Could working less hours actually make you more productive? Julie Morgenstern, professional organizer and the author of “Never Check E-mail In The Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work,” visited “Weekend Today” to answer that question and offer tips for being more effective at work.
Today's high pressure work environment creates very bad work habits that are actually counterproductive. In other words, what you think you should do to keep up with the pace is the exact opposite of what works. For example, with overwhelming workloads, most people think the solution lies in multi-tasking, staying constantly connected to e-mail and technology, working longer hours and and sacrificing their personal lives. But that's the worst thing you can do. Here are some tips for ending those habits and organizing your day:
Beware of multi-taskingIt actually slows your day down. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you're working on when you switch back and forth among tasks. Another reason why multitasking does not work is because you have to go back and get re-oriented all over again. Another study found that when you are in a state of high concentration and you get interrupted, when you come back to the task you were working on it takes 20 minutes to get back to that level of concentration. This is why you need to control your interruptions and tackle one task at a time.
Determine your concentration thresholdOnce you have the time for the task, make sure your concentration abilities are up to the job. How long can you ignore all distractions and give 100% of your attention to one task? Each of us have a different concentration threshold. Find out what yours is. How long can you give one task your undivided attention before you begin to feel saturated, distracted or antsy to take care of something else?
Focus on completion
Whenever you sit down to tackle items on your to-do list, ask yourself, “What can I finish?” not “What can I start?” Energy and sense of accomplishment comes from getting things done — nothing feels better than checking things off of your to-do list. Also, it becomes easier to account for your busy day (to your boss, co-workers and customers) if you can report what you got done (not just what you are “working on”).
Start the day off right
You should start your day with the most important task. Too often, when facing an overwhelming list of to-do's people start with five or 10 quick, easy tasks to get a false sense of accomplishment, or as a warm-up, but in actuality this approach is a huge mistake. It depletes your energy because those five or 10 things take up a couple of hours, and then interruptions begin to intrude on your day and you never get the important stuff done. The burden and worry of those neglected important tasks hanging over your head slows you down. Conversely, by starting your day with the most important task, you clear the decks, kind of like earning your salary by 10 am. The sense of accomplishment you feel fuels your energy for the rest of the day and makes you more productive because there is nothing weighing you down.
Control e-mailE-mail creates an instant response culture, and is addictive — people fall into the trap of checking e-mail every five or 10 minutes, constantly interrupting themselves, and prevents them from having time for high-level, concentrated tasks. E-mail is nothing but a bunch of interruptions and distractions, essentially other people's agendas. By avoiding e-mail for the first hour of the day, and instead, focusing on your most critical concentrated task, you start your day with you in charge. And with the rest of the day to catch up, it's the safest and most effective time to do it. In addition, for the rest of the day, get out of the habit of “just checking” and saving things “as new.” Designate regular times to process e-mail throughout the day — open, respond and delete or file.
- Never check e-mail for the first hour of the day
- Keep content brief
- Say what you need in the subject line
“Crunching your container”Control the nibblers — all those little things that eat away at your time and derail you, like meetings, procrastination, etc. There's a lot of ways you can avoid these things but one technique that will eliminate them all in a single stroke is to “crunch your container” — shorten your work day by 30 minutes. It's counterintuitive, but it works. Anyone who is working more than 8 hours a day, consistently working 9, 10 or 11 hours per day, should shorten their day by 30 minutes and they will get as much or more than they would in a typical day. Why? Because this creates a feeling of being on deadline and when you are on a deadline, you handle interruptions completely differently. When you are on deadline, perfectionism is released and you stop procrastinating. Most people can imagine they waste 30 minutes on lack of focus or figuring out what to do next. By shortening your day 30 minutes, you eliminate all the little time wasters in your day, and become more focused — getting much more accomplished. And of course, you get home 1/2 hour earlier, increasing the time you have to relax.
In order to operate as a peak productive worker in today's high pressure environment, you have to pay attention to your personal life. Embrace your work-life balance and use your time off to truly relax and recharge your battery — you become a more rested, energetic and smarter worker. You make less mistakes, you have perspective and solve problems more creatively. So stop taking work home on the weekends! It's really in service to your employer that you relax and enjoy your weekend.
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