We often feel overwhelmed by the amount we have to accomplish or complete. This feeling moves from our business lives into our personal ones. We are always looking for ways to get more done without looking for ways to get more time in which to do it. This leads to stress and usually results in a drop in productivity, which leads to a vicious cycle as we try to catch up.
Here are 5 ways of boosting your productivity and reducing stress that I have found work for me.
1 – Don’t multitask.
Contrary to what most people think, trying to work on more than a single task does not improve productivity. Humans don’t multitask, that is, the mind can’t work on more than a single task at any point in time. What the mind does is switch from task to task very rapidly. This feels like you are accomplishing a lot. In reality all you have done is worked a little on a lot of tasks, and you haven’t made any real progress on any one of them. It is better to focus on a single task and clear it off your plate. This frees up time for you to move on to the next task, and so on.
It is better to finish a single task than to work on a hundred you may never finish.
2 – Gain knowledge
If you feel you are overwhelmed because you have been thrown into the deep end of a task, perhaps you should get help or take a break and get some training that will help you complete it. Education and training is often thought of as a waste of time by a company, and a common outlook is “If you’re training, you’re not producing.” Education and training are always an investment in the future rather than a cost. Even the most task-specifc training can yield ways of solving other problem sets which will help make you more productive overall.
It is better to learn how to do something once, than to struggle over and over trying to solve a problem.
3 – Take breaks
How many times have you spent long hours or even days working on a single problem late into the night without taking a break? The longer you work, the more tired you get, and your productivity drops off. If you complete the task, you are spent and either collapse or come down with a cold or flu. Then you need to take time off to recover, which may put you further behind on other tasks. It may seem that whatever you need to accomplish is the top priority, but the real top priority is your own sanity and health. Your productivity is zero when you are either sick or dead. If this is your normal way of working, I would recommend looking into the Pomodoro Technique™ http://pomodorotechnique.com as a way of maintaining a rhythm rather than a downward spiral.
It is better to take a lot of quick breaks than to push yourself to exhaustion.
4 – Learn to say no
Saying to no to a request to do “one more thing”, is not a failure. Saying no is a sign of character and understanding your own capabilities and limits. If you can’t say no, then you need to prioritize and as you add a new task, remove one you are currently working on and either put it aside or let someone else handle it. If you have more than three things you have to complete in a single day you are overbooked regardless of how quickly you think you can clear your plate. If you clear your tasks for the day only then consider taking on a new task.
Adding more tasks does not improve productivity, completing tasks does.
It is better to say no than say yes and fail.
5 – Stop thinking and start doing
Too often in business, time is spent over-analyzing, over-meeting, over-talking, over-getting consensus. Thinking and talking about a problem is required, but conversely time spent this way is not completing the task If you find yourself in analysis-paralysis it is better to take a leap of faith and just try something. You may not succeed, but you at least you have learned something and eliminated an option you were discussing.
It is better to do something than not to do anything.
Remember that the root of the word productivity is “produce”. It’s not “work”. Just because you are working, you may not be producing. Working harder doesn’t mean you are producing more.