he daily mission to double the quality of our work in half the time is an on-going affair with everyone in the office; no matter where we are in the corporate hierarchy, we’re all trying to squeeze more out of the same 24 hours. Although pacing oneself is held in high regard, Coco Chanel didn’t build an empire by taking her time; as “gentleness doesn’t get the work done unless you happen to be a hen laying eggs”
The increased value of how much one works, as opposed to how one works is the first port of call. Whilst working smarter, as opposed to working harder is not a new phenomenon, efficiency and productivity have a new common enemy; the concept of ‘busywork’. The bulk completion of banal yet necessary tasks that fuels the office’s engines is productivity’s silent killer, largely down to the unbalanced scales of physical exertion vs mental effort. Perfect as it may be for firing up our brain cylinders first thing in the morning, it’s the nemesis when tackling substantial tasks that actually bare a weight of responsibility as it dilutes our focus and hinders creative thinking. Naturally, not all of us are morning birds and some relish the ‘easing-in’ period of the morning of superficial paper shuffling but in removing our office assassin, one can move forward with a sharper focus in mind. As life coach and motivational speaker Mary Manin Morrissey points out, “respect comes not from the work you do, but the way you do your work." Produce something of twice the value in half the time, using these four points.
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The exclusive notion of women mastering the art of multi-tasking is something we're all capable of; now it needs to stop entirely. Aside from diluting the quality of your performance, the added the temptation of distraction only elevates the unnecessary chaos of juggling multiple roles. Although busywork can awaken our focus, polluting tasks that need our concentrated attention detracts from the quality and diversity of our work. The creative elements of our strategic thinking are pushed to one side in reducing our focus on the task at hand, an idea reiterated by Entrepreneur.com’s Kristin Marquet. “Although multi-taking is currently in vogue...people who try to do two or more activities at once end up becoming distracted”, Marquet argues “and the quality of their work suffers.” Focus on one task at a time - and build up the courage to say no to extra responsibility - and channel your energy into the 90-minute slots your brain is designed to operate on before moving on.
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Take a Break
As capable as the human body is, it was not designed to be stationary. Relish the foraging-nature of our anatomy and create a space for downtime. We’re all familiar with the erratic nature of inspiration and when and where it chooses to strikes but contrary to inconvenience or irony, there’s research to suggest the harmony between taking a break and being productive is what generates creative thinking. “Removing yourself from the work environment immediately reduces stress and gives your brain a chance to ‘catch-up’”, says Larry Alton of Success.com, “your subconscious mind will continue working on [an old task], even if your conscious mind is trying to relax – which is why sometimes, solutions magically pop into-your mind when you aren’t thinking about the problem.” Our health is the first to take a hit in working long hours so something as simple as 20 minutes away from your computer screen – potentially a group coffee run - is the first step to integrating healthier habits into your schedule. To top it off, operate on a scale your cognitive function was designed for. Buffer’s Bell Beth Cooper structures her day around 90-min inserts, with 15 minutes of rest to maximise productivity, a recent phenomenon based on research on ultradian rhythms and the brain’s natural attention time-spans. “By taking breaks roughly every 90 minutes, you allow your mind and body to renew--and be ready to fire off another 90-minute period of high activity.”
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Commit to the To-Do List
Old habits die hard and the satisfaction of ticking off a list of tasks will never tarnish. The anchor to getting your list sorted however, is the classically categorical approach; dividing up that which you can attack yourself and that which can be delegated. Harvard Business lecturer Robert Pozen stresses that time wasted in leisurely picking unimportant tasks in your list damages your rates of productivity in the long-run, as one inevitably end up ranking their own priorities below others, "When people don’t take control, they go through their days passively. They go to meetings, they answer emails, and when they get to the end of the day, what they’ve done is responded to other people’s priorities and not their own” he said. By attacking the biggest - or, logically the most enjoyable tasks first - your priorities can be sorted immediately and can improve your performance for the rest of the day. Similarly, Paula Rizzo, Senior Health Producer at Fox News focuses on targeting specifics on a to-do list to spike productivity, pulling the substantial tasks “you have the time and resources to achieve” to the top. Whether it's the pen and paper that still stokes your fire or if you prefer the digital versions from the likes of Wunderlist or Any.Do, set your list as your target and make aiming for the bulls-eye your daily mission.
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Distractions linger in any working environment. Instead of resisting an ongoing problem, use the same strategic thinking for attacking tasks themselves to adapt; the use of your time, readjusted. Embrace the two-minute rule, as set by entrepreneur Steve Olenski; if a task that pops up can be performed in under two-minutes, do it immediately. Allowing your to-do list or day-plan to get clogged up with fodder reduced the focus, thus productivity on other major tasks; removing distractions or declining to be on extra projects can be turned into less time wasted and more time invested. The same approach can be applied to face-time with colleagues; meetings that don’t produce results needn’t be scheduled. “There are only so many hours in the day, so making the most of your time is critical” investor John Rampton says, “there are two ways to increase your output--either put in more hours or work smarter” – and reallocating your time away from ‘busywork’ is the removal of a distraction in itself.
Words by Emma Corr