Whether you’re working a traditional 9-to-5 gig or running your own business, we all struggle with productivity. For many this is a daily struggle. The good news? That struggle will be a thing of the past if you implement these 15 scientifically-proven methods for increasing your productivity.
1Track your time
Time tracking will boost your productivity by allowing you to see how much time you’ve spent on a task. The task may be invoicing or emailing, the tracking will be be done the same. You will also know how much time you’ve wasted. Have you counted all the times you’ve checked your phone when you receive a notification?
Researchers found people who were assigned to wear a pedometer walked at least one extra mile per day on average. It also improved their overall activity levels by 27 percent.
There are hundreds of companies that offer everything from clock timers and time sheets to automated business process features. You can get faster at invoicing, project management, collaboration platforms, payroll software and more. I recommend choosing the right Calendar to help with this.
However, choosing the best time tracking tool for you can be overwhelming. The good news is we’ve already put together a list of 101 time tracking companies for you to check out.
Related: Work Smarter Says Matsi Modise
2Unplug every 90 minutes
If you’re like most people, you’re probably busy responding to emails on the morning commute. You may be answering the phone whenever you have a break – but you’re working non-stop. This is not as uncommon of an occurrence as previously believed. But, we weren’t designed to work like that.
The fact is that our bodies and minds actually follow a daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. “…these are the physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. These respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment.”
It’s the same rhythm we follow for healthy sleep patterns. We shift between several 90 minute cycles of truly deep restorative sleep. This sleep is then followed by a lighter, dream-filled REM sleep.
When it comes to productivity research shows that going full-throttle for eight hours straight goes against this design. We cycle through ultradian rhythms. In other words, the brain can only focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break.
That’s why it’s suggested that you carve your workday into a trio of 90-minute chunks. This change will put you in the patter or order, to achieve maximum productivity.
3Take a nap
Yes. You read that correctly. Studies have found that taking a 20 minute nap in the afternoon can make you more productive. A little nap will recharge, refresh and reinvigorate both the body and the brain. Naps also make you feel more relaxed and will extend your life by preventing risks like heart attacks.
No wonder Google, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble and Saatchi & Saatchi have added Energy Pods (or Sleep Pods) to their work spaces.
4Work in natural light
A study conducted by the neuroscience program at Northwestern University found a strong relationship between workplace daylight exposure and office workers’ sleep, activity and quality of life.
The NU study stated that the employees who worked in natural light slept on average 46 more minutes per night. Workers slept more soundly and efficiently, and reported higher quality of life scores than those who did not. Windowless workers had lower scores in measurements of physical problems and vitality. It proved those who didn’t work near daylight also had less quality sleep.
The NU study goes back to the original proof of the circadian rhythm. So, it’s not surprising that natural light can impact your productivity and energy.
What if you don’t work in an office that has windows? A quick fix would be to purchase a natural light lamp that can simulate natural light. If that doesn’t work, consider working remotely or finding a new job where you can bask in the sunlight.
5Evaluate your internet speed
A Boston-based Analysis Group, via The Washington Post, cities that those with high average internet speeds were more productive. The report added that the cities that offer 1G or higher in internet speeds reported a higher per-capita GDP. The results were analysed next to those cities lacking high internet speeds.
This may sound like common sense to you. Realise how much your productivity will improve when your internet speeds-up. You have probably become accustomed to waiting for webpages to load.
You can run a speed test tool to find out how much speed you’re actually getting. This tests speeds from your current provider. You can also use an internet speed estimate tool. With the test you will get an idea on how much speed you should sign up for.
6Bring the outside, in
Research shows that as individuals we can be more productive after spending time outdoors. Being surrounded by trees and rocks can stimulate and inspire creativity and productivity. Unfortunately, not all of us can get outside every day.
To get around this, bring nature inside by investing in plants. Plants increase our happiness and productivity, while reducing stress. This may have something to do with the fact that plants can reduce the chemicals emitted into the air.
Rodale’s Organic Life has eight recommendations for plants that improve productivity.
7Plan your day the night before
Planning your work day allows you to schedule work on your meaningful goals. You can write these goals to do within the first few hours of the day.
When you’re able to accomplish these goals, your mood will improve. Accomplishing your goals will eventually make you even more productive. Creating a plan also relieves anxiety and leaves some free mental space.
Research has discovered that when you create a specific plan you’re behavior is likely to follow the plan. Don’t hold on to the notion that you can just think through your plan. A study had participants write a report two days after Christmas about how they spent their holidays.
One group was asked to specify where, when, and how they were going to write the report. The control group was asked to write the report, but didn’t create such a plan.
Of the participants who made a plan, 71 percent sent the report back in to the researchers. This is compared against the 32 percent of participants who hadn’t formed a plan.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the leading happiness researchers, describes this in The How of Happiness:
“In sum, across all the domains of life, happiness appears to have numerous positive by-products. Few of us have taken the time to really understand [these]. In becoming happier, we boost experiences of joy, contentment, love, pride, and awe. We also improve other aspects of our lives. Energy levels, our immune systems, our engagement with work and with other people, and our physical and mental health benefit.”
A study from the University of Warwick also found that happiness made people around 12 percent more productive.
“We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organisations. The goal, striving to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce,” said one of the researchers Dr. Eugenio Proto.
If you want improve your happiness, start with the basics like taking care of yourself. This includes exercising, meditating and eating healthy. Start expressing gratitude and surrounding yourself with optimistic people.
9Avoid the news
Living in a world where we’re plugged in 24/7 means that we’re bombarded with news. You may not even want to hear about the particular news story you’re hearing. The problem as Buffer’s Joel Gascoigne explains – the news is negative. The ratio of bad news to good news is around 17:1. As previously mentioned, happiness influences productivity – skipping the news may help you.
Constantly consuming this unhealthy information can affect your mood and prevent you from bettering yourself. For instance, instead of watching the 24/7 news cycle, you could hit the gym. Consider strengthening a skill, or reading a book that’s inspiring to boost your productive and happy self.
10Take breaks with a friend
Sociometric researchers found employees who spent their lunch breaks with others were 36 percent more productive during the week. The same study also revealed that this same group were 30 percent less likely to become stressed. Even when the company went through a round of layoffs later in the year, there was less stress.
Those who were more productive and less stressed were those who socialised. Socialising helps clear the mind and allows us to decompress. Talking to others gives us the chance to gain a new perspective on a problem or task. Companies like Google have been pushing for campus style workplaces. In these workplace employees will all collaborate and interacts with each other during the day.
What if you work from home or are a freelancer? Call a couple of friends and have lunch with them.
It’s true. A study out of the University of Melbourne suggests that procrastination can sometimes be good. Dr. Brent Coker found that those who browse the internet while working are more productive than others who don’t.
“People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration,” Coker said. The study found that those who spend time on websites like YouTube were more motivated. A reasonable amount of time provided a nine percent raise in productivity. Those without the YouTube benefit (I love this) were not as productive.
You can use YouTube to watch clips making you smile or even instructional videos that can help you become more productive. The boss may like the instructional videos from YouTube better than the humors ones.
12Adjust your thermostat
Researchers from Finland found that performance increases with temperatures up to between 69.8 degrees and 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This correlates to 21 degrees to 22 degrees Celsius. The study was conducted at Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Berkeley concurred with the Finland study. Berkeley also found the highest productivity at around 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Cornell study suggests that chilly workers make more errors. More errors can potentially increase a worker’s hourly labor cost by 10 percent. Warming up, “typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output increased 150 percent…”
Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute studied clutter on productivity. They discovered that too much clutter causes brain activity to decrease. Your brain becomes overly distracted by the clutter preventing you from being able to accomplish more.
How often have you had to stop working on a project because you had to look for a tool that you needed? When you find what you need how long does it take you to get back on track?
Keep your workplace clean and organized. Always put things back where they belong.
Mental clutter also hinders productivity. June Saruwatari is a best-selling author of Behind the Clutter. Saruwatari recommended that you to create a to do list each evening or morning. She suggests that you prioritise the list, and then reflect and reorganise it. As you cannot get everything done in one day, this allows “everything in it’s own mental container. You only open the lid when we are ready to deal with it.”
“The brain cannot be in two places at once, so what people are referencing as multitasking is actually what neuroscientists call task switching and that means rapidly moving back and forth between different tasks,” states Devora Zack, author of Singletasking: Get More Done – One Thing at a Time.
Task switching, warns Zack, not only lowers productivity by 40%, it also shrinks our brains. “When you overload your brain trying to get it to task switch, you shrink the grey matter in your brain,” she says.
This means that our brains and bodies should be in the same place and focused on one thing at a time, aka single tasking. You can start by eliminating distractions like turning off auditory dings or pop-ups, cluster-tasking emails, jotting down any distractions so you can revisit them, and carving out around 15 minutes for quiet reflection.
15Listen to music
Noise can be distracting. But, the right noise does have the power to boost productivity. Music in particular can help with focus and concentration when working on repetitive tasks. What kind of music though? The nifty app called focus@will contains a unique library of instrumental music that will increase your attention span and general concentration.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Work 10 Hours Less Each Week
We often equate working hard, long hours with being successful, when in fact, you’re just heading for a burnout. Here’s how to work less, while getting more done.
“The key to increasing profits is to convert unprofitable interactions into profitable ones.”
John D Rockefeller, a man who commanded incredible amounts of money, once said: “Those who have leisure time to spend pursuing their passions and dreams experience the real wealth in life.”
Knowing how to spend time is a more valuable skill than knowing how to make, manage, invest and spend money. It’s wise for entrepreneurs who want to be truly successful to master the use of their precious and irreplaceable time. What I have found most interesting is that those who know how to manage, budget and save time — rather than letting it manage them — will always find it easier to make money.
Learning how to lop ten hours off a typical work week without sacrificing any income may take practice, but it’s easier and faster to accomplish than most people think with these three steps.
Step One: Fire extraneous customers
The first rule of any time management system is to utilise the time we are allotted most wisely. As the saying goes; Time is money. The thief to be most wary of, is the one who steals our time.
So the rather controversial first step is to eliminate wasted time on customers who tie up sales representatives with inconsequential sales, steal your valuable time with constant complaining and waste your accountant’s time chasing them for payment. You need to either get rid of them or transform them into customers who proactively feed the bottom line. While this approach may sound radical, it makes practical sense to only focus on customers who respond with profitable transactions.
Firing customers may involve deleting dead-end leads from the client database. Or it may mean sending customers or clients to a business that more appropriately matches their price demands. Or you could adjust the magnets that are attracting those unwanted customers in the first place. Examples of this are discounts, freebies or products in the business that are not related to the core business model. Concentrate solely on products and services that produce the most profit and cull the dead weight ones that don’t contribute their share to the bottom line.
You could spin those lines off as stand-alone businesses and sell them to another entrepreneur or upgrade to premium versions that offer higher profit margins. Profit is always the goal and is the most important barometer of success.
Step Two: Double the conversion rates of transactions
Money is a fabulous timesaver and those who know how to make money more efficiently can leverage it to carve out more time for themselves. The key to increasing profits is to convert unprofitable interactions into profitable ones. This is a fool-proof formula for saving more hours each day without compromising on productivity or earnings.
Most people crawl toward retirement. Innovative entrepreneurs sprint there in record time. If you invest in a mutual fund or pension plan it may take decades to get enough of a nest egg to make it possible to semi-retire and take ten hours off each week to play golf or spend time with family. However, increasing profits in a business can be done in a matter of days or weeks.
To prepare for your profit-boosting initiative, gather accounting data and metrics to get a clear picture of where your profits come from, how many contacts are made with customers each month and how many customers make actual purchases. An easy way to harvest such information is by using software connected to point-of-sale terminals or cash registers.
Next, launch a marketing and advertising push to generate new customer leads, to encourage existing customers to buy more and to promote the most profitable products or services.
Part of this effort should involve a new way of looking at the business model. Most entrepreneurs see the future of their companies in terms of products and services that fill a particular market need or niche. Find the right merchandise and the customers will come. Build the best resort and it will be booked a year in advance. Another way to view the marketplace of opportunity is to reverse that point of view. Instead of looking for the ideal items to sell, invest in purchasing the loyalty of the perfect customer. Rather than chasing market share, chase ‘wallet share’ or more profitable customer-based transactions. No matter what a business sells, it’s ultimately the customers and how many times they spend money that generates the profits. Invest in attracting and retaining good customers and the rest will take care of itself automatically.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, find out who is buying wheels and make them your steady customers. Then sell them a premium wheel with a wider profit margin. Finally, ask clients to bring in their friends so that you can sell them a set of wheels too.
Once an expanding customer base is established, use incentives such as superior customer service, in-house financing, exclusive product lines and preferential customer perks to inspire clients to double the number of their monthly transactions.
Try up-selling customers to premium products. Cross-sell them to accessories or add-on features. Even down-sell to them by offering a more economical version of the product they can’t yet afford so that they don’t take their business to a competitor. At the same time, continually make a choreographed effort to generate fresh leads for potential new customers.
Step Three: Run your businesses on auto-pilot
Now the business owner has enviable options. One possibility is to close down the business for ten hours each week, take time off and settle for making the same amount of money monthly that was generated before boosting profits by 25%.
Another alternative is to leverage that newfound success for progressive changes and forward momentum. You can maintain the same hours of operation, capture the extra 25% in profits and then wisely reinvest those profits in greater timesaving initiatives.
By working smarter — not harder — through organised systems, cutting-edge technology, innovative advertising and dynamic employee training, you can prepare to put the business into the hands of capable others — which is the next step toward personal freedom. If somebody else is running the store — without any loss of productivity — it is possible for you to literally play golf all day without loss of income.
Distractions Are Hurting You More Than You Realise: Here’s Why
Research shows that returning to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.
For most American professionals, distractions are a normal part of life. You’ll get an email notification in the middle of a project, or a text during a meeting, or you’ll notice an interesting article on social media when you’re trying to focus on a solo task.
Then you’ll dive down that rabbit hole to learn more about it.
On a surface level, distractions range from the pleasant and barely noticeable to the mildly annoying, but they may be affecting you more than you realise.
Building and getting back your focus
For some people, passing distractions never seem to cost much time. They’ll take 30 seconds or a minute to look at their phone, or even two minutes to scroll through their Facebook news feed; then they’ll return to work. But, if this doesn’t sound like you, you may be in the extreme minority, considering that 90 percent of employees self-report using social media during work hours.
Unfortunately, those minutes-long expenditures are only the tip of the iceberg. The time you spend on the distraction itself is trivial in most cases, but you also have to incorporate, in that “lost” time, the minutes it takes your brain to regain its focus on your initial task. And according to a study from the University of California-Irvine, that return to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.
In other words, if you’re distracted at least once every 23 minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll never ramp up to your fully focused potential.
The dangers of multitasking
As if that weren’t bad enough, getting distracted also forces your brain to multitask; you won’t bring a project neatly to a close, so you’ll keep working on it to some degree while you attempt to shift your attention to another task competing for your attention.
This is bad for several reasons. According to Stanford neuroscientist Russ Poldrack, if you learn new information while multitasking, that information can get sent to the wrong part of the brain. You may feel that you’re paying attention in a meeting and reading up about a new creative brief at the same time, but chances are you won’t retain information from either source.
On top of that, the brain isn’t designed for multitasking; there are steeper metabolic costs to shifting your attention, which means the brain consumes far more oxygenated glucose during the changeover. If you switch back and forth between tasks often enough, you could feel disoriented, or even exhausted.
In addition, your brain will produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that often leads to irritability, aggression and impulsive behaviour.
The gateway distraction
It’s also important to consider the fact that most of our modern distractions have the potential to occupy far more than just a few minutes of our time. Most social media apps, for example, are designed to be addictive; they give you just enough of a reward to keep you using them; they provide no sense of completeness because of their infinite-scrolling potential and they constantly give you notifications so you can see what’s new.
If you aren’t careful, a quick look at your newsfeed can turn into a 30-minute long dive into the digital world.
When distractions are good
All that being said, there is a case for arguing that distractions can be beneficial. For example, there’s evidence to suggest that mental distractions can aid in pain relief, especially for sufferers of chronic pain. They may also provide short-term relief for anxiety and distress.
In addition, pulling yourself away from a task can give your brain some much-needed time to decompress and refocus. There’s a reason we tend to come up with our best ideas when we’re bored or otherwise unoccupied; the brain has more freedom and leisure to wander to new places and tinker with problems that exist in the background.
If you’re specifically using a distraction to help your brain refocus (and possibly de-stress for a moment), you can actually get some value from your distractions.
Despite some potential benefits (when your distractions are fully under your control), though, for the most part, distractions are damaging your productivity – and in multiple ways.
If you want to improve your overall output and de-stress in the meantime, your best option is to limit your distractions by turning off notifications, scheduling your breaks, staying more disciplined with sites and apps likely to steal your attention and communicating to your coworkers about your need to focus throughout the day.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Are You A Procrastinator? Don’t Be By Doing These 3 Things
Take control of your time and super-charge your day, making the most of your most valuable resource: Time.
The more time I spend thinking, writing and coaching about how to combat procrastination, the more I realise how much bigger this problem is than I initially thought. Every person reading this column will at some point have fallen victim to this avoidance behaviour. In fact, many of us fall prey to it daily.
If you’re serious about personal and business success, overcoming procrastination should be top of mind. If you’re able to master the ability to not procrastinate, you’ll supercharge your productivity and performance without the need for any new tools, techniques or information.
By simply doing what you are supposed to do, you become more effective. The most powerful truths are often the simplest ones too. Let’s look at three ideas that will help you create momentum.
One: Know Your Style
Did you know there are six procrastination styles? Thanks to the work of Sapadin and Maguire we have identified certain ‘archetypes’ that we can use to relate to procrastination styles. Going through the list is an interesting exercise for raising awareness. It won’t ‘cure’ procrastination but it gives you an interesting starting point for further exploration.
- The Perfectionist does not start or finish in case it is not perfect in the eyes of others or self. Typical for creatives and entrepreneurs.
- The Dreamer wants life to be smooth. They love to dream big without translating it into action. If their dreams never become reality, then they can never fail.
- The Worrier is always wondering “what if something goes wrong?” They get caught up in their heads and over-analyse the situation.
- The Defier is resistant to the instruction of others because they do not want to be told what to do. They procrastinate not because of the task at hand but because of their relationship with the task giver.
- The Crisis Maker likes living on the edge. They feel that the added pressure of a looming deadline makes them work better.
- The Over-doer takes on too much without establishing priorities and boundaries. They ultimately realise that they are overcommitted and start losing their grasp on the task.
Two: Time Immersion (TI)
I am currently completing my Master’s degree in Coaching. There have been times when I have found it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do the work. One effective method that has helped me to progress is to focus on ‘time spent immersed’ instead of focusing on a specific outcome.
Instead of committing to a specific number of words or chapters I commit to just sitting down with the work for a specific amount of time. In my case, 45 minutes. This means that for those 45 minutes I immerse myself in the work. Reading a bit here, writing a bit there, and at the end of the 45 minutes I get up to take a break.
Time Immersion has two very important benefits. Firstly, we often procrastinate because a task is hard, and we don’t want to deal with the pain that comes with working on it. By committing to time immersed, hard things become easier. More importantly, they become easier without the judgement of whether you succeeded or failed. Secondly, it creates momentum. With every 45-minute TI session you will find yourself slowly chipping away at the frustration. We all know what happens when you chip away at a big problem with enough perseverance; it will be conquered.
Three: Let go of judgement
Those who procrastinate are not lazy. This is important to understand. True procrastination is a psychological phenomenon driven by our fear of failure, judgement and low frustration tolerance.
This is why procrastinators will often find other ways of keeping themselves occupied. Again, an avoidance behaviour, not just laziness.
If you identified your procrastination style, then this might have already given you some insight into why you do what you do. Knowing this, you can go beyond and examine the beliefs that you have that maintain your procrastinating behaviours.
Related: 4 Cures for Chronic Procrastination
One way to do this is to listen to your inner dialogue. That voice inside your head that loves to pull you down with negativity. Simply listen to the words that ‘he/she’ is using and then make a concerted effort to examine them. This is exactly what a coach would do.
If your inner voice says that you first need more information before proceeding with a task, stop, and ask yourself if that is really the truth.
If your inner voice says that you are a failure and that completing this task will expose you for the fraud you are, stop, and ask yourself if that is really true.
Usually, these irrational beliefs are easily refuted.
The truth is that you already know enough. You know what to do. You know how to do it. The thing stopping you is your relationship with yourself and the task at hand. You will find the key to overcoming procrastination inside yourself. Spend some time exploring the ideas that I suggested and see your productivity explode.
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