It’s Labour Day here in Canada (and in the US too, I believe)…a holiday that originally began as a protest strike in Toronto in 1872 against a 58 hour work week. Weekends, even long ones, don’t usually mean much to a preacher, but today felt like a day off.
I worked madly the rest of the weekend, and yet here I sit at my desk pondering the topic of productivity, and whether doing more in a day or a week is necessarily a good thing? The list, as I’ve talked about before, is endless. It’s one of those things that expands with the size of the paper I write it on, and so no matter how many items I cross off it, there are always more to follow. Does this happen to you?
Sometimes, it feels like I’m in a game of Tetris that is going badly.
(If you don’t know what Tetris is, click here.) Of course I want to get things done, because I have many responsibilities and roles in my life, and a family, and a large yard that needs tending, and a house that is in need of dusting at the moment, and on and on it goes. Productivity seems to be a good thing. Or the concept of it is good. But surprisingly, I don’t have any more hours in the day to cram in what needs to be done than anyone else does…and I’m tired of being tired trying.
How doing less can actually result in being more productive.
Let’s go back to that 58 hour workweek. A study published at Stanford University in 2014 finds that working more than 50 hours a week actually decreases productivity, and once you get over 55 hours per week, anything over and above that number is a waste of time, because the productivity levels off. (So you could work an extra 8 hours over and above your 55 hour work week and you wouldn’t get any more done…which is really depressing. You might as well have taken the day off to go do something fun, right? (Gone to a movie, made some delicious home-baked cookies, had coffee with a friend, read a book…you know, normal non-work activities that I almost can’t remember. Sigh.)
Tips for Working Smarter
Here are some ideas to help you fit a whole lot of productivity into a shorter number of hours, in order to be working smarter, not longer.
- Batch jobs. Set time apart for checking email and reading news and working on social media, instead of responding to notifications every few minutes and being pulled away from what you are doing. Better yet, turn the notifications off.
- Disconnect. Turn your phone off and let it go to voice mail while working on a task. You can return calls in batches too. This will allow you to concentrate with minimal interruptions on the task at hand.
- Take breaks. The brain can only concentrate on something for about a 40 minute block of time. Get up, walk around, grab a snack or water and then settle back in for another concentrated block of time. This will allow you to be focused.
- Choose your meetings wisely. There are some meetings you can’t not go to. There are others, however, that are largely a waste of your precious time, and the information that needs to be shared could be done using a different format. If you need to use your time for another task, and your presence in the room is not imperative, choose to contribute electronically in advance and skip the meeting.
- Multitasking doesn’t actually exist. This goes back to number one…where you can batch things or focus on one task at a time for a set amount of time before moving on to another one. It is actually impossible to do more than one thing at a time and do it well.
- Keep track of your time. Where do the hours go? Well only you can answer that, and if you really want to know, track your time. You can use a number of apps for this purpose, or old-fashioned pen and paper, but you might be surprised if you do that for a few days and find inefficiencies in how you are organizing your day.
- Keep it tidy. I am not the tidiest person in the world, but when it comes to my work space, I cannot settle in to work until things are organized and my external world is calm. I also find it impossible to find things I need if the desk or work surface is covered in stuff. Knowing where everything is when you need it can reduce time wasted looking for that report or trying to find your favorite potato peeler when making dinner.
- Exercise! How does this help with workplace productivity? Energy. If you have energy, you get less sleepy in the middle of your day and can stay on-task and focus more effectively. Plus it keeps you healthy and reduces the possibility of sick days and illness.
- Set deadline. Give yourself a deadline for getting something “off your plate” or crossing something off your list. Self-imposed deadlines can help to spur you on, especially when you tell someone else about them.
There are more ideas, such as getting good sleep, eating well, saying “no” to things you don’t want to/don’t need to do, and more, but this list of 9 should get you on your way to a more productive, more efficient work week…meaning you will have more time to listen to my podcast and to bake those cookies.
Because it’s all about the cookies!