Over the previous articles in this series, we’ve covered big-picture wellness topics that can help you decrease stress, perform better at work, and find more satisfaction in your career. Allowing yourself to be emotional at work, eating healthy, going about your day with intention are behaviors that will benefit you today and for years to come.
Along with these vital concepts, it’s nice to have some hard-and-fast tips for getting a little more done without having to burn the midnight oil. You can call them life hacks, productivity tricks, efficiency systems, or whatever else you’d like. I like to think of them as performance optimizers. And when you’re in the throes of busy season, you need all the optimization you can get.
Please note: these strategies do not comprise a program that I’m advocating. Some of the techniques may work for you; others may not. That’s totally fine. Use the techniques presented below if they make sense for you and deliver results.
We all work differently. And we can all work a little smarter. Without further ado, here are some of my favorite ways to do just that.
One of the easiest ways to streamline your workday is to stop trying to do a million tasks at once.
Studies show that multitasking hampers the quality of work without saving much time. Juggling a ton of balls isn’t just ineffectual, it will add stress and anxiety to your day. By trying to multitask, you increase your degree of difficulty for no reason. In the best-selling book “The One Thing,” Gary Keller writes, “It is not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it is that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”
A telling and tragic example of multitasking is texting and driving. The accidents caused each day by texting and driving aren’t the result of drivers not having enough time in the day to send a text, but rather feeling the need to do both at once. Instead of trying to do the work equivalent of texting and driving, focus on one thing at a time.
One tip to help you monotask: when you get to work, turn off irrelevant phone notifications. Texts are fine, especially from important people like family members, but do you really need to be distracted by a notification from a restaurant app? If you need to check email or a messaging app like Slack, do it in regular intervals rather than constantly eyeing it on your screen.
The more attention you devote to the task at hand, the better your work will be and the quicker you’ll get it done.
Taking breaks at work is essential. Breaks have been shown to help with everything from productivity to employee engagement. Especially when coupled with beneficial activities like exercise or meditation, a quick respite is a great way to refresh. Bonus tip: Use apps like Calm or Headspace to help make meditation easy no matter where you are or how little time you have.
If you’re the type of person who “forgets” to take breaks when it’s busy, try to schedule them at regular intervals. One popular method calls for working for 52 minutes, followed by a break of 17 minutes. Others suggest a five-minute break every hour.
Regiment your breaks, making them harder to skip.
Eisenhower Decision Matrix
To help organize his day, Dwight Eisenhower developed a matrix by dividing tasks based on their urgency and importance:
Urgent and important tasks were handled promptly by him.
Non-urgent but important tasks were set aside with a clear due date.
Urgent but less important tasks were delegated to others.
Non-urgent and unimportant tasks were dubbed superfluous.
This approach can be a great way to get a grasp on the tasks at-hand and reduce the time you spend on less-than-important activities.
The Pomodoro Technique
Created by Francesco Cirillo and named the Italian word for tomato, the Pomodoro Technique involves working in timed, 25-minute intervals, with each interval devoted to a single task. There’s a list of the Best Pomodoro Apps to Try so you can apply the technique.
The key is to spend each timed session on a single task. If you are just timing your regular day, you’re not using the technique properly.
If you can’t resist the temptation of distracting websites or social media platforms, you can eliminate the temptation altogether.
Website blocking apps bar you from specific sites for timed durations that you can set and control. Some companies opt to use these tools on a wide-scale basis, but that can be a divisive process. Using it for yourself, on the other hand, comes with no such caveats.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series. Be sure to check out Amy’s associated podcast, Mindfulness matters: Reimagine your approach to busy season (Part 6), a meditation to help you get focused. A short, free registration may be necessary.