Recently, I told one of my friends, “If I didn’t have to sleep, I could get so much more done!” It was a half-hearted joke because I think I mean it. There is always so much to do and so much that could be done. It is true for me and true for most. In thinking about how to get more stuff done, I came up with several ideas. They are more suggestions than principles because everyone works differently. So, take what is helpful and discard what is not. I realize that my suggestions will not work for everyone.
1. Focus on a single task for a set period of time. My mind works better when I have a set time limit to the work I’m doing. Knowing that there is an end to the current work helps me to pace myself to be effective. When I just sit down to work with no timeline in mind and no chronological end in sight, my emotions tend to waver a bit. So, for example, when I sit down at in the evenings to write, I set a time limit as to when I’ll stop writing. It does two things. First, it gives me an “out” to stop work when it is not going well so that I don’t deal with the false shame of the “Well, that was awful” mentality. Secondly, if it is going really well, it gives me a sense of exhilaration to say, “This is going so well why would I ever stop?”
2. Stop multitasking. If you are going to do email, then answer your email. If you are going to brainstorm, then brainstorm. Whatever task you need to tackle, then be single-minded about it. At work, close your door and turn off your phone. Multitasking happens in my life for three reasons: lack of mental discipline, feelings of insecurity about my amount of production, and allowing others to dictate your schedule. Identify your distractions and eliminate them. Focus is a non-negotiable to productivity.
3. Walk away periodically. I need to physically walk away sometimes. It is not that I am departing from the work, I just need to get my blood pumping. To me, even though I love writing and the written word, sitting in a chair for hours on end becomes draining. My colleagues at work might think I walk around too much. But I’d rather go and talk face-to-face rather than exchange 17 emails. Plus, the movement often clears the mental cobwebs.
4. Rest when necessary. Very few people can sleep only a few hours a night and still be productive. We need to observe the Sabbath principle for our own good. If you are tired, take a break. If you need a nap – and you’re not on the clock at work – then take a nap. Productivity is as much physical as it is mental so protect yourself.
5. Leverage technology and love the printed page. Some will disagree with me on this but I like the printed page better than the digital versions of technology. It is a function of preference, age, and a myriad of other factors in my life. However, I find the use of various digital technologies to be helpful in collaboration and productivity. My encouragement is for you to find your balance for the sake of your memory. Currently, researchers are doing the work to understand how our brains process information from reflective light (on a printed page) and refractive light (from a digital screen) with some fascinating results. Discover how you best process, retain, and recall information so your productivity can be at its peak.
6. Ask for help. The portrait of the solitary worker cloistered away in their office, cubicle, or section of the assembly line is not always the portrait of productivity. Very often, you need help to be productive. In my current work for both a publishing house and a church, I heavily rely on the work done by others to do my work well. But, productivity goes beyond just waiting for parts A, B, and C to be done so I can do part D. Instead, I seek out others’ opinions, wisdom, and help when I’m in the midst of the work. Productivity often hinges on the humility of knowing how much others can contribute.
7. Be selfless. Productivity for the sake of ego is self-defeating. As you continue to try to impress your boss, colleagues, competitors, and yourself, eventually you will hit the wall of what is physically and mentally possible. On the other hand, when you seek for your productivity to be on behalf of what will benefit others, then you will be energized, collaborative, and find ways to multiply the work. Why? Because others receiving credit will be seen as a win rather than a personal loss. As you seek selflessness in your work, productivity can skyrocket because the success of others becomes a goal worth attaining.