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 Tell When It’s Time To Quit And Move On
Owning your own business is always a wonderful dream. The reality isn’t always so wonderful.
Becoming an entrepreneur, owning your own business, setting your own hours, being the boss … for many of us, it’s a dream come true. At the same time, though, many business owners wake up one day and wonder, “How did I get here? And how can I get out?”
People strongly attracted to the idea of creating and growing a small business of their own one day probably can’t imagine feeling a pervasive need to flee from that business. Some balk at the mere suggestion that sometimes quitting a business might be the right thing to do.
It’s wise to have an exit strategy in place, and you also must know when it’s time to implement it. While the right answer in any individual case will vary, there are some common circumstances in which leaving or shutting down a business you’ve built might be the prudent course of action.
1. You’re so busy that if you take time off things start to fall apart
Starting a business of your own requires a lot of hard work and long, gruelling hours. However, if you’re still pulling all-nighters and working straight through the weekend five years later, that’s not a good thing.
Before you throw in the towel, explore ways to get your life back in balance. Delegate responsibilities to trustworthy employees, and train them well. However, if you’ve tried this approach without success, it might be time to consider selling the business and moving on to the next dream.
2. You’re experiencing more frequent health issues and stress
For all our strength and adaptability, human beings can be fragile. Our bodies tend to suffer for our persistence and drive. Additionally, stress makes entrepreneurs even more susceptible to mental illnesses such as depression.
If you’re constantly feeling run down, exhausted or ill on a regular basis, it could be your body’s way of signalling to you that it’s time to lighten that load, or drop it altogether.
Make an appointment with your doctor first to take care of your mind and body. Then, give some serious thought to cutting back on your duties, phasing yourself out of the CEO position, or selling the business altogether.
3. You constantly need new customers and it’s hard to hang on to existing ones
If your business is constantly engaged in a hunt to convert more first-time buyers, and simultaneously failing to keep past and current ones satisfied, your business is in danger. Paying more attention to marketing and customer service departments can alleviate these issues.
However, if you’ve tried these approaches without success, it may be time to call it a day altogether. The worst response is to throw good money after bad in a futile effort to plug the leak. With the experience you’ve gained, you may now be in a much better position to make a new venture a long-term success.
4. You have to force yourself out of bed in the mornings
Everyone has those mornings where nothing sounds better than spending the day on the couch with Netflix and a pint of ice cream. That’s a sign that you’re human and maybe you need a break.
If you’re experiencing a string of those kinds of days, though, that’s a sign that something much bigger is at stake. It’s time to examine why you’re continuing to pursue something that no longer makes you happy or fulfils you.
Bad days will come and go, but when that’s all you seem to have, it could be time to move on.
5. Your business runs fine in your absence – and you actually prefer time off
When your business runs like clockwork, whether you’re there or not, you know you’ve done your job well. You’ve built a sustainable business. However, just because you succeeded at something, that doesn’t mean you absolutely must continue to keep doing it indefinitely.
If your business gets along just fine without you, and you find yourself looking outside your company for new challenges and opportunities, it might be a good time to start thinking about exiting altogether. In doing so, you’re following the time-honoured path of successful entrepreneurs everywhere.
Obviously you don’t want to take the decision to exit your business lightly. It’s as serious a decision as starting a business in the first place. However, by the same token, don’t dismiss the idea altogether if you’re experiencing one or more of the above circumstances.
Create a workable exit plan that takes into consideration not just your own interests but also your business and its employees. Then you can start thinking about what’s next.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Crushing It? More Like Crushing Me. How One Missed Flight Stopped Me From Burning Out
Constant travel, trade shows, 5 a.m. starts, 16-hour days and late-night drinks with partners had left me spent.
Tech start-ups have a storied culture of breakneck-paced work and personal sacrifices. The industry is led by individuals who have proudly made their work their life, whatever the cost. The frantic energy of this lifestyle is exciting, and the image of it is alluring. But, make no mistake, it’s also unrealistic and dangerous.
In 2013, I launched a video feedback technology company, Voxpopme. We’ve quickly scaled to employ 50 people across three continents, raising millions from angel investors and VCs. We’ve also accumulated a client list including many Fortune 500 brands. On the exterior, everything looked great. But, in July, after over 45 solid days on the road, the happy accident of a missed flight reminded me of just how much I was missing by keeping this schedule.
The day before I needed to be in Nashville, Tenn., for a client meeting, followed immediately by two weeks of travel in the U.K., I missed my flight to London. Looking at my laptop to re-book, I felt overwhelmed and was overcome with a need to stop, to take a break, to escape. I had already worked through the majority of a family vacation just a few weeks earlier. Constant travel, trade shows, 5 a.m. starts, 16-hour days and late-night drinks with partners had left me spent. After thriving on the adrenaline of constant work for months, something had changed. I was absolutely dreading it. I just wanted to be at home. I missed my wife, my kids, even just sleeping in my own bed.
I canceled the rest of my trip and, after returning home, I had a period of intense reflection where I learned a lot about myself, and about the unforgiving pressure that entrepreneurship can cause. Fortunately, this learning experience only came at the cost of a plane ticket. But, I’d like to share the lessons learned. Others in my shoes have pushed themselves past where they should and paid a higher price.
Lesson 1: There are no CEO superheroes
I’ve come to realise the impossibility of becoming one of those romanticised, non-sleeping startup CEO geniuses. This class of person did not exist in the first place.
The myth of the superhero-CEO is common because it serves a potent marketing goal. As the Wall Street Journal noted in June, “Powerful founder-CEOs who were once lauded for flouting convention are facing a new reality: They aren’t superheroes, after all. Treating them as if they were has been bad for their companies and investors alike.”
The myth’s danger, as the Journal article states, is because it is the root of the misplaced confidence in companies like Theranos, where Elizabeth Holmes’s purported genius was used to silence the company’s critics. This myth gave former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick too much leeway for malfeasance, encouraged by the idea that he was somehow irreplaceable.
For upstart CEOs like myself, this is an unhealthy example to follow. Rejecting needs like sleep and family time left me burnt out. I didn’t see it coming because I had on blinders, in pursuit of this unattainable image.
Lesson 2: When you are your business, your health is your business’s
Re-grouping in Utah, I sat down with one of my mentors, Lonnie Mayne. He had seen this coming. He said I had been maintaining a schedule that was bad for relationships, my family and – yes – bad for business. Having one person as the lynchpin of an entire company is unhealthy for all involved.
Ariana Huffington has recently expanded her career to study this phenomenon, promoting a restful-but-successful lifestyle in the wake of personal tolls that came with running The Huffington Post. After seeing Elon Musk humblebrag on TV about his lifestyle of 100-plus hour workdays, she wrote him an open letter asking him to see the error of his ways.
Quoting a critical passage: “After 17-19 hours without sleep, we begin to experience levels of cognitive impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .05 percent, just under the threshold for being legally drunk. No business leader would hire people who came to work drunk, so don’t model that behaviour for your employees.”
The start-up world is one where one bad decision can undo thousands of man-hours of hard work. Burning the candle at both ends drastically increases the odds of this happening.
Lesson 3: Take what you love and write it down
In the midst of this regroup, I told my mentor Mayne about the guilt I felt when I wasn’t working. Often, I’d sit down to watch a football match but internally beat myself up for not focusing on my enormous to-do list. If I wasn’t working, I wasn’t happy.
In response to my company’s to-do list, Mayne suggested developing one of my own. We started by writing a list of everything that mattered to me: Friends, family, fitness, health, watching sports, snowboarding. To ensure balance, we broke them down into my primary focus for that month and things that were important and needed attention but were not a top priority. I shared this with my wife and our executive team so they understood where my focus was.
Finally, I weighed my personal list against my company’s and made some real concessions to ensure I would be able to prioritise both. I completely restructured my schedule for the rest of the year, switching from 80:20 travel to 20:80, and committing to being more present with my family and using my time more effectively to lead the business.
This ties back to Lesson 2, as a part of this involved delegating some areas of the business to my team. Rather than worry about keeping up with everything as the company grows, I’m proud knowing that I’ve put together a team that is capable of stepping in to share the burden.
There comes a point in a company’s growth where it’s no longer possible to maintain the “start-up grind” that was once necessary for survival. This isn’t a negative! This is a sign things are moving in the right direction.
Lesson 4: You’re not alone
Finally, I decided to write about this experience on LinkedIn. Initially, I was worried: What would my team think, how would existing and prospective investors react … would people think I was weak?
I couldn’t have been further from the mark.
My inbox was flooded with messages of support. I even had a VC email me to share that he had realised this lesson too late at his startup and had paid a heavy personal price as a result. Two months on, I’m more productive than ever before. I have more energy and a much clearer vision for the company. All while working fewer hours, focusing my time in the right place and not neglecting the people most important to me. Ultimately, I’ve managed to find a balance and make sure that I’m winning without losing.
If my story feels like yours, take a moment to evaluate your next three months and focus on the things that really matter. Odds are, you’ve already surrounded yourself with people who have the ability and know-how to deliver the things you thought too important to let go. Trust them to help your company achieve sustainable growth and watch yourself grow as a result.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
3 Ways To Balance Your Business, Family And Everything Else
You can do it all (or at least make it easier to do everything you enjoy) with these smart tips from a successful entrepreneur.
The following excerpt is from Manny Khoshbin’s book Driven: The Never-Give-Up Roadmap to Massive Success.
Balancing your life is like one of those acrobatic acts where people are standing on top of one another balancing themselves — each person represents an important part of your life. You want to keep them all up there without anyone falling. Not so easy, is it?
To really appreciate and enjoy what you have, balancing the many aspects of your life is essential, but many people aren’t very good at it. I was one of those people in my first marriage. I was wrapped up in my business and not spending enough time and energy on my marriage. In the end, the marriage blew up.
I admit, it’s hard to say no to business when it comes knocking at your door, especially when you’re selling real estate and a qualified buyer comes along. However, if you don’t know when to put the brakes on and slow down, you may find yourself out of control and missing out on a lot of your life.
Many people get a taste of success and they want to scale it, so they just dive into it 24/7. The next thing they know, 10 years have gone by and they’ve built a huge empire but lost sight of everything else. They realise that their spouse is now their ex, their kids are now teenagers, other family members, as well as friends, have moved on, and they’ve missed so much of their personal life that not even money can buy it back.
So, how do you balance work, family and everything else? For one thing, you need to accept that you have to make many compromises, have a positive attitude and know that it can be done.
Besides running my own business, Leyla and I are partners in her business. Warning: This type of arrangement will not work for all couples, but it can work well, provided you clarify your positions and respect each other’s roles.
The trick is knowing how to combine, and then separate, business and marriage. For example, Leyla and I sometimes have to go to Los Angeles for meetings or to an expo or a beauty show in Las Vegas. We take the opportunity to make a full weekend out of it, working at the event and then going out on the town.
At home, we have date nights at least once a week, even if all we do is grab a quick dinner and then come back home. It’s important to break the routine and put business aside. On weekends, Leyla’s business is closed and I don’t work, and we spend time with our kids. We try to make time for each of our top priorities: our family, each other and our work.
Unfortunately, when you’re working together and discussing, or sometimes arguing, about business during the day, it’s difficult to switch gears when you get home and shift into husband-and-wife mode. We try to be careful to stop ourselves without letting the day spill over into our personal life together.
I’ll admit, however, that it does take some practice, learning how to turn the switch off before you leave the office to go home. But in time it gets easier. You need to set some rules together, then make sure you’re both on board with those rules.
Hobbies and passions: cars and cigars
You also need time for your hobbies. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved exotic cars. I bought my first exotic car in 1992, a Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. Fast-forward 10 years, and I had started falling in love with Ferraris as well as Porsches. I have continued collecting cars, and I now have 15 cars.
Even though they’re a hobby, I have an entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to my passion for cars. In fact, I view them in a similar way that I do great pieces of property, though I’d prefer to keep them than sell to the highest bidder. To me, they’re like works of art that I view as investments, knowing that they’re of great value.
Cars aren’t my only passion, though. It’s important to have some passions that you can enjoy away from work, from family and from everything else. You also want some alone time. For example, I also own a cigar lounge (www.CubanoRoom.com) where I can go to relax by myself or meet another successful member while smoking a fine cigar.
I treat my passions like a business because that’s who I am — I enjoy them and also make money – but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you enjoy bicycling, you don’t have to go and open a bicycle store. You can simply find a group of riders, do some travelling and have fun.
It’s important to fit some alone time into your busy balancing act. We all need some moments when we escape from everyone and everything. The best thing to do is figure out what makes you happy and balance the hustle of your busy life with your own passion.
Related: How To Work 10 Hours Less Each Week
Family time is so important to me, both as a father and as a member of an extended family. Besides spending time with Leyla and my children, I see my parents often. I bought them a ranch about 90 miles away from Newport Beach back in 2004. Now they visit us every Friday or Saturday – we have a barbecue and play backgammon or cards.
We also see Leyla’s mom and sister often. Her mom still works as a registered nurse and lives in Beverly Hills. Leyla’s sister is nearby in San Diego where she works for a company called Houzz, an online community for home construction, landscape design, home improvement, repairs and so forth.
Leyla and I both recognise the importance of having our extended family nearby and making time to spend together. Otherwise, time goes by quickly, and you suddenly realise that it’s been years since you spent some quality time together.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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