The desire to slack off, to do nothing and to simply procrastinate until the day is over is strong in us.
This is especially true to those of us who come from a very special group of people that grew up in the fast paced instant gratification generation – more commonly known as the Gen Y. I have a theory that maybe the urge to procrastinate isn’t born from our innate character of being lazy but it is born from desire to accomplish everything instantly. We grow bored very easily because we do not understand the need to keep at something for a long period of time.
When we compare the hobbies of the past and the hobbies we have now, the hobbies we have now are based on unlocking achievements instantly, we love video games because we are constantly unlocking new bosses and levels, always having our attention occupied this in contrast to the hobbies of days past. The hobbies that our parents’ generation had like fishing and stamp collecting were more centered on waiting and persistently finding/waiting for something to complete a task.
Even in our daily lives, this need to achieve things instantly is very apparent. If we don’t understand something we instantly Google it, if we feel like eating something in the middle of the night there’s McDonald’s Delivery 24/7 and if we miss someone we can always just Skype the person.
Being a Gen-Y myself, I’ve had my fair share of getting my needs and wants met almost instantly every time and despite my parents best efforts to make me understand the value of patience and continuous hard work, I’d much rather prefer to find more effective and easier ways to achieving my goals. Instead of carefully cultivating and planning my tasks I rush through them thinking that being occupied means that I’m getting more things done (until eventually I'm stuck beneath a pile of work that I have to redo, wondering how on earth did I get myself into this mess).
Through the bitter experiences of piling my plate up too high and see it all crumbling down to the ground as I went on an endless cycle of trying to keep up, I’ve finally conceded that being busy and being productive may not actually be the same thing. Through this experience I’ve been trying these five things to help me keep my productivity levels up and my stress levels down ( for the most part).
1. Three major things
Being in an optimal state helps us get things done right, it helps us really concentrate and iron through the details of our work to ensure that we give quality work. However I believe that working at our optimal all day every day is madness, not even superman can pull it off.
Being at our optimal would mean that we give our undivided attention to the task at hand without being distracted or demotivated by the amount of other things we’ve got piled on our plate and I think we only have about a maximum of 8 maybe 9 hours ( my maximum is five hours before I start tetris battling on Facebook at work but that will be our little secret) in a day where we can continuously stay in this state. Longer than that and we will burn out.
This would mean that every one of us can probably only do about three (3) major things in a day therefore it is crucial at the start of everyday we decide on the three things that we need to get done.
Every day before you start your day, before you start working, it is best to go through all the things that you currently have on your plate. Once that’s done you then need to get your segmentation right, decide which tasks you consider are major tasks and minor tasks. Major tasks could either be a string of other minor tasks to reach a goal or it could be one big activity that you need to get done. Major tasks would include things like doing market research, reaching out to potential clients or coming up with chunks of content for a website.
Then out of the many important major tasks you have, decide which ones are the most important that you need get done today. One of the best ways I’ve found that really helps with this decision would be to base it off
- Time – When do you have to get this task done by?
- Amount (size) – How long would it take for you to complete this task
- Effort – How much energy would you have to put in to complete this task?
2. Be consistent
The thing about us as human beings is that we are a creature of habit. In order for us to be productive we need to be consistent in all things we do. This consistency means that we need to have a trigger item, something familiar whenever we are working to tell us its time for work. Something like a startup screen.
It could be setting your phone on silent, it could be having a your pencil case on your desk it could even be sitting down at the same location every day. This is important as you’ll send a message to your brain that ‘Now is the time to get into the zone’. To just work, to not be distracted by anything else other than work and to block out anything else that comes your way.
On top of having a trigger item, many people who are firm believer in maximizing your day also believe that we need to start the day early.
Wait, hold on a minute don’t leave, as you hover over that close button I’d like to say that 'No, I am not one of those kind of writers who asks you to wake up at the crack of dawn kind of person'. I understand it is quite difficult to get out of bed at 5a.m. –or any time before the sun comes up actually, but what I’m proposing instead is that you standardize your wake up time.
If you believe that waking up at 8am every day is a reasonable time (granted that you will not be late for work), then you would need to commit yourself to waking up at 8am every day to get your body used to working at that time. Set your alarm clock to always ring at exactly 8am every single day, no earlier or later as that will mess up your body clock.
3. Take care of yourself
Sometimes when we are so caught up with our projects and want to get things done as soon as we can, that often times we tell ourselves that ‘we’re still young, our body can take it’ is when we begin to neglect out well being. I have a sinking suspicion that this kind of mentality has led to more and more cases of young people having back problems early in life, or having some illness that are more common amongst older people.
This is not the way to live life, it would seem like there is a paradox within us the Gen-Ys. We either go hard or go home. We give our all in something or we don’t do it at all, that train of thought maybe very inspirational but it is not feasible for extended periods of time, do things in moderation. I’m not saying when it comes to getting the job done we do a bad job at it, I think we just need to learn more about finding that balance that sweet spot.
If we burn out too fast and too frequently it detracts further from our productivity levels in the long run. An inspiring lady and a great advocate of getting enough sleep, Arianna Huffington; founder of the Huffington post says a good way to achieve success is to get enough sleep. How do you know if you've had enough sleep? Well it depends but about 7 - 9 hours should be enough for you to actually start experiencing the benefits of sleeping.
Other than sleep, exercising is also an important in leading a balanced more productive life. It may be difficult to take time after a long day at work to motivate yourself to go to the gym and then get enough sleep so here are a few ways you can exercise at work.
4. Take a break
If sleeping more and exercising more frequently is not an option then maybe you could also try taking a break every once in a while. Our bodies need time to recharge, just like any device we too need to be plugged into an energy source once we are running low. Sleep and exercise are great sources of energy but relaxing be a close substitute.
You can either take long breaks like going on vacation every three to four months over a long weekend or you could take short breaks at work. And if you cannot choose between the two then
Another thing you could try would be to also try meditating, it will probably take about 10 – 15 minutes of your time. Before you head out for lunch or in between lunch and the end of the day, take time off and simply try and relax yourself. Sit in a quiet corner and clear your head. Think about nothing as you inhale and exhale.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
About 5 years ago, I came across this book called ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ by Richard Carison and thought it to be quite interesting. In short what I found was that everything you do, every mistake you make are only as big as you make them to be. So what if we messed up that presentation, so what if we printed the wrong notes to bring into a meeting, so what if we took an extra-long time understanding something important, what is more important is that we bounce back from that and come back swinging.
What good will is there if we’re forever worrying about things we’ve done wrong? Focus on things we can do to be better. In the pursuit of making things better, I’ve also realized that we must always refrain saying to ourselves
“I will NOT do ‘insert mistake here’ again.”
This will only force our minds to play that mistake in our brain on an unending replay. Our brains are pre-programmed to do things that we think about often, think about not running late and you will be running late. But if you tell yourself ‘Tomorrow I’ll be early’ and your chances of actually coming early has just increased by a considerable amount and that is the beauty of the human mind.
Those are the five things I’ve been trying to get me to be more productive. If you could identify with the things I’ve said, have got any questions or want to just say Hi, leave your comments in the section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.