You’re only productive at work three days out of the week:
People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).
So how can you improve that?
Make It Automatic
The secret to getting more done is to make things automatic. Decisions exhaust you:
The counter intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.
It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.
You need to break bad habits and develop solid routines. The secret to this is to do both at the same time: replace one with the other.
The things that effect our behavior perhaps more than anything else is context:
Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.
First step? Hang out with friends who are productive.
Get your head right
Mood matters. Happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful. As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:
…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.
Proven methods for increasing happiness are here.
Imagining the stereotype of someone who excels at what you’re attempting can improve your performance. And don’t be confident — be overconfident. Overconfidence increases productivity:
We conduct maze-solving experiments under both reward structures and reveal that overconfidence is a significant factor in increasing productivity. Specifically, subjects exhibiting progressively higher degrees of overconfidence solve more mazes.
Being overconfident often gives better results than being objective and rational:
…moderate overconfidence in a contest can improve the agent’s performance relative to an unbiased opponent and can even lead to an advantage for the overconfident agent in absolute terms.
A little self-deception is one of the keys to optimal performance. In fact, a littlesuperstition won’t hurt. Someone wishing you luck actually does increase performance. Good luck charms inspire confidence which improves performanceon a variety of tasks.
Thinking about what you need to do, Rocky-montage style, is more powerful than envisioning how good it will feel to be done. Progress motivates you more than anything else. The best methods for beating procrastination are here.
Your brain was never designed to multitask well:
To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.
Across the board multitasking lowers productivity:
Our results show that multitasking is bad for productivity even if one is not concerned with average duration.
Neither gender is better at it:
We do not find any evidence for gender differences in the ability to multitask.
But if multitasking doesn’t work, why do you do it so often? It makes you more emotionally satisfied, even if it makes you less productive:
“…they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”
So if you’re drinking coffee, listening to music and checking your email as you read this blog post, try focusing on one thing at a time.
Tools And Environment Matter
Use checklists. Yeah, everybody says that. And you probably don’t consistently do it.
Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande analyzed their effectiveness in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. What happens when you consistently use checklists use across in an intensive care unit?
The proportion of patients who didn’t receive the recommended care dropped from seventy per cent to four per cent; the occurrence of pneumonias fell by a quarter; and twenty-one fewer patients died than in the previous year. The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the I.C.U. make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.
What makes for a good checklist? Be specific and include time estimates.
…while puzzling over the research data on 11 companies that turned themselves from mediocrity to excellence, from good to great. In cataloguing the key steps that ignited the transformations, my research team and I were struck by how many of the big decisions were not what to do, but what to stop doing.
Get enough sleep:
All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.
Keep Getting Better
How do you keep improving over time? You need feedback. Monitor what you do and what gets results over time. As Pete Drucker, author of The Effective Executive writes:
The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations… Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know.
Oh, and if you’re one of those people who sorts all your email into folders? Stop it.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.