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Even if you love your job, it can still sometimes be difficult to motivate yourself.
Somehow, the days just seem to slip away and you feel as though you’ve got nothing to show for it.
Well, what you need are a couple of tricks to help you stay on track and fly through your work, freeing up time and headspace for the important things in life like spending time with your family and filling yourself up with red wine.
Unless you’ve got one of those cool jobs like a lumberjack or zookeeper, the chances are that you’ll spend most of your waking hours in an office or a shop where you will be required to complete a number of analytical and creative tasks throughout the day through the use of brainpower and coffee alone.
Rather than spending your week in a sort of lumbering plod, ending in a mad rush towards the end, these productivity-boosting techniques will make it easier for you to get everything done in time to be in the pub by 5:45pm on Friday without any unfinished tasks hanging over your head.
That’s the good news. The even better news is that many of these techniques involve giving yourself breaks and reducing your stress levels.
Healthier, happier and more productive? Turns out you can have you cake and eat it after all.
12. Work In Smaller Groups
Too many cooks spoil the broth – never before has this rung more true.
The founder and CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos, has a “two pizza” rule that states that if you can’t feed your team with two pizzas then it’s too big.
The problem stems from an effect known as “social loafing”. This occurs when people begin to put in less effort when working in a group, due to the reduced culpability of the individual and the bigger the group, the greater the effect. The upshot of this is that a large group can actually be less productive than an individual.
There are a number of factors that feed into the effect, including the difficulties involved in coordinating large groups of people and the “dispensability of effort” effect in which an individual will feel as though their input is less important the larger the group is and will therefore less likely to put the effort in at all.
If you really need to involve everyone, but need to get things done, you’re much better off splitting into smaller teams or even working individually and then coming back together to collate your results.
11. Look At Cat Pics
A study in Japan has found that those Youtube videos of baby animals being cute as all hell are good for more than just making you feel warm and fuzzy on your commute.
In Japan, Kawaii (cute) objects are popular due to the positive feelings they illicit and the study looked at how these feelings translate into productivity. They found that viewing pictures of baby animals stimulated a “caregiving” nature in the test subjects. This has the effect of improving fine motor skills (gentleness) as well as making them more socially open (kindness).
They found that the age of the cute animal in question correlated to how strong the effect was, with baby animals up to 30% more effective that adult animals. They believe that this technique could be used to improve performance in tasks such as driving, office work and customer relations.
So, next time you’re feeling burned out, just take a quick break to watch some kitten videos and tell your boss that it’s for the good of the company.
10. Rise Early
A terrible truth that all night owls will have to accept is that, generally speaking, the working world is run by early birds.
Although, admittedly, the fact that they’re the ones in a position to be in charge of your body clock indicates that they might be onto something.
Anyway, although for many people it’s never easy to get up at the crack of dawn, many experts believe that this is the key to productivity and creativity for the rest of the day.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to leap out of bed like a young gazelle and start firing off emails the moment the first strains of the dawn chorus strike up. In fact, getting up early has nothing to do with spending more time working, and everything to do with spending more time on yourself.
Allowing yourself an extra hour of free time in the morning to do whatever you want is a great way of encouraging yourself to stay focussed on work-related stuff for the rest of the day.
Tempt yourself out of bed with the thought of a good cup of coffee, a proper breakfast and a couple of chapters of your book whilst the house is deliciously quiet and still, then after you’ve spent some time doing exactly what you want, you can boss the rest of your day.
9. Take Breaks
The human brain is just not designed to sustain the kind of concentration levels we demand of it these days, and so after a while of
A study by the office supply store, Staples, found that a quarter of its employees don’t take any breaks other than their lunch due to guilt, despite the fact that “90% of employers say they encourage breaks, and an overwhelming majority of workers (86%) acknowledge that taking a break would make them more productive”.
Regular breaks are an essential part of the working day, but for some reason people still feel guilty about taking them. They should really feel guilty about not taking them as the drop in productivity will be costing their employers more that if they had given their brains adequate rest time.
Apparently, 3pm is the least productive part of the day so, whenever you decide to take your other breaks, this post-lunch slump is a priority.
Although it’s good to take yourself somewhere else and even get a bit of exercise, you don’t necessarily have to even leave your work station to take a break. A study by the National University of Singapore found that just messing around online for 10 minutes (but preferably not checking emails or texts) can significantly improve productivity and keep you more focussed once you return to work.
You can break up your day in a number of ways depending on the demands of your job, but some experts think that the system of working for 52 minutes at a time, then breaking for 17 minutes could be the most effective as it causes you to treat your working periods as a sprint rather than just a slow plod to the end of the day.
8. Think Negative
In the past, experts always used to recommend positive visualisation to boost productivity. The idea was that if you imagined yourself achieving your goal, you would be more motivated to work towards it.
A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology titled “Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy” found that the more you fantasise about your success the more likely you are to fail as these fantasies will sap you of energy and drive.
Basically, when we picture ourselves achieving our goal, the brain falls for it and responds as though it has actually happened – i.e. it causes you to take your foot off the accelerator and begin to relax as though you have already finished your task.
This is also true for the bit of age old wisdom that you should tell people about your goals (learn French, lose 10lbs, take up the sitar etc.) in order to achieve them more easily. It turns out that, when you do this, your brain gives you the warm fuzzy reward of having done it without having to put the effort in, meaning that you’re less likely to get up off your arse and actually learn French/lose 10lbs/take up the sitar.
If you want to motivate yourself, considering the possibility of failure, or even just weighing up the different outcomes is more likely to light a fire under you.
However, positive visualisation still has it’s place as it is a great way to calm yourself down if the stress gets a bit too much and this is for exactly the same reason that it’s bad for motivation.
7. Stand Up
A standing desk is fast becoming the latest status symbol for young, funky start-ups, but do they actually work?
According to its proponents, the standing desk can boost productivity and attention levels by as much as 10%. It is thought that the active stance encourages a sense of urgency, leading to better focus and faster completion of tasks.
Although standing up will improve blood flow and posture, the effect is largely psychological. By alternating between standing and sitting, you make it much easier for your brain to compartmentalise tasks. If you only allow yourself to sit down after finishing writing an article or a report, and only allow yourself to do things like check your emails when you’re sitting, you basically kill the temptation to multitask (which is the root of all evil as far as productivity goes).
In an experiment by the tech blog company readwrite.com, they found that tasks requiring a focussed, analytical approach were done better whilst standing, whereas creative tasks were more suited to sitting down. This variation could be the key to getting the most out of your time and your poor, tired brain.
One designer at readwrite even reported that he felt it had helped him quit smoking as standing up helped him managed to anxiety and restlessness associated with kicking the habit.
6. Stop Working
An important part of doing something is not doing it.
Seeing as, in this day and age, the idea of the “working week” and even the “workplace” has become a lot more fluid, the separation of work and leisure time has become much fuzzier. Emails come to our smartphones, work hours become more flexible and the demands of an overly connected world mount up.
This is particularly true for people who freelance and/or work from home, where the temptation to tinker unendingly is difficult to master. This is kryptonite for productivity. With a constant low-level amount of concentration, effort and creativity seeping out of you, it becomes difficult to really focus on a project and complete it.
Do yourself a favour, take the day off.
Giving yourself that breather will not only stop you having a nervous breakdown by the time you’re 35, but it will also give your brain an opportunity to regroup, ready to blast it the next day. Plus, you remove the possibility that you will just be able to work and rework something, thus providing yourself with a deadline of sorts, breaking your time up and not allowing one day to just slide limply into the next.
5. Work On Sundays
Right, I know I just said that you should take a day off, but a little bit of prep on a Sunday could work wonders for your productivity.
The worst part of a Monday morning is kicking yourself back into gear after the weekend. Trying to get the momentum back can be made even harder if all you’re doing is catching up on leftover tasks from the week before.
Set aside a little bit of time on Sunday to get some of those niggling little tasks done and set yourself up for a good week. Just doing little tasks like reading you emails and responding to the important ones will mean that you’re not faced with an insurmountable wall of unread messages when you’re still bleary-eyed on Monday morning.
If you’ve got a bit of prep to do for the week that is more time consuming than difficult, you could always just hack away at it whilst you’re sat in front of some Sunday telly, or waiting for the dinner to cook. Just make sure that it doesn’t take up your whole weekend, or you can find yourself in the scenario outlined in the last entry – limit yourself to no more than an hour.
Think of it as time saved when you don’t have to stay late on Friday because you didn’t quite get everything done, and you can go for a well deserved pint guilt-free.
4. Take A Nap
It would seem that the only people who don’t like naps are children, the ungrateful swines.
Naps are great and their importance is steadily becoming increasingly recognised in the grown up world of business meetings and performance stratagems.
In China, a country famed for its work ethic, napping during the working day is pretty well accepted (although, granted, this is probably because most of them work 14 hour days) and then there is of course the classic siesta so favoured by our European friends. It is pretty much only the American (and therefore British) style of work, work, work, that views taking adequate breaks as a sign of laziness.
An effective power nap should be 15-20 minutes long, or longer than 90 minutes in order to fall in line with your natural sleep cycles, anything more or less will make you feel even groggier. Ideally this should be taken between 1 and 4pm if you work normal office hours.
To really give yourself a kick up the proverbial, you could also combine the power of naps with the power of caffeine and take a coffee nap.
Caffeine will generally take around 15 minutes to kick in, so knocking back an espresso and taking a 15 minute catnap will mean that you’ll wake up so alert that you’ll be able to hear colours.
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