Whether you have a corporate job, own a business, or do the incredibly difficult work of taking care of your children, we all face the question of productivity on a daily basis.
We’re all tasked with questioning and improving the effectiveness of our efforts towards whatever we do, and most of us find that we too often fall short of the standard of effectiveness we set for ourselves.
Here are three of the reasons why, along with advice for better managing your time and efforts.
Doing More Than One Thing at A Time
There is nothing that harms your productivity more than splitting your attention between various tasks at once. Your attention is the most important factor in whether you produce efficiently or not. You probably know the experience of spreading your time too thin by taking on too many tasks at once. The result of which is almost always anxiety from having too much to think about, creating a lack of motivation to actually spend enough time on each individual task.
Splitting your attention thin is no different than splitting your time thin. In fact, it is much more harmful to your productivity. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 27, No. 4) indicates that multi-tasking is inefficient, especially for complicated or unfamiliar tasks. The reason being that there is a necessary mental shift when switching between two tasks. It’s like splitting up a certain supply of product between an increasing demand. In the end, each individual demand gets less of the product, thereby decreasing the value of the supply to each demand.
Learning to avoid multi-tasking (especially if you’re a chronic multi-tasker) will take much time and effort, but the reward is well worth it.
You can start simple. Before your day starts, think about the different tasks or projects you’re aiming to complete during the day. Dedicate specific times for those projects, along with an estimate of how long each task will take. After you’re done with one task, take a moment to breathe, tell yourself that you’re done with whatever you just completed, and mentally shift gears to the next task ahead. Over time this simple practice will develop into a valuable new habit.
This goes for any individual activity – whether it’s important work, a phone call with a friend or family member, checking email, etc. Practice doing one thing at a time and you’ll find much more value in each individual moment of your life.
Leaving Phone Notifications On
Phone notifications may seem like a tiny thing, but our phones are a leading cause of distraction, tampering with our productivity levels.
When a notification pops up on your phone, it draws your attention (clearly related to ‘doing more than one thing at a time’) and shifts your mental focus. If you take the step of grabbing your phone to engage with the notification, what happens is that when you’re done with whatever app led you to grab your phone, your attention goes to the other apps you usually check every time you pick the phone up.
When we grab our phones, we sort of enter this passive state of mind in which the mind isn’t active at all, but rather scrolling through endless content, simply registering what’s taking place rather than moving in the desired direction.
The shift from an active state of mind to a passive one, and back to an active one can take precious time and energy.
There are a couple steps you can take to avoid this productivity mistake. First, go into your phone and shut off notifications for every single application (including calls, texts, and email). When you’re done, think seriously about which applications you absolutely need to receive immediate notifications for and turn those back on. Secondly, when you’re working on a task, flip your phone over so that you can’t see the notifications coming in.
We check our phones more than enough throughout the course of our day. Chances are that you won’t miss anything important.
Failing to Plan & Prioritize Properly
I’m sorry if this is harsh, but if you start the day without a clear direction about what you’re going to do and how the day will proceed, you’re already losing.
Spending a little bit of time every night (just a few minutes) to plan the next morning and think about your most important tasks of the following day will dramatically impact your productivity. From small things like planning your outfit, having your bag packed, and knowing what you’ll do immediately after waking up, to big things like setting specific time aside for big work tasks, planning the day ahead of time will allow you to begin each day with clarity and momentum.
One awesome tool you can use to help make waking up easier and start each day with the perfect morning routine is The Morning Sidekick Journal. It’s a 90-day journal completely dedicated to increasing your morning productivity.
Ari Banayan is an attorney, and co-founder of Habit Nest, a self-improvement company committed to helping anyone establish healthy lifestyle habits.