terms of the amount of people suffering with flu. Most of my family is sick, including me. I’m actually recovering from tonsillitis, not flu, but that’s not that different really. A bad sore throat kept me awake for nearly three nights. I had to keep working full-time (a long story…) and when you are in your third trimester of pregnancy such a combination of circumstances is not much fun… I felt stressed, weak and unproductive. And as you can see I still feel a bit like complaining about everything ;). I really don’t like to feel this way.

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On the other hand, I try to focus on the positive whenever I can and I’m actually quite surprised that I did anything at all related to my project this week! I did a bit of writing, and  I uploaded some blog posts on time according to my new schedule (Productive Mondays, Happy Wednesdays and weekends with Personal Development). I was reading books and doing some research, and kept my social media related to my project mostly up to date. I should try not to get too frustrated that I haven’t done enough/much this week when there is a good reason for that and I think being ill is probably a good reason. 😉 haha

If your week wasn’t great then maybe you will stop for a moment to consider one of my favourite quotes which  always makes me feel better in such situations:

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What could that reason be this time? Maybe just a simple reminder to slow down once in a while, not to review your goals, but actually to forget about the goals for a few days and re-charge the batteries.

As I mentioned during the project prep time – a flexible approach is, and always will be, critical here (as long as I don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate! ;)). I think I should write the word FLEXIBILITY on a white board in my kitchen to keep this in mind all the time 😉 Without this attitude I’d probably already feel that I’ve failed. If you allow yourself some flexibility and try to get back to a positive mindset whenever you can then surely you won’t fail and you won’t disappoint yourself! 😉

And let me share one more favourite reminder which keeps me motivated in difficult moments:

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How has your week been going? How have you been doing with your goals?