by Zara Mohammed, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 15th April, 2019
Contrary to what some people may think (i.e. your boss), productivity does not increase just because you are hired to work longer hours. In fact studies have shown that people are often more productive when they work fewer hours. Keep reading to find out why, and for more tips on how to be more productive at work and in your everyday life.
Productivity is not necessarily about how hard you work, it is more related to how efficient you are.
There is a good reason as to why students are advised to revise for exams in "bite-size chunks", it is because our brains are more efficient at recalling and retaining information in shorter concentrated bursts, that when overworked for long hours, becoming fuzzy and less sharp than at the beginning of a revision session.
The same goes for any situation. If you want to have a productive day, you are more likely to get through all of your tasks, do them well and enjoy them, and have time left over, if you divide your day up into manageable sections, allowing your brain to give full focus to one activity at a time.
Forget multi-tasking if you want to work more efficiently and be more productive. This simply dilutes your attention, making it feel like you are taking longer to do things.
Outsourcing or automating activities on the other hand is a very effective way to be more productive. Why waste your precious time manually completing repetitive tasks if you can get someone or something else to do it?
By far the most effective way to turn a big daunting task, or even just something mundane that you have found yourself procrastinating over, into a pleasurable activity that you can complete in a set amount of time, is to make a Plan of Action.
You can apply a simple strategy or "Plan of Action" to anything in your life that you want to get done as painlessly as possible - whether it is sorting through and minimising your closet or writing a full-length novel.
Incorporating a strategy is exactly the same as breaking a bigger task up into smaller chunks, like when you were at school and had to revise for your exams, so that you can focus your attention on completing parts of the task in succession rather than wasting time feeling overwhelmed by the bigger picture, which can often lead to feeling paralysed or being easily distracted.
Your strategy should not only include what you need to do, but also carve out time in your schedule to do it. The trick is to break it up and spread it out. Including breaks or other activities in between, especially if it encourages you to get up and move about or do something unrelated to your big task, is useful because it gives your brain a rest, so that when you come back to it in a little while you feel refreshed and clear-headed, ready to focus again.
The main key to being efficiently productive is to approach your tasks feeling refreshed and organised. If you know what you have to do, and you have set out a clear amount of time to do it in, you are more likely to do it. Creating small deadlines, and being rewarded for meeting them can really help. It is always more enticing to complete a task well if there is a good incentive.
The beauty of life is that everybody is different. This is what makes the world go round. What one person is good at another person's talents may lie in the opposite thing. What one person may hate doing, another person may find great enjoyment in. If you want to start being more productive in your work and your life you have to figure out how you work best.
For example, some people are "morning people" and they love to get up at the break of dawn to get all of the important stuff done and dusted by lunchtime.
I have always wanted to be one of these people, but the truth is that I just seem to be able to sit down and concentrate better in the evening when I know that other people are settling down to go to bed. I am a writer and I feel like the world around me is just more quiet and settled after dark, and that creates a relaxing environment and mind-set for me to be at my most productive when it comes to writing. Maybe I feel like I'm not missing out on anything during the week when I work in the evenings, who knows?
The same goes for where you find yourself to be most productive. Some people find quiet places like libraries to be distracting and weird, and they prefer to lose themselves in the buzz of a busy coffee shop to get on with some work on a laptop. Some people find that they are more likely to knuckle down and get things done when they have company, or if they have their favourite music blaring.
Taking the time to figure out when, where and how you function best, and then using that information to design a task schedule that is realistic because it will actually work for you, is one of the best things you can do to increase your productivity levels.
It makes sense to think of your body as a machine, because essentially it is one. If you want it to function at its optimum capacity you need to look after it, and that means that you need to provide it with the right kind of fuel, maintain its general health, and ensure that it gets enough downtime so that it doesn't experience burnout or malfunction (i.e. illness).
In other words, are you getting enough sleep? Sleep is a time where your body works on healing itself. You should be getting around 8 hours sleep every night, but many highly productive people swear by taking regular naps through the day. If you do this you will allow your body to reboot and prepare itself for your next task, and be able to approach everything in your life with zest.
Another way of rebooting your body and your brain is to switch activities regularly from mental activity to physical activity. For example, after working on the computer, you may want to go for a short walk and get some fresh air.
If you have been reading, doing something with your hands like preparing dinner or playing a musical instrument can feel good. If you have children or pets you can engage with them to shift your brain's focus to a different, more primal level.
Meditation is also a great way to clear your mind so that you can be more productive. Try doing some yoga in the morning, or simply sit with your morning coffee and spend some time by yourself before you start your day.
You may choose to reflect on the previous day or week, or think about what you want to achieve next. Journaling is a good way to get any thoughts or worries you may have out of your head so that they don't interfere with your productivity.
Discovering how to function at your most productive level is a personal journey, and the more you tailor your efforts to what you know works well for you, the more you can make the most of your time.
To summarise, I thought it would be interesting to ask a few people how they are able to be more productive. This is what they told me:
"I write everything down!"
"Get yourself a whiteboard - I swear by it. Anything that needs to be done goes on the board, and when I've done it, it gets wiped off. When the whiteboard is clear, I know I can truly relax."
"I think a good sex life can do wonders for productivity."
"I have a personal assistant. She sorts everything out for me and I just go and do what I'm told."
"I decided a long time ago to delete all of the unnecessary apps and games from my mobile, and I find that I am a lot less distracted. The worst app I had was a news app, I used to read it on the loo and my wife would complain that I'd disappeared off the face of the planet again, when we were meant to be going out or something."
"Get a dog! Walking my dog helps to clear my head and rid myself of all the stresses of life. It's also a great excuse to get out of the house or the office when you just want some time to yourself."