Are you overworked? Are you falling behind? Is your work/life balance out of whack? Are you missing deadlines? These problems, and related ones, can be addressed in one of two basic ways: 1) Decrease your workload; 2) Increase your productivity. Decreasing your workload is very difficult; most organizations run very lean and are unlikely to look favorably on your request to have less responsibility. Increasing your productivity will not only improve your chances of correcting the problems mentioned above, but will also enhance your professional standing, leading to increased chances for promotions and raises.
Here are some ideas that are sure to help:
1) WHAT IS LOW PRODUCTIVITY COSTING YOU? Take an honest inventory of the problems emanating from your sub-optimal productivity. Maybe you got a mediocre performance assessment and as a result your job security is threatened; maybe you’re not spending enough time with your kids because you are having to work so many hours. Make a list of thse problems! Fully realizing the cost of low productivity will enhance your motivation to implement changes.
2) EXAMINE YOUR ATTITUDE – Many of clients self-label in a defeatist way that hinders their ability to step up their game: “I’m a procrastinator;” I have ADHD.” “I never am on time,” “I’m a perfectionuist.” While these may be real tendencies, there are exceptions (see below); no matter who you are you are capable of improving: remind yourself of that on a frequent basis.
3) WHEN WERE YOU PRODUCTIVE? Although you may have a long-standing pattern of low productivity, there are surely instances in which you performed highly efficiently. What were the characteristics of those situations in which you were able to do more in less time? Were you well rested? Had you been on a good exercise and diet regimen? Were you motivated by some kind of tangible reward? Did someone encourage you?
4) REDUCE CLUTTER – Productivity requires singlemindedness; a cluttered worksplace, not to mention a cluttered mind, interferes with your ability to perform at your best. Straighten up your desk, create a special “to do” list that is focused on key priorities (see below) rather than including items such as picking up the dry cleaning. You should also consider deleting some of those Facebook friends who aren’t really friends, reading their posts are taking up valuable time.
5) KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR USE OF TECHNOLOGY – This tip is related to the one above. Technology has provided us with a myriad of ways to entertain ourselves: Facebook lets us catch up on the latest developments in our friends’ lives, Groupon offers tempting price reductions on cool stuff, “Words with Friends” lets us exercise our brains, Match.com offers the allure of romance…Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, Yahoo stocks. The list goes on. Turn off your phone, encourage people to email you rather than text regarding non-urgent matters, delete the apps that are most likely to lure you away from productive work.
6) BECOME MORE AWARE OF YOUR THOUGHTS – Many of my clients sort of stumble into periods of low productivity, generally initiated by thoughts like “I need to check my e-mail,” or “I wonder what the score of the game is?” I’m amazed at how many people report that they find themselves off task without realizing how they got there. A technique I frequently recommend to increase thought awareness is as follows:
a) Find a relaxed seating position at a time and in a place that will allow you to be undisturbed for a little while. Then set a timer (your phone’s alarm, your microwave beeper) to go off in five minutes.
b) Close your eyes and begin breathing, slowly and deeply, through your nostrils. See if you can focus on the very subtle sensation of the air flowing in and out of your nasal passage. It’s like a little tickle, and for most people more subtle on the exhale than on the inhale. If you have trouble breathing through your nose, you can do the breathing through pursed lips, focusing on the sensation of the air crossing your lips.
c) Within a few seconds a thought is likely to pop into your head (our minds are constantly generating thoughts, often seemingly at random). Take notice that a thought has arisen, but don’t evaluate or judge it (or yourself for having had it). Simply note it and then bring your attention back to the subtle sensation in your nose as you continue the slow, deep breathing.
You will probably notice that your attention is likely to be “captured” by one of these thoughts, and that seconds or even minutes will go by with your being immersed in that thought before you remember that you’re supposed to be concentrating on the subtle nasal sensation. This is a natural pitfall in the process. Again, don’t judge yourself for having “strayed from the path,” just notice that it happened.
With practice you will get better and better at both quickly noticing when your attention has strayed and at pulling yourself back to focusing on the breathing. Consistently practicing with this technique will have cumulative benefit, just as consistent exercise does. You’ll get better and better at placing your thoughts where YOU want them to be, as opposed to being captured by a random thought that drags you into an unproductive or unhappy place.