Pain-free ways to increase productivity

Have you noticed how “busy” the new black is? Many workplaces recognize and reward being fast-paced or adaptable. But in reality they are sweatshops of professional workers who push people beyond their limits. The result? Stressed and burned out employees.

In a culture that values ​​hard work and productivity, when we try, we “win”. Being busy increases our (self-)importance and can be addictive. We feel guilty or ashamed when we don’t do a lot of “stuff” at work or on our weekends.

Articles, books, and podcasts report that successful people are willing to go longer and harder than others. They get up at 4 or 5 in the morning to get moving — although research actually shows us that the more sleep we get, the happier we are.

Working hard and being “on” all the time is actually detrimental to what you want to achieve. Pain, stress, and fatigue produce neurotransmitters that disconnect you from your executive function (smarts).

Your brain will work better and be more productive when you flip the switch and build in more downtime. We need to be in an engaged, happy, and relaxed state to perform at our best. So, here are some of my favorite techniques to help you do just that.

Build in a buffer of 15%

Capacity utilization (used mostly in manufacturing) measures the difference between production and ability to produce. It is unlikely that a company will operate at 100% capacity, so 85% is considered optimal. This provides a 15% buffer against setbacks such as device failures or resource shortages.

The same goes for you and your brain. You need to work at 85%, not 100%, to optimize your resources and mental system.

Just look at Olympian Carl Lewis. The nine-time sprint gold medalist was known as a master finisher: in a 100-meter sprint, he was often last at the 40-meter mark but sped past other competitors to the finish line. While other runners clearly had to push harder at the end – fists clenched, faces grimaced – Lewis looked exactly the same after his win as he did at the start. He ran at 85%, not 100% full throttle from start to finish.

TIP: Build in a 15% buffer for your day or week. Cut 1.2 hours out of an 8-hour day; that’s one day out of a 7-day week. Just start blocking holidays in advance (especially if you’re self-employed). Spend this time reading, relaxing or resting. It may feel counterintuitive, but it will give you brain power in the long run.

Pay attention to your body clock (not your wall clock).

Have you ever noticed that as the day goes on, your patience (and staying power) in meetings or conversations becomes shorter and more unpredictable? The smallest things start to annoy you because you are drained and your mental energy is low. It’s not the best state for making important decisions or trying to have productive conversations.

Brainwave studies show us that innovation, inspiration, and intuition are only available when our brains are in certain states of consciousness. The more brain space you protect, the better.

For most of us, the morning is our most productive time—so big decisions and tasks that require attention and focus (what we call our “real work”) are best done in the morning, and repetitive tasks (like email ) are best done in the afternoon when your cognitive load is light.

TIP: Maximize your morning by starting it the night before. Before you end the day, plan two or three tasks that you want to do first. Avoid turning on your email in the morning until these tasks are done. Protect your most valuable time.

Hold 25 minute meetings

We need encounters. We need them at work because when things go well, clear actions are set, decisions are made and the whole company moves forward.

The problem is that we automatically hold 60-minute meetings. That’s at least 35 minutes of wasted time waiting for latecomers, fixing technical issues, and worrying about the agenda (or lack thereof).

A planning of only 25 minutes creates clarity about what is important. If we only have 25 minutes, we’d better focus on what we need to get done. This automatically forces us to think about the top two or three things to discuss in a meeting and drives action.

TIP: Change your default calendar app to 25 minutes instead of 60. Always let people know the purpose of a meeting. When accepting invitations, tell others you only have 25 minutes and ask why you are expected to be there. If there is no reason or the purpose is unclear, save yourself some time and politely decline.

Simplify your systems

When faced with a problem, our instinct is to “add things” (complicated) rather than “remove things” (decomplicated).

We arrange additional meetings to find out why work schedules are too tight, but by doing so we add more bureaucracy and more decision points. When your day or week is busy, you get up earlier or stay up later to get done. But what if you just reduced the number of things you committed to?

Think about the boundaries you could set up to create a “to.”notMake a list.” This includes things like social media during work hours, living in your email, meetings before 10am and after 3pm, or staying up late.

TIP: Look at your current to-do list and remove things that are worth little, drain energy, or distract from your true goals or KPIs. All these things will help you get the important things done and you will be surprised how much time they have consumed in the past.

So if you want to be “fast,” “successful,” or “adaptable,” stop pushing yourself and start winning your day with more downtime instead.

Donna McGeorge is a productivity coach and time management expert with over 20 years of experience working with managers and executives across Australia and Asia Pacific at companies such as Nissan, Ford Motor Company, Jetstar and others. Pain-free ways to increase productivity


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