How to be more productive
As we enter our second year of the pandemic, it’s clear that each of us, to varying degrees, is experiencing a heightened level of tension or anxiety.
If you are hoping to be as effective and efficient as you were pre-Covid, now is the time to realign your expectations to match our new reality.
Before I share some psychological insights and, perhaps, slightly unusual tips, take a moment to ask yourself: Am I expecting too much of myself at the moment? Am I expecting too much of others? To what extent am I meeting my own needs, as well as those of my colleagues and clients?
Small adjustments can have a huge impact. Below, I’ve focused on eight specific themes that might help you to make a few tweaks to your own way of working that will help you to be more productive.
How much control do you actually have over your workload? Are you taking on too much and not pushing back when you ought to? Do you have more than one manager making demands on your time?
While workload can often feel out of our control, there may be alternatives. Consider:
- politely pushing back, explaining that you have other priorities in the immediate term but could focus on this in a few days’ time
- being transparent and asking your manager which tasks you should be prioritising
- managing your time as effectively as possible (easier said than done, I know!)
Does the idea of being on a group call excite you or fill you with dread? The more extroverted you are, the more you’ll find engaging with other people energising and uplifting. The more introverted you are, the more drained you might feel afterwards; you might prefer to space your video calls throughout the day to give you time to recover.
One of the keys to being productive is to know your energy levels and how to maintain your momentum. We tend to over-work and under-rest, which leaves us tired, deflated and even demotivated.
Become consciously aware of when your energy levels fluctuate during the day: are you more alert in the morning or evening?
Be aware, too, of your hormonal cycle (23-33 days for women, 24 hours for men) and the shift in your ability to focus or your level of confidence. Does your energy change throughout the week? I’m much more focused on the detail from Monday to Wednesday (better for writing assessments and coaching reports), and much more sociable and creative by Friday (better for Zoom meetings and planning new projects).
As you regularly charge your mobile devices, you also need to keep your ‘operating system’ topped up.
Even if you deeply enjoy your work and find it rewarding, participating in meaningful activities in your personal time is essential. Try listing five activities that feed your soul, restore your energy and help you keep things in perspective. Aim to do one of them today and commit to doing the others throughout the coming week.
An interesting read on this subject is Dr Satchin Panda’s The Circadian Code, which is packed with brilliant life-changing tips. I personally rave about time-restricted eating to anyone who’ll listen: stop eating or drinking (anything other than water) at least three hours before you go to bed. It’s a simple fasting rule that allows the body to digest food before you go to sleep, which in turn allows it to heal and re-energise while you are sleeping.
How comfortable – and safe – is your workspace? Try doing a mini health-and-safety check to identify what, if any, adjustments could be made. You might consider asking your organisation to supply appropriate items – for example, a laptop stand – or invest in accessories that will make your working life more enjoyable.
While writing down your goals and having a to-do list is highly practical, sometimes it can be daunting when you see everything there in front of you. To avoid overwhelm, create a to-day list, listing things to be completed today. I also include one or two actions I can do today to help me move towards achieving longer term goals.
This is not the kind you get when eating ice-cream, but when you’re exhausted and can’t think logically. Neuroscience tells us that feeling tired and stressed for prolonged periods of time causes heightened arousal in the hippocampus area of the brain that reduces our capacity for remembering facts and logical reasoning.
Even if you’re not experiencing the extreme symptoms of burnout, you know yourself that just having one bad night’s sleep can impact your ability to focus the following day.
If you’re experiencing a lot of stress please seek support at work and talk to someone you trust about how you feel; it’s unlikely to just go away by itself.
Author: Jess Baker is a business psychologist and leadership coach
This article was first published in Accounting and Business magazine April 2021