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.
Managing Your Schedule Like A Boss: Tips The Experts Never Tell You
Time management is at the top of the short list of reasons why some people succeed and most don’t.
Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, once said, “Never let anyone own your schedule.”
I don’t know about you, but I love that quote. It’s so simple, yet true. After all being deliberate with your time is one of the best ways to have a happy life in the business world. Of course, try as hard as you can, that’s not always the reality. Life is kind of known for throwing a monkey wrench into your plans every now and then.
But, it’s still possible to manage your schedule like a boss by following these can’t-beat tips.
Create a routine
Next up you need to create, and stick, to a routine.
Start by blocking times for specific activities, such as checking emails, exercise and spending time with your family. You can then convert your calendar into a series of blocks for you to place activities in the prepared spaces. If something isn’t planned and placed into a block, don’t do it.
Keep in mind that your routine will probably change throughout the year. But, it’s better to have a plan that changes than no plan at all. For example, if you’re launching a start-up, then you should block times for activities like customer discovery, coding and hiring. Next year you may have to block out times for marketing, growing your business and customer service.
Carry a schedule and record all your thoughts, conversations and activities for a week
“This will help you understand how much you can get done during the course of a day and where your precious moments are going,” write Joe Mathews, Don Debolt and Deb Percival on Entrepreneur.
“You’ll see how much time is actually spent producing results and how much time is wasted on unproductive thoughts, conversations and actions.”
Add time buffers to manage your schedule
Have you missed a couple of deadlines because you jumped from project to project? It’s probably because your didn’t add time buffers. A buffer is something like this:
You just landed a new client for your freelance business. They assign you a deadline to complete the task. Instead of entering their exact deadline, your put your own deadline that’s 24-48 earlier. Those hours are the buffer.
Why’s that such a big deal? When you have a buffer, and something happens that you can’t control, you still have those 24-48 hours to meet the deadline.
Schedule your calendar like a to-do-list
If you have things on your schedule that have to be done, I personally like scheduling out time on my calendar for them. Much like a meeting, they have a set and scheduled time for this task to be accomplished.
For some people like myself, this includes blocking out time for working out, eating, walks and other important activities in my life. If I don’t make time for them, other things will always get in the way. I find that when I block out those times on my schedule, I’m much more proactive as well as I feel better about myself.
Use batching and time-blocking
In my early days of freelancing I multitasked like it was going out of style. I eventually realised that doing more than one thing at a time is ineffective and stressful. I was stressed beyond endurance because, as research now shows, the human brain isn’t capable of multitasking.
A study conducted by Microsoft Research, shows that switching from task to task is less productive than staying on the same task, or the same types of tasks, over a block of time. That’s why batching is so awesome.
Batching is basically where you find similar tasks and then lump them all together to make a task-batch. You then sit down, set a timer, and focus only on those similar tasks. For example, setting aside 6 am to 7 am to check emails and then 8 am to 10 am to write blog posts.
Another strategy that you should try is using time-blocks. When you have outside meetings, block two and a half days per week for those meetings. Only attend those outside meetings during those time-blocks. To make blocking more effective, color-code your calendar so that you can visually glance at your calendar.
Chandler Bolt wrote a great book, The Productive Person, that you should read if you want to learn more about time-blocking.
Optimise time for different meeting types
To be honest, 30-minute meetings and 10-minute calls are ideal. A 10-minute phone call with a prospective client is more than enough for me to know what their needs are and if we click. Better yet, Google Hangout or Skype can be used to see the person instead of just hearing them.
If you have a remote team, you can host a virtual meeting via Zoom,RingCentral Business, Zoho Meeting, Join.me or GoToMeeting.
Here are some suggestions on the types of meetings that you might want to book and schedule:
- 45-minute meeting that’s outside of the office. Allow 15 minutes for travel and 30 minutes for the meeting over coffee.
- 30-minute weekly staff meeting.
- 30-minute meeting in the office to get to know colleagues or catch up.
- 15-minute daily standup if you’re a start-up or leading an engineering team.
- 10-minute phone call to offer someone advice.
Whatever meetings you decide to hold a meeting, you should group them into blocks. If you think that a particular meeting needs more or less time, then you can adjust the block accordingly.
Still, just remember that it’s impossible to get everything done. “Also remember that odds are good that 20 percent of your thoughts, conversations and activities produce 80 percent of your results,” say Mathews, Debolt, and Percival.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Optimise Your Productivity After Quitting Your Job
You’ve done it. You’re your own boss. All the time in the world. Now the problem is – you’re used to 10 hours of your day being allocated elsewhere – there’s almost too much time now. So much time… and so many ways to waste it.
The idea of having control of our own time is bliss. In many ways, nothing could be better than the idea of “freedom”, of having “full control” of one’s life. The reality is that it can be incredible, however it can also be life’s biggest trap. If there is no strategy to optimize this available time, it will turn into one major procrastination session.
If your time is not carefully managed, your entrepreneurial journey could become months of regret and self-loathing because of wasted opportunity. On the flip side, Peter Thiel has been paraphrased in saying that one of the beauties of an entrepreneurial life, is that if someone were to put a gun to your head and demand that you achieve 10 years worth of goals in 6 months, it would be possible. If time is used extremely effectively, anything is possible. That, in my view, is something to get excited about, and is reason enough to want to put tangible methods in place.
Note that many of these methods were inspired by Tim Ferriss and the many world class performers he has interviewed on his podcast. I have since experimented with recommendations and have found that the below have worked best for me.
1. Organise meetings
This may sound counterintuitive, because meetings are commonly considered (at least in the corporate world) to be the ultimate waste of time. The reason for that perception is that there is usually so much work to be done, and corporate meetings classically aren’t necessary for all the attendees, and do not result in a definitive next step.
My argument for organising meetings is to conjure momentum when none exists early on in the process. If you are sitting with a blank calendar and a blank agenda, by arranging meetings with potential clients, partners, employees or investors, this will create a sense of scarcity; a simulated “due date” that will force you to do the appropriate work to be ready for said meeting, and could put you on an exciting unforeseen path post-meeting.
These meetings also get people on the same page as you; to buy into your vision and to get them excited by what excites you in your entrepreneurial journey – you never know what doors can open from connecting with the right people at the right time.
I read a quote recently that said “great opportunities never have ‘Great Opportunity’ in the subject line”.
2. Say No
You may receive a deluge of exciting propositions and projects out of nowhere that others less committed than you would like you to work on. These can be extremely tempting, but as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks says, “The single most important distinction in life is to distinguish between an opportunity to be seized and a temptation to be resisted”.
Derek Sivers makes this distinction by removing any middle ground – if he doesn’t feel that the opportunity is a “HELL YEAH!”, it’s simply a “no”. Another tool you could use is to rate opportunities out of 10 – but you’re not allowed to use the number 7. When in doubt, you have to either rate the opportunity as a 6 or an 8. If it’s a 6, it’s a definite “no”.
Saying no can be infinitely more difficult than saying yes. That’s why, it can be argued that nurturing the ability to decline mediocre opportunities is one the most important skills on the path to success.
3. Don’t let others set your agenda for you
You will wake up to several emails, whatsapp messages and a missed call. You are then faced with a difficult decision – to reactively respond to all before pursuing your agenda for the day; or proactively completing your agenda first and then addressing the needs of others.
The risk of the reactive approach, is that there is a high probability of getting derailed entirely by requests from other people. A seemingly short request could end up cascading into several hours of back and forth. It is quite possible that by the time this has reached completion, you have no energy left to allocate to the most important tasks for the day. You will leave feeling unfulfilled, as if the day was wasted – a routine you desperately need to avoid.
You should set your own agenda, and when the key tasks are completed, you attend to the emails and requests of others.
4. Set your most important 3 tasks each day
On any given day, you may have 32 important things you want to achieve. Where does one even begin to prioritise these? Typically, we may start with the easiest of the 32 to get that “small win” feeling. The downside is that the easiest may not be the most important or urgent, and could leave you feeling in a similar position to where you started. That’s why I set the most important 3 each day.
They may take 5 minutes each or 5 hours each, but if you can consistently overcome the most important 3 tasks on a daily basis, you will not only make tangible progress in your work, but develop an unrivalled (and somewhat addictive) sense of productivity.
In addition, I recommend setting these 3 tasks at the end of each working day, so that you can get straight into them the next morning. I find that setting the next day’s objectives is a nice way to wind down the day, and reduce chances of morning procrastination the next day because your agenda will already be pre-constructed, leaving no room for excuses.
5. Find the environment that speaks to your working soul
Some people thrive in 8am-5pm busy office environments, while others can only work from night time when it feels like the world around them is asleep. Some people love absolute silence while others need the madness of boisterous conversation and loud music. There is no perfect way to work.
I have found that the ambience of coffee shops is conducive to a productive environment – being surrounded by people of different backgrounds and occupations leads to a complementary sense of both community and urgency, and removes any sense of loneliness. Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of the right music to aid productivity.
Certain melodic lyric-less music could help create a rhythm conducive to productivity (Tim Ferriss highly recommends Gramatik as an aid to his book writing). Some people prefer music they are extremely familiar with, and even play the same song or album on repeat for hours; the familiarity could create a sense of comfort, and you won’t get distracted by the lyrics.
There is no perfect formula for productivity. There is no script, as much as others may try enforce theirs onto you. That’s why this journey is so exciting – you can use any of the methods above and do what works for you. Be productive by using your mind, not your time.
Immerse Yourself In Purposeful Reading This Holiday Season
As the festive season draws close, and we have a bit more time on our hands, I thought I’d share details about a few of my favourite books which I encourage everyone to read.
I am an avid reader. Maybe not as avid as Nelson Mandela was or self-made billionaires Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and many others are, but still very avid. Buffett, in fact, estimates that he spends as much as 80% of his time reading. He puts his success down to the amount of literature that he consumes, saying that reading is what makes him a more nimble and astute businessman.
Reading broadens the mind and allows for learning through others’ experiences. Through learning, we build up knowledge. By putting that knowledge into practice over time, we build wisdom. Wisdom in turn builds trust, builds relationships and attracts followers.
As the festive season draws close, and we have a bit more time on our hands, I thought I’d share details about four of my favourite books which I encourage everyone to read.
- Franchising Sector – The Year That Was
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