Let’s presume you know the basics of being productive, such as planning your day, delegating, and the principle of ‘eating the ugly frog first’. We’re going to dig deeper and present you with five unconventional, work smarter, not harder tips. Hopefully, all of them are provocative enough to persuade you to try at least one of them. Pick your favorite and try it for a week – and when it pays off (and we believe it will), you may want to try another one. So, that’s the way it works: one simple change at a time to become the more productive (and less stressed) you.
1. Stay positive. Recent research has shown that our brains work more productively if we have an optimistic outlook. This may sound kind of counterintuitive, because resistance is often the reaction people have when faced with new tasks, and yet it is true. So, how can we get into the habit of positive thinking? We’re all different, so you may need to explore what works best for you. Popular yet effective methods include meditation, prayer and developing a sense of gratitude.
For example, write a thank-you letter to a friend, colleague or relative. Doing so will nourish your relationship and cause you to feel grateful for having this person in your life – and they will feel that same. And since relationships is the basics of happiness, you‘ll be happier. So, expressing gratitude daily is a good way to maintain a positive outlook on life.
Find out more at TED talk “The happy secret to better work” by Shawn Achor and “The happiness project” book by Gretchen Rubin.
2. Protect your work hours. As one smart TED Talk presenter suggests, office workers nowadays don’t have workdays, they have work moments. Constant meetings, phone calls and open-space intrusions stifle the process of creative thinking and disrupt our ability to be creative or solve difficult problems.
We need long stretches without interruption to solve a problem, generally – 3 hours and more. Possible solutions include introducing a “quiet zone” in an open-office environment, booking a conference room just for yourself, starting work really early or working after hours, and similar methods.
Check out TED Talk “Why work doesn’t happen at work” by Jason Fried for more inspiration.
3. Get up and move around. Some researchers believe that “sitting has become the smoking of our generation”. We wouldn’t go as far as saying that excessive sitting will kill you, but we do believe that a sedentary lifestyle is not too healthy.
Apart from improved health, reducing the amount of sitting has other benefits, such as reducing your concerns about health, it resolves the conflict between staying fit and getting your job done, and it also enables you to focus more on your current project.
Here are a few opportunities you can explore:
First, take mini-breaks and use the time to stretch and exercise. Have a mini exercise routine and do this frequently during the day. This will improve your health and you will also save time and the cost of going to the gym.
Second, suggest to your friends that, instead of meeting for coffee, take a walk in the park. However, if you have an urgent or difficult problem to solve, walking may not be the best option because the environment and other distractions may prevent you from focusing on the problem.
4. Plan wisely. To write down all 85 tasks you want to complete in a day is tempting (you’re very busy and presumed to be productive, right?), but attempting to complete them all may be overwhelming and may even cause you to procrastinate.
Instead, create three separate lists. The first is a list of the most urgent and important things to be done. The second is a list of ideas to contemplate, and the third is a list of tasks that won’t improve your productivity (like buy those shoes).
Now, focus on completing the short list first, and use it to measure your success. Items can migrate from one list to another if priorities change. This system will help you get things done and you’ll know what task to work on next.
And a few words about long-term planning. Turns out, if you plan long-term (say one year) it shows that you are likely to be a strategic thinker able to see the ‘big picture’, but it may also indicate that you are a dreamer with a vivid imagination.
Research shows that planning more than two months ahead uses the same part of the brain that is responsible for imagination. While it’s okay to dream big – just make sure that your daily activities enable you to stay on the path to achieve your dreams.
5. Simplify your routine. As you remember from “Truth or Dare: 10 Facts You Need to Know about Motivation in Sports and Life”, willpower is a limited resource and should be managed wisely. To stay energised for important tasks, be free from non-important decisions such as what coffee you’ll drink today and what clothes you’ll wear. Reduce the amount of trivial decisions you have to make every day so that you can focus your energy on the really important tasks and decisions.
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