I’m sorry, but I haven’t been able to convince any major calendar maker to add an eight day to the week, so instead, we’ll just have to do a little more with each day. Here are 5 mistakes you might be making that are keeping you from being super productive.
1. You’re multi-tasking
I know you’ve claimed constantly that you’re a great multi-tasker. Somehow, everyone is great at multi-tasking. Truth is, multi-tasking is not great. Constantly switching from one task to another is the best way to do shoddy work.
Every time you switch tasks, your mind basically needs to shift gears and regain context. This takes time and makes you less productive. And because your mind isn’t able to completely let go of all the other tasks you’ve been doing, you are more prone to mistakes. It also becomes easy to lose track of what is actually important and what isn’t.
There are a few tricks to reduce how much multi-tasking you do, and they involve prioritizing. Some people are able to make a simple to-do list, but as soon as you’ve created your list, mark your 1–3 most important tasks. Ignore everything else until these are done.
The simple to-do list is great for some things, but doesn’t take into account that some things just have to get done now, even though they aren’t as important as something else. If this is the case for you, you might want to try a grid popularized by Stephen R. Covey. This matrix combines urgency and importance.
|Important||Good project with deadline approachingMeeting with a new clientTelling your boss how nice his new haircut is||Continuing educationEating betterThe super awesome idea you’ve been telling yourself you will do
Friends and family
|Not Important||Most meetingsSome of your emails||TPS reportsMost of your emailsFacebook, fantasy sports, etc.|
For most, the important, not urgent items are the ones that get ignored, most likely because they require hard work but are easy to push off until tomorrow. These are things big things, and you likely won’t be able to complete them today, but you need to be doing something about them every day. Think like a tortoise and just keep taking a few small steps every day. Odds are you have at least a little extra time you can move over from the unimportant distractions in your life.
2. You sit at your desk working all day
I know this is a little counter-intuitive, but working all day isn’t necessarily making you productive. It’s easy to burnout and lose focus. Too often we get locked in on a problem and can’t see past one solution we’ve developed and how it isn’t working. We’re essentially just beating our heads against the wall, hoping the wall gives up before we do. It’s not likely any time soon.
Our brains do tend to act a lot like muscles, both in how it grows and atrophies based on use, and in how it gets tired and needs a break sometimes in order to put forth a better effort.
Get up from your desk and take a walk, thinking about anything but work. You’ll come back after five or ten minutes feeling refreshed and ready to tackle your work with new vigor. Or just get up and go talk to somebody. This can get your mind off work for a while, or you can seek out their perspective on your task. Either way, the few minutes spent away will make you vastly more productive for hours.
3. You’re not taking care of yourself
You’re not a machine, and if you are, you’ll still need some maintenance to perform at your best. Because have you ever thought, “Wow, I’m really tired. I should be able to get a lot done today.” Of course not. Your body is a limiting factor in your productivity. If it isn’t feeling great, you’ll be pretty inefficient in everything you do.
The fixes are simple but not always easy. Get more sleep, meditate, eat better, drink or smoke a little less, get some exercise. It’s just that easy, right. I know changing habits is hard. So, again, think small. You don’t need to be perfect, you just need to constantly do a little bit better. One of the most common habit changing tips is to focus only on one habit at a time. A 30-day challenge can be a good way to do this. You’ll feel better, more disciplined, and more productive, because even though most of these things will take a little bit of your time, they will improve your performance the rest of the day, actually giving you more time.
4. You say “yes” too much
The universe may be infinite, but your time isn’t. Any time you say “yes” to something, it means less time and energy you can give to something else. I know you want to make everyone happy and seem eager to please, but something will be sacrificed. You’ll be letting someone down if you spread yourself too thin.
To address this, just remember to always consider your task matrix. Ask yourself where this fits into the importance/urgency grid. If it’s not important, say “no”. If you have too many urgent tasks, either say “no” or explain how far down your priority list it is so the correct expectations are set. Of course, sometimes you might not have the power to say “no” to something a superior is asking, but explaining your priorities and time constraints will allow for realistic expectations to be set.
5. You’re scared
This isn’t that scared of spiders feeling. This isn’t really a conscious fear. This is that deep down, hidden, I don’t know if I’m good enough fear. The fear that makes you procrastinate and look for distractions, because you’re worried that you aren’t going to do a good enough job on your big important work. This seems to grow in relation to how important the work that you’re doing is, and it’s easy to say that it is something else.
Again, think like the tortoise. Break your big task into small tasks so they seem more manageable. Although we often don’t want to admit that we’re lacking the confidence to tackle our work, sometimes that is what we need to do, even if only to ourselves. And after doing so, spend a little time thinking about all the other big accomplishments you’ve achieved in the past and how this is no different.
Get to work
Now that you know what you need to do, go do it, or at least some of it.
Matt Smith works for Dell and has a passion for learning, leadership qualities, and writing about technology. Outside of work he enjoys entrepreneurship, being with his family, and the great outdoors.