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How to Be Productive and Avoid Burning Out
Have you ever ended your working day wishing you could have done more? Completed more tasks, finished more work, ticked a few more things off your to-do list?
Improving productivity has always been a hot topic among business owners and entrepreneurs. As a result, there’s an overwhelming amount of advice out there. No doubt you’ve read some of it! From top tips to productivity hacks, there are plenty of people eager to share what works for them.
In my experience, there are some key things missing from conversations about how to be productive. For obvious reasons, they tend to focus on doing the work, but I believe we can start improving our productivity without tackling a single task. Then, once we’re at our desks, we should be prioritising gentle productivity. After all, we’re humans, not machines.
You’ve Got to Rest
It might sound counter-intuitive but resting properly is the key to being productive. Much more than simply the absence of work, rest is a valuable activity in its own right. Unfortunately, it’s not something that’s celebrated or promoted within our culture. Often, rest is equated with laziness.
‘When we treat rest as work’s equal partner, recognize it as a playground for the creative mind and a springboard for new ideas, and learn ways to take rest more effectively, we elevate it into something valuable that can help calm our days, organize our lives, give us more time, and help us achieve more while working less. Rest is not idleness. It is the key to a better life.’
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
There are lots of ways to make your days more restful. My number one tip is to pay attention to your energy levels and ensure downtime is a regular part of your daily routine. Whether you take a leisurely walk each morning or schedule afternoon naps, making rest a non-negotiable part of your day will help you work harder and smarter in the long-run.
Back to Basics
When it comes to doing the work, try focusing on productivity basics like creating a solid routine, planning your days, and removing distractions. Remember, starting is the hardest part and a long to-do list can be paralysing. To avoid feeling swamped, try leaving off everyday chores you complete automatically like responding to emails. Putting them down on paper can make them appear more time-consuming than they are. An overwhelming list also makes you more likely to prioritise smaller, less important tasks while neglecting bigger, more urgent ones.
Eat That Frog!
Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog!’ approach is a great way to tackle your to-do list and get more done. I first read Tracy’s bestselling book back when I was a senior level manager in charge of a large team. I was dealing with lots of competing responsibilities and doing some serious juggling.
The book taught me to ‘eat that frog’ first! Your ‘frog’ is your biggest, most important task, the one you’re most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it. If you have two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. In other words, start with the biggest, hardest task. Gently discipline yourself to begin immediately and keep going until the task is complete.
‘The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. You must develop the routine of “eating your frog” before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it.’ – Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done Today
The Pomodoro Technique
Research shows working long, unbroken hours may lead to stress, burnout and poor job performance. Taking regular breaks plays a vital role in our ability to be productive. If you’re someone who struggles with this, The Pomodoro Technique, a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, might help.
The technique uses a timer to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. Each interval is known as a pomodoro, from the Italian word for 'tomato', after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used as a university student. Nowadays, there are various apps you can use and even an online Tomato Timer.
Single Tasking & Time Blocking
Working on multiple tasks at the same time probably sounds like a productivity quick fix. You’ve got lots to do, so why not do it all at once? But multitasking actually reduces efficiency and performance because our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. Believe it or not, single tasking is usually more effective. Personally, I find the quality of my work is much improved when I focus on one thing at a time.
Time blocking takes this approach to the next level. Start by dividing your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks related to a single outcome. When the time block arrives, you work on those specific tasks and nothing else.
I usually time block each week in advance, either on a Friday before I finish work or on a Sunday evening. Planning ahead and theming my days improves my productivity and helps me avoid having to constantly make choices about what to focus on.
If You Do One Thing This Week…
Experiment with the productivity techniques outlined above. Remember, forming new habits takes time. You’re human, not a machine, so it’s unlikely you’ll be super productive every day. You may find you need to switch up your methods to suit your mood, and what works today might not work tomorrow. Above all, pay attention to your energy levels. Listen to your body and notice when it’s telling you to rest.
- Operating from a Place of Rest
- Please Don’t Be Guilted into Being More Productive During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- Redefining Rest – Slowing Down to Speed Up