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 to stay more productive? And why time-management isn’t the right answer.

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Nowadays we receive 5 times more information on a daily basis than just a few decades ago. We are expected to juggle many different roles and responsibilities and we constantly feel that we should be more productive.

There is a bit of a paradox here that people believe in. We feel we should work more and faster in order to be more productive. If you are a factory worker that’s probably the case but in most other jobs in order to be more productive we need to SLOW DOWN!

When did time start to matter to people SO MUCH? I find history quite fascinating so let’s just go through a few interesting facts:

  • In 1275, the first mechanical clock was invented in England. The oldest working clocks usually did not have any face and told the time by striking the hours.
  • Pocket watches started to be produced in the 16thcentury but showed only hours. Minute hands were added to the clocks in the 1680s. Then the second hands were added around 10 years later.
  • Mass production of watches started in the 19th century and was related to industrial changes.
  • The first wrist watches were wore by women and often used rather as a piece of jewellery than a device to measure time.

Apparently before people used watches If they wanted to tell how long something may take they would describe it by giving an example of an activity that was well known e.g. “like eating a banana”, so then everyone knew that they meant a very short period of time.

Time management used to be crucial in the industrial economy but nowadays, in the knowledge economy (when we use our knowledge to create values and products), it is ONLY ONE OUT OF A FEW important factors which can improve our effectiveness, productivity and work-life balance.

Actually managing your energy and tasks is a lot more important than time-management. Instead of worrying about passing hours and days and how we can squeeze more tasks into small blocks of time, we need to divert attention into more significant aspects, more innovative techniques and solutions which can help in achieving optimal productivity.

We feel most productive when we do a lot of things and work longer hours. Many people think then that to accomplish more you need to put more effort in, sleep fewer hours and work additionally at weekends, to be always ahead of competition! There is a bit of truth in it. Nothing that’s great comes easily and if you want to have exceptional results you need to put a lot of work and energy into whatever you are doing – writing a book, working on your business plan or creating a project for your university course or work. However, working more hours won’t make you more productive. Studies found that we should work, ideally, 35-40 hours a week in order to achieve the best results. Working more than that may work for very short periods of time—for example, a few days—but in the long-term working a lot will make you exhausted and depressed and you are at high risk of burnout. To be more productive focus on slowing down MORE!

Remember about regular breaks and getting 7-8 hours of sleep everyday as well. We all seem to know these simple rules but they are neglected by SO many of us!

Time usage is vital in our lives (that’s why we all keep looking at watches, and the most popular word in the English language is…time!) so I don’t want to say that this is not important but there seem to be other more crucial factors which can decide how effective, productive and successful we are. Focus on managing your energy levels and attention and consider how you can avoid distractions. Also, focusing on the right tasks seems a straightforward rule but is often neglected by many people who instead of spending some time on reflection, prioritising, planning and reviewing try to do more tasks and take work home.

What do you do to boost your productivity?

 

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?

Welcome to the Productive Mondays cycle!

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I’ve mentioned in one or two of my previous posts that 92% of people don’t achieve their personal goals. What about their New Year’s Resolutions? So actually these 92% of us fail by exactly… 15th January (today’s date!)! Although the chances are that small, I really hope that you are doing well with your goals.  Even if you haven’t been perfectly on track you can sit back, reflect on the bigger picture and spend a bit more time on planning. Perhaps you tried some techniques and methods which did not work well. What can be done to improve this, then? Be flexible, open and kind to yourself! You can do anything you want to with THE RIGHT MINDSET!

Psychologist Dr Gail Matthews found that we are 42% more likely to achieve goals simply by writing them down! (more about it here)

And how many people actually write their goals down?……3%!!!!!!!!!!!

There is one additional rule here: write about your aims on a REGULAR BASISreview them, update them, consider different solutions and methods!

This likelihood increases even more if you talk about your goal to a supportive friend who believes that you can achieve this.

Why is this all so important?

  • When you write things down and share them with a friend you need to concentrate a bit more to word your aims clearly and be specific, and this can make your plans more organised and structured
  • so this is like a first step which makes something invisible into visible & tangible
  • when you write about what’s important to you, then you’ll probably think more about it during the day too, and you will pay more attention to opportunities that you may encounter during your day
  • the more specific your goals are in terms of measuring them and with regard to time–the more achievable they will be

What do you have if you don’t write your goals down? Your dreams plus… an additional 2,500-3,300 other thoughts (per hour!) mixed up in your head… and this makes your passions and aims less significant than you’d like them to be.

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Apparently, sharing updates with regards to your progress is another big important step if you’d like to ensure that you increase the likelihood of achieving your goals even more. Again – sharing them only with a friend is perfectly fine

About the world obsessed with time

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I’ve recently read Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Garfield (available here) and the book contains some really interesting anecdotes; for instance, about French who tried to implement the idea of using 10-hour, instead of 12-hour, clocks. The idea was that all 24 hours would be squeezed into a day-and-night-time period of ten hours. How? Simply there would be more minutes in each hour. This idea hasn’t found many enthusiasts though. Clocks are an old invention and we are so used to the usual style and schedule of hours and minutes that we find it difficult to accept any modification of them.

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Sometimes I think about time usage and discuss it with others because it is strictly related to productivity, but until very recently I didn’t really pay much attention as to how OBSESSED the modern world is with TIME.

  • Time is precious
  • Me time
  • A race against time
  • Have a hell of a time
  • Have the time of your life
  • Time is money
  • Ahead of one’s time

… and lots of other phrases that we use very often indicate that time has become something nearly as significant in our lives as food, air or feelings.

Teams who work on updating Oxford Dictionaries decided to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the English language to check what words are the most commonly used. If we ignore words such as “the”, “of”, and some linking words that we use in sentences a lot, and focus purely on nouns, then there is the interesting part!

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The most commonly used English word is … TIME! (more about it HERE )

“That’s unbelievable!” I thought. I know that everyone, particularly in Western developed countries, is kind of fixated about being on time, controlling or managing their time and so on BUT… really?! When and how did we get to the point where we use this word more often than a lot of other significant words which describe our everyday life?

Just if you are curious  what are the rest of the 10 top most commonly used words in the English language… Here we go: person, year, way, day, thing, man, world, life and … hand (?). I understand we use words such as “thing” or “life” often, but “hand”? Another little surprise 😉

Time-management books and articles are incredibly popular nowadays and yet I don’t really believe that we can manage or change our time. Do you? We can surely manage our tasks, activities and life. That’s why I prefer to word it rather as time usage or planning one’s day/time. However, I know that ‘time management’ is a phrase used EVERYWHERE so for simplicity sometimes I’d use it as well (or when I use tags, for example,so people can find my tweet or blog easier).

Do you use or have you ever tried any productivity/time-management tips and techniques? What’s your favourite one?