Are you productive? Do you want to be more productive? We all do, right? Just work harder! Put in longer hours! Weekends. Sleep less. Grind. Right?
That isn’t how it works in my experience. I’m a programmer and love working late into the night. When I have an interesting programming challenge to solve or am on a roll, I have to force myself to stop coding—often at 2 or 3 in the morning. Sounds like a good problem to have right? I’m getting heaps of work done. Grinding. Pushing. Well, I pay for it the next few days until I work off the sleep deficit. Until then, I can’t concentrate for long periods of time and my mind is a step or two slower.
And, it’s not just me. Study after study shows the same thing—working longer hours is counterproductive—and can even be detrimental to your health. Plus working more hours takes time from whatever it is that we truly find important in our live and staves off burnout.
So.....the bottom line is: if you want to be more productive and the science, experience (and your soul) says longer hours won’t make that happen then the solution is to work smarter.
Distractions are the biggest productivity killer. One commonly cited statistic floating around the internet says that it takes 23 minutes to regain focus after being distracted. When thinking about what your ideal working environment should be, the goal should be to minimize distractions. Meetings, messaging (personal and via office chat/slack), coworker drop-bys are at the top of my list. I can happily work at a noisy Starbucks for hours on end but put me in an open office layout next to a friendly coworker and I’m in trouble.
I maximize my environment by working in solitude, with my notifications turned off, and by managing my meeting schedule to avoid a choppy day. Not everyone can control all of their environment (unless you have the option to work from home) to the degree a startup founder can but being aware and making minor changes can pay huge dividends. For example:
- Block your calendar to prevent others from overcommitting you to meetings.
- Shift your work schedule to get a little quiet time before or after the day takes over.
- If you work in an open office develop a system to let people know when you don’t want to be disturbed. I read about one company whose employees would put red rubber bands on their wrists when they didn't want to be interrupted.
Having said that, you probably have more control over your environment than you realize. It’s OK to say no to useless meetings. It’s OK to say to say no to work that takes you off mission. Learning how to say no is a critical skill in today’s “always on” environment.
Prioritization and process
People are (in general) horrible at prioritizing their work—I know I can be! If you’re working very long hours but feel like you’re not making progress, I would guess it’s because you are either prioritizing the urgent over the important or focusing on arbitrary metrics rather than creating value/successful outcomes. HoneIn offers a goal management platform, so I certainly believe in goals and metrics, but they need to be tied to outcomes and value. Making 100 cold calls a day is hitting a metric. Solving a problem for a client is creating value.
What can we do to make sure we are working on the right work? The Eisenhower method can be a good way to deal with working that is flowing your way, but to take control of your priorities a more proactive process is needed. Find/create a process that suits you, but here are a few things that work for me.
- Create goals that are measured on value/outcomes and not measured on doing work. It can be useful to keep track of both but be sure to understand the difference. I am making 100 calls to sell 5 products. Selling 5 products is the real goal. If making 100 calls isn’t helping sell 5 products, then you’d better change what you are doing!
- Limit the numbers of things you are working on at any given time. For example, at the end of each day, I want to be aware of what I will be working on the next day, so I will make a conscious decision about that. The next morning, I will hit the ground running by picking a few tasks that support the prior evening’s decision. And then I go all out on those tasks.
- Keep a don’t do list. Most people manage some variation of a to do list, but what about getting rid of the things you shouldn’t be doing. It’s critical to manage a list of the things that you are regularly doing that aren’t creating value and systematically eliminate them.
- Turn it into a routine.
Do we really need a study to know that this one is important? If you’re doing what you love you’re going to be more engaged and productive than if you’re doing something you despise. Piece of cake, right? Well, where this one gets tricky is that we also have to earn a living of course. What happens when what you love doesn’t intersect with your needs? Then you find a connection to that purpose through the work you are doing.
For example, connect to the values or purpose of the company you are working for. My prior company helped people pay for health care. I could imagine families all over the country paying for prescriptions for their sick children, and making sure that worked was very important to me.
- Sleep: 7, 8, 9 hours. Yes, please. Don’t believe those people who say they are sleeping 4 hours a night. It’s not sustainable and not healthy. More sleep; more productive.
- Exercise: More energy; better brain function; longer and improved quality of life. Just do it!
- Support: We’re social creatures. Find support from family, friend, or even customers. A good friend at work? You’re likely to be more productive!
- Collaboration, but not too much: We’re more productive on our own but can have a narrow vision of the problem we’re trying to solve. Find the right balance.
Once again, the evidence is clear that working longer is not the route to getting more accomplished. Get your environment, priorities, and purpose in order and you’ll put yourself in a position to not only improve your performance at work but give you more time for the other important things in your life. Get in touch with HoneIn if you’d like to learn more or if you would like to see our platform that helps companies and teams set and achieve big goals.