There were so many times when I had a to-do list that was so long it made me want to scream. I have this thing where I never want to leave things on my to-do list, so I try to DO THE MOST and get it all done. Resulting in me feeling run down and stressed. Or what about those days where you have a somewhat free day and then random things pop up, making it the longest “un-free” day ever!
If you’re like most professionals, the more hours you work, the more pride you feel in your efforts. This is especially common among entrepreneurs, and has even led to a phenomenon called “busy bragging.” Professionals either boast about how many hours they’ve worked, or exaggerate how many hours they work to feel or seem more important.
Why is this the case? Part of it stems from basic values of our culture, which you probably recognize in your own life. People value time, and try to make their best use of it — after all, time is money (and we also value money). We see success as achievable only through hard work, and by extension, hours and effort. Combine that with the fact that work emails are checked around the clock thanks to constantly improving technology and the newly named phenomenon of “telepressure,” and you have a culture of overwork, which values people based on how many hours they log, how few breaks they take and how much effort they expend.
On the surface, this seems like a good thing, a motivating force that’s helping entrepreneurs get more done. But in reality, it’s damaging your productivity.
I learned that trying to rush to do everything will never help me but keep me stressed and feeling overworked. I know I am not the only person that does this, so I came up with a list of a few ways to boost productivity without increasing stress.
Keep It Simple: If you work 50 hours or more in a week, your productivity (the total amount of tasks you get done) begins to decline relative to the number of hours you work. This effect increases dramatically as you add more hours to your work schedule, to the point where a person working 70 hours a week, routinely, won’t get much more done than a person working 55 hours a week.
Eliminate Distractions: Whatever the distraction is, the key to fighting it will be discipline. Give yourself some help by offering yourself an incentive. For example, if you can stay off social media all work day — assuming it’s not part of your job — then reward yourself at night with a fancy pasta dinner or a much-needed run or hike. Maybe just knowing you’ll get home at a reasonable hour if you take fewer water cooler breaks is incentive enough to be as productive as possible. Because in the end, that’s what you’re doing: saving yourself unnecessary hours at the office by staying focused and buckling down. Just make sure you still take the occasional 10-minute break, which will allow to recharge your batteries and return to your work refreshed. Failing to do so will only lead to burnouts.
Identify and Organize Tasks: There’s nothing worse than rolling over and over in bed at night stressing about a seemingly tangled mess of appointments, phone calls, meetings, emails, and reports — and then to show up at work the next morning not even knowing where to begin. Or worse, spending half your day on a task that was low on the priority scale. Avoid falling victim to this vicious cycle and productivity blocker by breaking down the day ahead of you task by task. Make a to do list the night before for the next day.
Dive In: As Nike says, “Just Do It”. The longer you procrastinate, the more tasks pile up and the more you feel stressed. The simple fact is tackling those seemingly dreadful chores head-on brings both a sense of accomplishment and relief, and frees our minds to fully embrace the rest of the tasks facing us — increasing our productivity and reducing our stress, in other words.
Don’t get Bogged Down: Don’t dwell on minor issues that drain our attention and productivity. Obsessing over minor issues like this is just another form of procrastination. Learn to recognize it and you’ll learn to recognize what’s important and what’s not, resulting in a more streamlined workflow.
Delegate Tasks: Rather, if you’ve run into a brick wall, find someone more suited to the task at hand and give them a chance to excel and shine instead of trying to clumsily do it yourself. This allows all involved to get back to being productive. Do your best and hire out the rest.
Take Care of Yourself: Putting in too many hours or too much effort will result in health complications. You’ll be more susceptible to illnesses, and your feelings of wellness will decline. This means you’ll take more sick days, you’ll spend more time at the doctor and you’ll end up with even more work to catch up on. Hard work is not a bad thing and there is nothing wrong with being proud of the hours you work and the effort you expend. The danger is prioritizing the amount of work you do rather than the quality of work you do and your health. As with most things, it’s all about balance, so try to “zoom out” from the demands of our culture of overwork, and set yourself up for a healthier, more productive style of work. Lack of sleep combined with near-constant expenditure of mental energy results in a steadily increasing feeling of tiredness that caffeine can’t counteract. The quality of your work will decline. You’ll have trouble learning and remembering new things, and you’ll be slower in everything you do.
Make Your Workspace Pleasant: Happy workers are productive workers. If listening to your iPod makes you happy — and isn’t a distraction — then invest in some great earbuds and enjoy yourself as you crank out those reports. Maybe spruce up your office with some houseplants that you find calming, or attach photos of inspirational figures to your walls. Whatever keeps you calm, happy, and motivated will likely keep you productive and less stressed.