October 17, 2013

Improve Your Mood and Productivity in 5 Steps

Dennis O'Donnell

Operating a small business demands maximum efficiency out of our day while still maintaining sanity. Over the years, I’ve accumulated some tools, tips, and methods to help increase my personal productivity at work. Some of them might seem counterintuitive – but they’re battle-tested here in my office, and backed up with real scientific research as well. The upside of all this is that maximizing your productivity won’t mean putting more on your plate or becoming more stressed. These methods will help you get the most out of your day, and come out a little happier:

Step 1: Get Rid of The Long Hours, and Stick to Around 40 per Week

There are dozens of studies that show your productivity falls off a cliff after 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week. It’s natural to be skeptical of this idea, and it’s pretty much become a part of work culture in the USA: if 40 hours are good, then 80 hours must be amazing. This just isn’t true. Even the New England Journal of Medicine conducted a study linking long work shifts with an increased risk of auto accidents. If you want to read more about this topic of the 40-hour week in-depth, please check out this fantastic article by Sara Robinson. So now you’ve cut back to 40 hours, but how can you really maximize those hours?

Step 2: Eliminate Multitasking

Most people perceive multitasking to be ultra-productive, but the truth is that it’s a grand delusion we’ve created for ourselves. As humans, we are least effective and least productive when multitasking. If you want to get the most done in a day, simply focus on one task at a time, complete it, and move on single-mindedly to the next. The evidence against multitasking is overwhelming, and what’s worse is the way it creates a false sense of accomplishment in your mind:

The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking.

-Via The Atlantic

The best way to help with this is to chunk things up a bit – knock out email in one swoop, then work on that new design for an hour, and then take your client’s phone call. Doing more than one at once will make you slower overall…even though you’ll actually feel more effective.

Step 3: Eliminate Time-Wasters and Gain Focus Using RescueTime

RescueTime SnippetAccording to Forbes, 64% of people visit non-work websites every day during work hours. The amount wasted varies from person to person, of course – but the big question is, how much time do you waste per day? Think of all the distractions – Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, chat clients….the list goes on. Truly, it’s impossible for you to accurately estimate. That’s why I use RescueTime. This program will run in the background on your computer, and quietly track what you’re doing – offline and online. By the end of 1-2 weeks, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where most of your time is spent. The graphics in this post are my actual RescueTime screenshots. The point here is, you’ve already trimmed your work week down to only 40 hours to help gain better health and focus – you can’t spend 3 hours of that on Facebook.

Just to share a little – I found out my biggest distractions were lunch/coffee breaks, and Twitter. I was able to get back about 1 hour per week in productive time by trimming both down. But what if you’ve determined via RescueTime that most of your time is spent on “semi-productive” stuff like email and administrative tasks? How can you squeeze even more out of your day?

Step 4: Get Control of Your Email with Inbox Zero

Email is statistically the 3rd largest chunk of your time at work – so making it more efficient will yield great results. For this, I recommend Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is not a piece of software or anything you can buy – it is a philosophy to dealing with email, and it has genuinely saved me about 2 hours a week, making it possibly the most effective and powerful change I’ve ever made to recover time. Everyone has some “system” to dealing with email – they categorize, or put it into folders, etc – this is a bit different. It is used by some of the best tech leaders out there, and the video I link to is actually filmed at Google….so apparently they thought it was pretty awesome. Here’s the video: Inbox Zero.

Step 5: Automate Mindless Tasks

This last step is the “cleanup” after we’ve taken care of the major issues like multitasking, Facebook, and email. Using RescueTime, you might find there’s a bunch of other tasks that eat up 15 minutes here or there – paying bills, running payroll, shipping packages, etc. My approach to these tasks is to find the ones that do not require tons of input and automate them. If you do not take advantage of your bank’s automatic bill pay, this is a great example. Automatic bill pay is usually free, but at worst, will cost about $15 a month. However, that $15 saves you the time of cutting checks, balancing the check book, and stuffing envelopes for the myriad of bills that arrive at your door on a monthly basis. Some other examples of this that I’ve found that may be worth researching on your own are: Full Service Payroll (I recommend Paychex) to take care of payroll taxes, bank account statement import automation, and shipping label automation.

No matter what profession or position you’re in, your time is valuable. These steps have helped me create an incredibly productive and efficient week, while also maximizing my time to work on other things that simply create happiness or broaden my knowledge. If you try any (or all) of these steps, please let us know in the comments!

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