Work has become increasingly more complex. Technological innovations have led to round-the-clock work schedules and mounting expectations. Jobs have grown more collaborative, requiring more coordination, conference calls, and meetings. We now face an endless barrage of distractions, from the vibrations and alerts on our smartphones to the breaking news stories and viral videos awaiting us at our desks.
Now, more than ever, we need strategies for being productive. Where to start?
Below are seven key themes that are emerging from experts in peak performance advice.
1. Own your time.
Our most satisfying work comes about when we’re being proactive, working on projects that we ourselves initiate. Many of us know this intuitively yet continue allowing ourselves to spend the vast majority of our days being reactive, responding to other people’s requests.
Block out time to work away from email, programming your phone to only ring for select colleagues, and resisting emails first thing in the morning until you’ve achieved at least one important task.
2. Recognise busyness as a lack of focus.
There’s a satisfying rush we experience when there’s too much on our plate: we feel needed, challenged, even productive. Yet that pleasurable experience is an illusion. It robs us of our focus and prevents us from making progress on the work that matters most.
Instead of viewing busyness as a sign of significance, top performers interpret busyness as an indication of wasted energy.
3. Intentionally leave important tasks incomplete.
We often race to finish assignments quickly so that we can move on to the next item on our list. However, resisting this urge can actually make us more productive.
This is known as the Zeigarnick Effect. If you start a project and leave it unfinished, you’re bound to think about it more frequently than after it’s done.
Instead of aiming to complete important tasks in one sitting, try leaving them incomplete. Doing so will encourage you to continue thinking about your work in different settings and, in the process uncover new solutions.
4. Make a habit of stepping back.
In today’s economy, productivity requires more than perseverance — it requires insight and problem-solving. Research shows that we are more likely to find breakthrough ideas when we temporarily remove ourselves from the daily grind. This is why the best solutions reveal themselves when we step into the shower, go for a run, or take a holiday. Top performers view time off not as stalled productivity but as an investment in their future performance.
5. Have a plan for saying no.
The more commitments we agree to take on, the more likely we are to experience what author Rory Vaden calls “priority dilution.” This is when the number of obligations we’ve committed to prevent us from doing the work that matters most.
One method of counteracting priority dilution involves having a plan in place for saying no in advance, so that you don’t have to stop and think about how to phrase your response each time you need to turn someone down. Create an email template, or write out a script that you can use when doing it in person.
6. Make important behaviours measurable.
To make progress toward any goal, it helps to track our behaviours.
Marshall Goldsmith, has developed the daily habit of every evening, reviewing a 40item spreadsheet consisting of every important behaviour he hopes to achieve. Among the items: the number of words he wrote, the distance he walked, and the number of nice things he said to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.
7. Do things today that make more time tomorrow.
A final theme to emerge is that top performers look for ways to automate or delegate activities that are not a good use of their time. Ask yourself “How can I use my time today in ways that create more time tomorrow?” Evaluating your to-do list through this lens makes it easier to commit to activities that are not immediately enjoyable, like accounts or creating a “how to” guide for other team members to help you delegate repetitive tasks more easily.