These days technology helps us work smarter, not harder, but that’s only true if we have the right productivity behaviors already set in place for tech to build on. Over at The Creativity Post, writer and educator Jordan Bates shares 21 of his personal behaviors for working smarter. Some select highlights include:
10. Leave a buffer-time between tasks. When we rush from task to task, it’s difficult to appreciate what we’re doing and to stay focused and motivated. Allowing ourselves down-time between tasks can be a breath of fresh air for our brains. While taking a break, go for a short walk, meditate, or perform some other mind-clearing exercise.
11. Don’t think of the totality of your to-do list. One of the fastest ways to overwhelm yourself is to think about your massive to-do list. Realize that no amount of thought will make it any shorter. At this point in time, all you can do is focus on the one task before you. This one, single, solitary task. One step at a time. Breathe.
Using Jordan’s insights, consider managing your to-do list on your phone using apps like Clear, Any.Do, or Teux Deux. You can set daily reminders and timers on your phone to help you stay on-task and set clear buffer-times too. Or set up Internet filters on your work computer to block those procrastination-inducing sites like Reddit or Facebook with apps and plug-ins like Chrome’s StayFocusd.
Start working smarter today using tips from Jordan’s complete list.
Venture capitalist Brad Feld refuses to acquiesce to the typical one-hour meeting block. He’s found that meetings tend to fill up whatever amount of time you’ve allotted for them, thereby decreasing the productivity factor:
If you schedule a meeting for an hour, it’s remarkable to me how often it takes an hour, even when it doesn’t need to. Three hour board meetings, especially when board members have traveled to them, take – wait for the drum roll – three hours.
Just because your Outlook calendar defaults to one-hour meeting invitations, or the precedent in your organization is to meet for an hour at a time, doesn’t mean you can’t question the status quo. In an age when we’re overloaded with information and our time is more valuable than ever, unnecessarily long meetings are the biggest time-suck.
Feld now schedules all his commitments in 30-minute increments:
I’ve tried it all. 60 minutes. 15 minutes. 5 minutes. 45 minutes. 37 minutes. The only thing that I’ve found that works is 30 minutes. If I schedule for 15 minutes, I inevitably have too many things in a day and get completely exhausted. If I schedule for more than 30 minutes, I find myself twiddling my thumbs and trying to get finished with the meeting. 30 minutes seems to be the ideal amount to get any type of meeting done.
What if the people with whom you’re meeting haven’t gotten the memo that those meetings should be as short and sweet as possible? Feld takes matters into his own hands:
I try to end everything when it’s done. I jump right in and finish when we are finished. When you give things 30 minutes, you don’t have time to futz around with intros and catch ups. When someone starts this way, I break in and say as politely as I can, “What’s on your mind?” On the phone, I minimize chit chat and just try to get to the point. And, after five minutes when we are done, I revel in the notion that I’ve got 25 minutes to do whatever I want.
Meetings don’t have to be a detractor from your work day if you schedule them right. Aim to never ask yourself, post-meeting, “Did that really need to take an hour?”
As a teacher, James Franco who also acts, writes, produces and directs, advises his students to create a close team of diverse talents to work with instead of relying on the industry. During an interview with Variety’s Scott Foundas for Slamdance’s “Coffee with…” series, Franco speaks about how it can be frustrating as an actor to learn your trade when you’re dependent on others.
Part of me was probably really frustrated by the fact that I really trained as an actor but I was still dependent on all these other people to work, to really apply my trade. Like I would have to get cast in something or someone would have to write something that I liked or even if they did write something I liked, I would have to be lucky enough or whatever – prove myself enough to actually get it.
So one of the things that I do at my – I also have my own schools in New York and LA – one of the things that I really try to emphasis there is community, finding your people, so that you’re not just dependent on the gatekeepers in the insular industry. But you have your people that can make movies and that’s very much what this movie [Yosemite] is a result of. And really just go ahead and go do it. You can pursue traditional inroads to the industry but at the same time you can still be making your own things because you either know how to do it all, like you’re a Seth Rogen who can write and act and direct or you have your group and you work with them.
Even if you are dependent on others in your industry, Franco says that is no excuse not to be applying your craft. Instead of networking with others directly in your occupation, like actors with actors, look to those you can collaborate with. Industrial designers should seek out manufacturers while graphic designers may look to web developers. Alternatively, you can learn to do everything to fully complete your project. Either way, don’t allow others to be the cause for your standstill.
Newton’s First Law of Motion says that objects in motion tend to stay in motion. What is said about objects in motion is equally true of our ability to do our best work and make an impact, both in our professional lives and personal ones. It’s a lot less work to keep moving once you have momentum. Far easier than it is to try and slowly fight against every distraction or shortcoming that crosses your path.
To start each day with a little momentum, Naval Admiral William H. McRaven reminds us that we should make our beds when we wake up:
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.
McRaven’s summary statement may sound a little far-fetched, but his advice is undoubtedly worth considering: if you want to make an impact at a large scale, you have to be comfortable making it at a small scale too. You can build that momentum up over time, but it all has to start somewhere. Just the momentum you gain from accomplishing simple tasks each morning (like making your bed, brushing your teeth, meditating, exercising, journaling, etc.) can create a positive stepping stone from which to take your next step.
The human body isn’t designed to sit for eight hours at a stretch. Not only is it killing you, it’s hindering your productivity. But research shows that frequently standing up from your desk to take a break can actually improve it.
Julia Gifford uses the time-tracking app DeskTime to study the habits of the most productive employees, and discovered a clear pattern:
The most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it. . .The reason the most productive 10% of our users are able to get the most done during the comparatively short periods of working time is that their working times are treated as sprints. They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.Working with purpose can also be called the 100% dedication theory—the notion that whatever you do, you do it full-on. Therefore, during the 52 minutes of work, you’re dedicated to accomplishing tasks, getting things done, and making progress. Whereas, during the 17 minutes of break, you’re completely removed from the work you’re doing—you’re entirely resting, not peeking at your email every five minutes or just “quickly checking Facebook.”
It’s not humanly possible to be productive for eight straight hours. Break your work day down into manageable chunks.
How do you find a job that, on your deathbed, you won’t regret having devoted your professional life to? This short film created by The School of Life offers a handy guide to figuring out what work is right for you. Based on the ideas of philosopher and author Roman Krznaric, the video walks you through six main guiding principles for determining what career will be deeply meaningful:
Accept that being confused about your career choices is normal. Confusion and fear are natural.
Know yourself. For 99% of us, knowing what we want to do doesn’t arise spontaneously.
Think a lot. It could take a year or more of sustained daily reflection to sort out exactly what professional path to pursue.
Try something. Take small, non-irrevocable steps to gather more information. Investigate through side projects.
Reflect on what makes people unhappy. Business is about solving other people’s problems. Work is a chance to serve.
Be confident. The difference between success and failure is the courage to give it a go.
When the going gets tough, research shows the best indicator for whether or not you’ll persevere (and succeed) is your ability to connect with a close community.
Social psychologists found that if we encounter a problem and have someone we can turn to who may have gone through a similar situation, we are more likely to overcome the challenge. Similarly, if we feel overwhelmed with a task, having a place to turn to for encouragement can be the motivator we need to keep going even when we feel entirely like giving up.
That’s not to say you have to be an extrovert or full time, networking-pro to build the type of close group or community that encourages grit. As Highrise CEO Nathan Kontny has discovered: what matters is that you are open and unafraid to ask for help or advice whenever you might need it, whether it’s from acquaintances online or co-workers across the hall:
Too many of us, especially those running businesses, suffer in isolation…We’re told to fake it till we make it. Nonsense. I can’t believe how many people tell me how well their company is doing, and three months later it’s out of business. If only they had shared their challenges, maybe I or someone in their network could have helped.
Increasing your likelihood of persevering when the going gets tough comes down to who you have to turn to and whether or not you’re open to doing so. If you have a network of people you can openly turn to whenever you need a fresh perspective or positive encouragement, you’re likely to be better off than those who lock their problems up inside.
Kontny concludes by summarizing separate research studies which showed those who regularly succeed are those who connect with the community around them. He writes:
If people weren’t alone, they persevered.