Mindless multitasking: A guide to being more productive

Time poverty – the idea that there’s not enough time to do all the work we need to do. Is ‘time poverty’ a perception or a reality?

The reality is, you’ll never get more than 24 hours out of every day. Working longer hours doesn’t help. Your productivity actually decreases the longer you work in a given day. Your perception, or intuitive understanding of your time, is what matters. A key to managing productivity is in how you use the time you’ve got.

There’s lots of time that can be used more efficiently. Time gets lost to ineffective meetings, distractions and context switching between tasks. By spending your time more wisely, you can actually get more done. This often results in:

  • higher overall job satisfaction
  • better overall job performance
  • lower levels of stress.

Jumpstart your productivity

Eliminate distractions

When you have too many things vying for your attention, it slows you down and results in lower productivity overall. Do your best to remove every distraction that pulls you off tasks.

Cell phones, email and message apps are the most common drain on productivity. Set the ringer on your phone to vibrate, set specific times for checking email, and close irrelevant browser tabs. With this approach, your work will be less interrupted throughout the day.

Make your to-do list verb-oriented

To-do lists are a great way to help you focus on exactly what you need to accomplish each day. Some people do best with a physical list like a notebook, and others do better with digital tools.

Your list can be as sophisticated, or as simple as you like, but just making a list is not enough. What goes on your list makes all the difference. Every item that goes on your list should be actionable. The trick for this is to make sure there’s a verb. For example, “Smith project” is not actionable enough. “Outline key deliverables on Smith project” gives you a more concrete task to complete.

Stick to the 10-Minute Rule

Overwhelmed by an unclear or unwieldy task? Break it into 10-minute mini-tasks instead. This can be a great way to take something unmanageable and turn it into something that is achievable.

The beauty of 10-minute tasks is that they can be fit into many parts of your day. When you get into the office in the morning and are feeling fresh, kick off your day with a burst of productivity from a few 10-minute tasks. Losing momentum in the afternoon? A 10-minute job can help you regain your momentum.

10-minute tasks are also a good way to identify tasks that can be delegated to others. The ability to delegate work is often one of the most effective management techniques. By finding a simple task that can be accomplished by another member of your team, you can make short work of a big job.

Take a break

Another drain on productivity is the urge to keep pressing ahead on a task to complete it without taking a break. Suddenly you feel really fatigued, or hungry, and you realize you haven’t gone to the bathroom in hours! Your concentration is affected, and therefore your productivity decreases.

Set benchmarks for taking breaks and stick to them. For example, commit to once per hour to get up and move around for 5 minutes. If you’re pressed for time, stand up and stretch for 2 minutes. Changing the position of your body and focusing on the present moment will help to relieve any mental tension that has built up in your mind.

Hydrate your mind with a glass of water. When your body is not properly hydrated, it can put increased stress on your brain. As little as a one to three per cent decrease in your hydration can negatively affect your memory, concentration and decision-making.

Don’t fall into the time-poverty trap

Time is limited and time poverty is just an idea. How you choose to spend the time you have in each day is what’s important. When you develop new, healthy habits, you’re able to increase your productivity, and direct your time in the ways that give the most value.

Join me at my session, Mindless multitasking: a dummy’s guide to productivityatDrupalCon in Seattle, April 8-12, 2019.

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