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Supercharge Your Productivity

12 ways to work smarter, not harder.

Time is my most valued possession. My youngest daughter once stated, “Waste your time wisely.” With that in mind, do you ever wonder where the day went? You had things that you wanted to get done and before you know it, the sun is down and it’s dinnertime. Why is being productive so challenging? What are the secrets to a supercharged productive life?

The Microsoft Office Personal Productivity Challenge assessed 38,000 people to find out how non-productive we are:

  • People work about 45 hrs/week and consider 28 of those hours (62%) to be productive; more than one-third of our working day is spent in non-productive ways. In other words, we have about 3 productive (work) days per week! What a waste of your time and talents.

Why are we not as productive as we should be?

  1. Procrastination.
  2. Unclear objectives/goals/priorities.
  3. Poor team communication.
  4. Ineffective meetings.

Here are 12 tips to supercharge your production based on Tim Ferriss, author of the international bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek; Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First; and me.

  1. Night Is Right. In Judaism, the day begins at sundown on the prior evening. Evening preparation is the best way to begin your day. Going to sleep and waking up knowing what’s on the schedule gives you guidance, direction, motivation, and decreases anxiety.
  2. Mood Management. Focus is more difficult in the midst of a storm — phone, TV, emails, kids, boss, etc. Starting the day with a calm mood helps make the transition from reacting to acting. Set up a morning routine to alleviate anxiety and enhance productivity. Employee’s mood in the morning has a strong impact on performance and productivity.1 Bad moods lead to procrastination; happiness relates to increased productivity and success. Physicians in a positive mood make faster and more accurate diagnoses. Optimistic salespeople outperform their pessimistic cohorts by 56%.
  3. Eat That Frog. From Mark Twain, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” In other words, if there’s an activity that you consider necessary and not fun, plan to do it first thing in the morning. A great anti-procrastination technique.
  4. Focus. Focus. Focus. Our minds wander, we get distracted. We multi-task, we're rushed and inattentive. We find excuses to procrastinate — fears, lack of direction, lack of clear objectives, or disinterest. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the phrase FLOW to describe the sensation of being in the zone. A very focused state in which time flies by and distractions don’t exist. Sometimes achieving focus requires changing your environment. Wake up an hour earlier to get things done before anyone else is awake.
  5. Decrease Distractions. Covey describes the Urgent/Important matrix. Accomplish tasks that are both urgent and important; delete distractions. This means not checking emails in the morning. Don’t set yourself up to be reactive; it offsets your mood, increases anxiety, and takes you away from what’s really important. Constant texting and emailing reduces mental capability on an IQ test by 5 points for women and 15 points for men. Ferris also recommends minimizing information intake with several practical techniques.
  6. Go for Goals. Prioritize daily activities, with a focus on your personal mission. As Covey said, “The most important thing is to make the most important thing, the most important thing.” Tim Ferriss points out, being active and busy is not the same as being productive. Getting things done that will make us fulfilled at the end of the day should be your objective.
  7. Why, Not What. Differentiate important from unimportant. Covey, Ferris, and Success Guru Simon Sinek all suggest that we replace what we are doing with why we are doing it. It is a great way to make sure that our busy-ness is not wasted time. Being efficient is important but more critical is to ask, “do I need to do this at all?” Don’t waste time trying to be more efficient when you could potentially delete the activity completely and be more effective.
  8. Beyond Blaming. Realize that you control your day. Taking responsibility is Stephen Covey’s First Habit for Effective People. You may feel like going to work is not a choice because you have to pay your rent or mortgage and feed your family. You do have a choice about where you’re working and what you’re doing. Tim Ferris provides excellent suggestions on how employees can take control of their lives to work less and produce more.
  9. Mindful. Mindfulness is an open and active awareness. Through mindfulness, we may best appreciate what may or may not be working for us and allow us to be creative and think out-of-the-box to make our days more effective. Mindfulness helps us appreciate when to stop trying to make a sale or the best way to negotiate a specific deal.
  10. Trade Perfection for Pareto. It took many years and influential readings to break me of this bad, counter-productive perfection habit. In Tal Ben Shahar’s The Pursuit of Perfect, he recommends optimalism over perfection. Perfectionism is a maladaptive focus on failure and attaining the unattainable. Optimalism is setting high but attainable standards. The optimalist has a much higher chance of success at achieving goals. Related to this is Pareto’s Law. Pareto was an economist who realized that 80% of the wealth and income was produced and possessed by 20% of the population. This 80/20 rule is true in many areas of life; about 80% of your successes will be due to 20% of your efforts. The trick is to analyze which 20% is important and stop the other 80%. Use the rest of the time wisely to accomplish other activities that will excite and satisfy your personal needs.
  11. Start a System. Develop your routine. Be mindful of when you are most awake and attentive; least distracted and most productive. Use that time wisely and incorporate the 80/20 rule and Why Not What to determine your got-to-get-done-now list. Don’t rely on being disciplined. Once things are set on automatic, they will automatically get done. Authors who wait for “creative moments” are less likely to come up with something good than authors who are given deadlines.
  12. Dreamlines. Ferriss recommends setting dreamlines; deadlines for dreams. Make your deadlines realistic and challenging. Try to set a few short-term goals — daily and weekly, mid-term goals (3 to 6 months) and long-term goals (1 to 3 years). Deadlines convert dreams into actionable steps that need to be completed.

References

1) Rothbard, Nancy P. and Steffanie L. Wilk. (2011). Waking up on the right or wrong side of the bed: Start-of-workday mood, work events, employee affect, and performance. Academy of Management Journal, 54(5), 959-980.

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