We’ve all got work to do, and these days the people who can do more work, better than anyone else rise to the top. The only problem is most of us go about productivity all wrong. Our multi-tasking, always-on culture may feel like we’re getting things done, but it’s contrary to the way our brains function.
These seven principles will help you maximize your productive capacity and work better, faster, and more effectively than you have in years:
1. Prioritize Early
Surely you’ve heard it before, but here’s some science to back it up. The human brain requires massive amounts of energy to think through complex ideas. Ever wonder why you feel physically drained after trying to get your head around a big problem?
Prioritizing tasks is one of the most intensive activities for your brain because of the number of complex ideas it must keep top of mind. You have to understand how working late on a project could impact your kids practice, as well as the long term implications of shorting one or the other.
If your mind isn’t fresh it’s harder to make these decisions efficiently.
To make the most of your day prioritize your days tasks in the morning when you’re fresh.
2. Think Strong
Creating something new requires a similarly high level of effort for our brains. The best time to do creative work like solving problems or writing is in the morning or right after lunch. As the day drags on you won’t be quite as sharp, quick, or efficient as you were in the morning.
Try to be aware of your brains current energy state to decide whether or not you’re up to the task of serious thinking. Doing the hard, important work of solving problems when you’re strong will yield big dividends!
3. Save Email for Later:
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work in the morning? Check your email!
All things considered, reading and responding to email ranks fairly low on the creativity scale. Your brain can generally get through this task without problems even when energy is low.
To make the most of your brains limited peak-performance time don’t waste it responding to emails. Instead knock out an hour of highly creative work, and then wade through the emails after that.
For those who don’t think they could make it an hour or so into a work day without reading their email, try skimming the subjects looking for anything urgent first (that’s what I do).
4. Take Five… or Ten!
I’ve been talking a lot about your brain being fatigued. David Rock’s research highlighting that heavy usage of our brains physically drains us was eye opening for me. I thought I just had to push through the lows if I wanted to be more productive.
The truth is exactly the opposite. I needed to learn to recognize when my brain was fatigued and take the time to recharge it. Since then I regularly take five or ten minute breaks at work:
- Before a meeting where I’ll have to be focused for an hour
- After a long meeting
- Before doing anything that requires a great deal of thinking, prioritizing, writing, or creating.
5. Create Routines
So if your brain requires massive amounts of energy to think, and that makes us physically tired, why aren’t we exhausted ALL the time. After all, I’m always thinking right?
Yes, but our brains think at two broad levels. High-level thinking is anything where we have to concentrate, like writing or solving a problem. Lower-level thinking is almost automatic, like driving or brushing your teeth.
You can take something that is high-level thinking now, create a repeatable routine to do it, and transform it into lower-level (lower energy) thinking. For example: Preparing shipments, formatting reports, or creating invoices.
Look for areas of your own daily routine that could be “automated” and save the real thinking for important stuff!
6. Do One Thing at a Time
Our brains can really only do one thing at a time. What you think is multitasking is really just rapid attention switching. Not only does it expend more energy, but your never able to get into “The Zone” where your productivity really soars.
If you’ve got 5 important things to do, prioritize them, line them up, then focus 100% on each task serially. You’ll be done much quicker and with much better results!
7. Turn Off Notifications
As David Rock puts it, “We are the descendants of people who paid a lot of attention when something rustled in the bushes.” So true!
When that email notification pops up or your phone buzzes your brain switches it’s focus for just a moment. That one moment is enough to break you out of “The Zone” (or keep you from ever getting in it more likely).
To do your best, most efficient, highest quality work you need to be 100% focused on it. Disable your notifications. All of them. Give it a try, you’ll be amazed!
Did you find these tips useful? Please share it with your co-workers and friends!