Let’s take a second to talk about how busy we are.
Let’s face it: our lives have never been more crowded and hectic, and part of that is seemingly by design. A lot of value is placed on being busy all the time, and somehow our culture has twisted this into making packed schedules and overwork into status symbols.
But being busy and being productive can be two very different things. Rather than focusing on how to best use our time, we’re simply focusing on doing something every second of the day.
Many of us can’t help but feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, when in fact we may just be using the time we have ineffectively.
Here are 5 simple ways to help you overcome busyness and forge a path to productivity.
5 Ways to Increase Productivity
Being busy often feels productive, but it’s important to recognize the difference. Ask yourself: What is all that work producing?
Being truly productive does not simply imply that you are working 24/7; rather, productivity should result in concrete, measurable outputs.
Here are 5 ways to make sure you’re maximizing your productivity and not frittering away precious hours.
1. Get Plenty of Sleep
The fact is, great sleep improves your productivity. Hibernation-quality shuteye sharpens your focus, ups your creativity, and makes you more accurate and effective in all areas of your life.
Everybody knows sleep is good for you, but thanks to other productivity boosters in your life, you might not even realize how tired you actually are.
Maybe you drink coffee or an energy drink as a pick-me-up. Maybe you exercise in the morning, or take a cold shower. Even staring at a lit computer or phone screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime and waking up a bit.
Or maybe you’re not getting as much sleep as you should be, but you’re still awake and alert enough to get your work done.
The thing is, a temporary alertness or energy boost is no substitute for real sleep. Even if you feel awake, the negative effects of sleep deprivation still hit you, running in the background like malicious programs on your computer. Your attention, creativity, and overall effectiveness suffer… even if you don’t feel tired.
Naturally, the best thing you can do to combat this is to get better sleep—and by this, we mean regular sleep.
Stick to a strict schedule as much as possible, and don’t take your screens to bed with you. This will train your body and your brain to sleep at certain times, and you’ll doze more deeply and wake more rested as a result.
2. Get Off of Social Media
I know what you’re all saying: “Oh, social media is distracting, huh? Next, you’ll be telling me that grass is green, and water is wet!”
Yes, everybody knows that social media like Twitter and Facebook can be massive time-sucks. But the landscape has changed.
These days, instead of social media distracting us from our jobs, it’s actually integrated into our workday in surprising ways. If you run a business, work freelance, or create content of any kind, you probably do a considerable amount of networking every day—and in today’s increasingly digital atmosphere, a large amount of that peer-to-peer interfacing is done over social media.
But no matter how important interacting with customers, fans, and partners online may be to building your brand, social media isn’t your job. No matter how many followers you get or leads you generate, that alone won’t net a profit. And it’s far too easy to use “networking” as an excuse to avoid other, more productive tasks.
If you’re not producing, you’re not eating.
A good rule of thumb is that of your waking, productive hours, 10% or less of that time should be spent on nonessential activities like social media. Any more than that, and you’re eating into your productivity—and, likely, your profits.
3. Avoid Endless Organizing
Gotta get your life in order, right?
Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find at least two dozen articles about the “X-number Habits of Organized and Productive People.”
Based on that mess of evidence alone, you’d think that organization and raw productivity were inexorably linked. And to a certain extent, they are connected: many experts agree that a certain level of organization, as well as a well-ordered mind, can aid workflow and boost output for many people.
But there’s a line that gets crossed somewhere. Spend just a little too much time scheduling your week, arranging meetings, and reorganizing your computer files—and suddenly you’ve wasted your entire day.
Just like social media, it’s all too easy to excuse procrastinating if you’re “getting your ducks in a row.” You’re not just goofing off, you reason with yourself. This planning might not be getting any work done, but it’ll help you work much faster in the future.
Well, not in all cases. Organizing isn’t productive if it’s keeping you from actually producing something.
And too much organization, particularly an over-reliance on schedules, can harm your productivity in other ways. Having routines is helpful, but they can be confining if followed too strictly. You can’t schedule creativity, and getting too uptight about when and where you are at all hours of the day can hurt your ability to think on your feet.
Try going off-book for a day, and see if improvising knocks any bright ideas loose.
4. Limit Your Meetings
Face-to-face meetings are an essential part of the business world. They’re where big deals get made, where important decisions are reached, where new partnerships are forged.
They can also be a huge drag on productivity.
While it’s true that meetings can be productive for some attendees, almost all meetings (especially those that involve large groups) end up wasting somebody’s time. And lots of meetings aren’t productive from the get-go, serving merely as recaps of past work that could have been handled by one person over email.
And while terms like “collaboration” and “inclusiveness” are snappy buzzwords, not every decision in a business needs to be made by committee—or have a captive audience when it’s made or announced. Plus, how many meetings have you been in that ran long because people decided to shoot the breeze afterwards, or even in the middle of official proceedings?
Even scheduling meetings can be a huge drain on productivity, simply because of how difficult it can be to coordinate multiple people’s schedules.
To make the most of your meetings, try scheduling a brief, recurring weekly meeting with your team to go over items that affect everyone. Write an agenda and stick to it to avoid getting off track and wasting time.
5. Avoid Toggling Between Tasks
Try as we all might to avoid them, distractions and interruptions in the workplace are inevitable. Coworkers stop by to ask questions or chat. Our phones buzz in our pockets. Reading new texts, emails, and popup ads ruins our workflow.
According to a recent study completed at the University of California, Irvine, toggling between two or more activities creates a demand for “recovery time,” meaning that it takes your brain a certain amount of time to “recover” from a distraction.
After you dispel an interruption and get back to the task at hand, most people experience about 25 minutes of reduced creativity and focus before they’re back to peak performance again.
Obviously this number varies slightly from person to person, but the fact remains that workplace interruptions reduce your productivity.
Luckily, there’s a pretty simple solution to this problem. While you can never totally isolate yourself from distractions, you can do your best to focus on one task at a time instead of rapidly toggling between different activities or projects. This will keep you running at maximum productivity for more of the time, and better help you establish a “flow” in your work that keeps you moving.
For more tips for saving time and increasing your productivity, check out these articles:
- 7 Ways to Be a Better Employee: How to Get More Raises and Promotions
- Top 8 Time Wasters for Writers (And What to Do About Them)
- 8 Ways to Stay Productive and Avoid Distractions