Productivity is what makes the difference between success and failure. The next promotion, the next big order or the next big success will be decided by how much more productive you are as compared to others. Each of us gets 24 hours per day. The difference between the haves and have nots is decided by productivity
So why are some people more productive while others struggle to finish their work on time and with desired quality?
So the first thing we need to understand is that Productivity is a skill, like cycling or swimming. It can be learnt, practiced and used to our benefit. The only difference from cycling or swimming is that in these activities you train the body, while in case of skills like productivity, you train the mind. So the good news is that starting today, you can improve your productivity if you learn and practice the five simple ways that we will talk about today.
So let’s look into how our brain works and help identify the key steps which can truly enhance our productivity.
a. Hack # 1: Rest your brain at appropriate intervals:
The brain has three parts to it. The lizard brain, the limbic brain and the neocortex. The lizard brain ensures that we stay alive (running of internal organs etc) and the limbic brain is emotions, habits and routines which allow us to do lot of habitual things without thinking consciously. The neocortex mostly does all the work that makes us productive in our work like critical thinking, learning, taking decisions, managing conflicts, creating and so on.
Now, the body is very clear about which brain is more important. The Lizard brain comes right at the top, and is given prority when there is shortage of energy. The second is the limbic brain and the last is the neocortex. Thankfully, the lizard brain uses much less energy then the others, the limbic brain uses a bit more, but the largest portion is taken away by the neocortex. If we had to compare, the lizard brain is like a scooty, the limbic brain is a car and the neocortex is a air plane.
So, using the neocortex can get exhausting if enough breaks are not given. If you want to have more productivity, give a break to your mind after 30-45 minutes of continious work. The break may be for 5-10 minutes, in which you may do what you like. Once that time is over, you come back to what you are doing.
b. Hack #2: Do more important tasks first, one at a time:
The pareto principle states that 20% of the cause contributes to 80% of the output.
Following this principle, 20% of our tasks would contribute to 80% of the desired outcome. It’s important to sit back and mull on this area, to help identify and segregate as many of these 20% critical tasks as possible. As we do these tasks, we start progressing faster in our work and that further motivates us to work harder and be productive.
To take an example, if I decide to write a book and get a hazy idea in my head, I may jump into writing the book from the first chapter. But, this approach may not be very helpful, as the story would start moving in the wrong direction. If I step back and think, I would realize that the important task would be to structure the story in broad terms. It may be difficult to do but will be critical to ensure that the story is written in a proper manner, and save a lot of time wasted in rewriting it.
c. Hack # 3: Urgent vs Important:
The Eisenhower principle: The Eisenhower principle clearly differentiates between jobs which are Urgent and those which are Important. The Urgent jobs are those which are nearing deadline or pushed on us by others to be completed immediately. For example, paying the electricity bill as the deadline is expiring today. A friend calls you up asking you to meet him at his office for urgent help. Your supervisor sending you a report, asking for your comments in the next one hour.
Important activities are those which are not pushing to be completed now, but are those activities which will make our lives better, more productive and effective.
Taking care of your health, spending time in learning new things, spending time with the family and your team, clarifying issues with your supervisor and such activities. They can be postponed to another time, but if they are ignored, will lead to larger issues.
If we focus on the important activities, and ensure that we keep progressing on them, it will improve our productivity.
d. Hack # 4: Stop multitasking:
Multitasking is the biggest enemy of productivity. When we multitask, the brain finds it difficult to shift between different tasks and has to go back to remembering what was being done in the earlier task. So in case you are reading a report and also browing social media, the brain is using the working memory to build a perspective on the content of the report. When you shift to a social media page for a few seconds, the working memory gets drained out (happens in milli seconds) and is now used to build perspective on the social media page. When you go back to the report, the same thing is repeated. But, it has to be done all over again and is an absolute waste of time and effort.
You may decide to give just ten minutes to the report, but do that without any multitasking. After the ten minutes are over, you may go off to a social media site and spend a few minutes. But once you are back to the report, stick to it for a specified time. This habit will enhance the productivity significantly.
e. Hack # 5: Meditate:
There are two kinds of mental states which drive us to do work. The first is the Goal driven ( “I need to book these tickets before they become more expensive!”) and the second is the stimuli driven (“He is talking about the latest rumor in office and I need to hear it!”).
Both of them are helpful to help drive action and enhance productivity. They are always trying to supress each other and ensure that we are balanced in our approach to life.
If our Goal driven mental state is too strong, we would always be focussed on finishing the next job without being aware of our surroundings or new stimuli. If we are stimuli driven, we would always be distracted with what is happening around us and not be able to pursue meaningful goals that we have set for ourselves.
These mental states can be strengthened by meditation as follows:
To improve our Goal drive mental state, learn to meditate and focus on one thing. It might be your breath, so you sit in a quiet place and just focus your mind on your breath. Feel it going in and coming out. The temperature, the feel and the flow. Do not think of any thing else.
It might be something physical, like a flower, or something you are chewing or maybe the thoughts coming into your mind. But keep your mind focussed and watch that one specific thing for some time.
To improve the stimuli driven mental state, learn mindfulness which is enhancing your awareness of your surroundings, while you do not get influenced by what is happening. So you are walking in a garden and your sense are enhanced. You are aware of the variety of sounds, smells, sights in the garden but are not getting impacted emotionally or mentally by them. This mindful meditation will help you practice to take in stimuli but stay unaffected.
Doing these meditative practices even for 15-30 minutes everyday will significantly enhance your control over the Goal and Stimuli driven mindsets.
These five hacks can enhance your productivity right away. So don’t waste your time and start practicing them. You will see the difference much before you ever imagined. Best of Luck!