Like many people, my life can sometimes feel ‘busy’ – being a mother to two lively 8 and 10 year old boys and a business owner can mean juggling priorities and responsibilites so finding a good work-life balance is always a key area of interest for me.
Not to mention I want to find time for nurturing my own friendships, relationships and wellbeing to ensure that my inner well feels full, not empty so that I’m coming from a thriving rather than surviving mentality in my own life, work and business!
In today’s technological world, we are constantly bombarded with distractions which means it’s hard to achieve uninterrupted concentration and focus – and this has been shown to have a corresponding negative influence on our productivity and performance. The advance of technology and social media doesn’t show any signs of going away so it’s up to us as individuals to try and implement strategies to counterbalance this and find a way of working that works for us.
These are some of the practices that I’ve adopted in my own life and work that have helped me to achieve more balance and accomplish more in less time.
Top Tips For Improving Productivity
- Limit checking your email and phone to particular times of the day. Switch off notifications on your phone and computer from social media or restrict these to specific times during the day. Set yourself a limit and put a post-it note on your computer where you mark down how many times you check your email (or Facebook feed!) and once you’ve reached your limit you stop. This brings awareness to what has usually become an unconscious activity. When I’ve implemented this practice, I’ve found my productivity and concentration has improved dramatically as lack of distractions helps me to focus and more likely to get into an optimal state of mind and achieve ‘flow’. Also categorise your emails so important emails are filtered into high priority.
- Focus on small incremental steps and continuous improvement. Success is often more sustainable and more likely to happen if we break tasks and projects down into bite-sized chunks and focus on daily, continuous improvement, rather than aiming for radical or drastic change – which often shocks our system and feels unsustainable if we burn out or lose our momentum.
- Using a mind map to take an inventory of all of the different tasks, projects and to-do lists that are cluttering up your brain. Once you’ve listed everything you can think of (include both life and work activities and tasks), you can categorise into groups and break each of these tasks or projects down into the actions required. Prioritise each task as to whether it’s urgent and important, or urgent but not important or important but not urgent – see if you can minimise or let go of anything else! Your mind map can be paper-based or there are many free online versions (mindmeister.com is a good free one that I use).
- Schedule your time for your tasks and activities. Research shows that once focus is broken or you get distracted, it can take up to 25 minutes to return to that original level of engagement with your work. Multitasking doesn’t work! It takes a big toll on your productivity and the quality of work that you’re producing so find a way where you can achieve blocks of unbroken time to create an uninterrupted state of ‘flow’ and achieve good concentration. You can set ‘power hours’ or blocks of focused time in your schedule – try and establish these during times when you know you’re likely to be most productive and work at your best. These days I usually try to get up earlier. I either use this time to meditate, or work-out or do some focused work before the rest of my day really begins. Creating this ‘morning routine’ sets me up for success throughout the rest of my day as well.
- Use the Pomodoro technique. This is a powerful tool that requires you to set 25 minute blocks of focused time where you work without distractions before taking a five minute break. It shifts you from thinking I have to achieve X in Y amounts of time, to instead focusing on completing a set number of pomodoro blocks within your working day or working week instead. When you complete your pomodoros is flexible – it’s not necessarily defined by normal office hours if this doesn’t work for you. This is a good example of adopting a new approach and developing a growth mindset! (read my recent blog article on growth mindset here).
A word of warning – completing your pomodoros can be slightly addictive – it’s amazing to see how much work you can accomplish when your attention is focused. And it’s a good way to bring some fun into the process too when you see yourself working less but achieving more when you’re not multi-tasking or getting lost in distractions.
- Take time out – if you’re hitting a block, go and do something different if possible – if at work, walk around the block and get some fresh air or walk a circuit of the building. If there’s no opportunity for this, even taking time out in the staff toilets to do a few stretches or to pause and check in with your inner self and reconnect with your breath can calm and centre you.
- Regularly give yourself the opportunity to pause and take a break to return into coherence and ‘whole-brain thinking’. When you’re constantly in analysis mode, your brain is split into two as it moves from left hemisphere to right hemisphere and causes the stress hormones of cortisol and adrenaline to be active. As it analyzes, the brain is constantly having to cross the bridge between each hemisphere as it’s judging and assessing what’s good or bad, what’s right or wrong, past versus future, negative versus positive etc. Taking regular five minute breaks to pause and sit or walk or just to ‘be’ – without ‘doing’ anything gives your brain the opportunity to rebalance and achieve whole brain coherence once again.
- Drink more water! The average adult human body comprises of 60% water so it’s vital to keep our bodies hydrated in order to function at our optimum level.
- Get clear on your WHY. Ensure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing and have prioritised what is the most important use of your time and resources. Pareto’s rule states that 80% of the effects come from just 20% of the causes. Work out what are your key priorities that will generate the best results and what will give you the best return on your time, resources and effort.
- Nurture your relationships and increase your connections with others to improve performance. Carol Dweck’s work on cultivating a growth mindset with leaders and managers in organisations demonstrated that those who were more open-minded, more willing to be authentic and more vulnerable – and not always ‘knowing’ the answer were those that created trust, built connection and fostered collaboration and engagement with their teams and employees. Connection, communication and relating with one another is what brings us satisfaction and makes us human!
- Try to do something new every day – many of us are living our lives on autopilot so there’s never any room for anything new or better to come into our lives. Whilst it’s healthy to cultivate regular habits and routines and having these established can really boost productivity and performance – it’s also a good idea to be open to new opportunities. Keep your neural networks in good shape by regularly experimenting with new ideas and trying different approaches too. This also helps to keep life feeling fresh and interesting.
If you’d like help with becoming overcoming procrastination or are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and want to become more productive in your life and work, you may be interested in our Executive, Leadership and Team Coaching and Mentoring or Life Transformation and Wellbeing Coaching. We also offer Consulting Services and Training and Development workshops and courses to help organisations and teams to gain clarity, define their purpose and achieve more productivity, engagement and performance in life and at work.
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