Photo by Carl Heyerdahl/Unsplash
Would you like to get more done in less time?
Who wouldn’t, right?
After all, many of us always feel pressed for time and like we don’t have enough.
But perhaps if we organized our lives around the things that truly matter, and focus on tasks that make a difference, we wouldn’t feel like we’re so crunched for time.
And making the most of the time available might be a few little tweaks away, according to cutting-edge science.
You Can’t Multitask – Even if You Think You Can
The latest science shows what you may have intuitively sensed or already know – multitasking is a big no-no if you want to achieve peak productivity.
Doctors Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer published a study in 2001 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance that showed that young adults who kept switching between multiple tasks were less productive than those who worked on one thing at a time.
Yes, there is a certain amount of time loss to switching tasks. But the bigger concern is the cognitive process of adjusting.
Which means your mind has trouble switching as fast as you would like it to. You’re best working on one thing at a time and to budget your task switching. Taking breaks between tasks might prove helpful too (more on this later).
Musician, entrepreneur, presenter, and writer Derek Sivers describes himself as a monomaniac and is someone I look up to.
From the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed, besides spending time with his son, he engages in his work and is diligent about avoiding multitasking.
Although not all of us could or even should follow in his example, there is something to be learned from his diligence.
The inefficacy of multitasking also speaks to the benefits of batch processing, the act of grouping similar tasks together so you aren’t constantly jumping around from one thing to the next.
Start simple and see if you can batch admin tasks and chores. If that works, begin to group your work into different categories and batch accordingly.
Frequent Breaks are Essential
Unlike the previous bit about multitasking, here’s some science that some are going to find surprising.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a study in 2011 in which they showed that even brief diversions from a task can improve one’s ability to focus on the task for longer. And the results were dramatic.
Though we can certainly learn a thing or two from Sivers, perhaps more frequent breaks would allow us to collect our thoughts on the task we’re working on, and even find creative solutions.
I have often found value in breaks myself, however brief.
I might get up to pour myself some water or make some tea. I might make a trip to the bathroom. During that time, I often have small creative breakthroughs.
As a writer, it is not uncommon that I pose myself the question, “what am I going to write about today?” or “what should this article be called?”
When staring at the blank page only leads to more frustration, I step away from the computer screen, even if just to stretch.
And that can help generate a worthy idea, like how to piece together the next sentence.
It has also been my experience that a lot of new ideas can begin to cement while on walks. This doesn’t happen every time I’m out walking, but some of the most exciting new possibilities tend to occur to me while walking.
Long-term, regular exercise is sure to improve your productivity too.
Reward Yourself – it can Boost Motivation
We talk about “treats” as if they are only for our favorite pets, but the reality is that even we as human beings can reinforce desired behavior by rewarding ourselves.
A 2018 study from Cornell University showed that regular rewards can increase motivation. They even made a strong case for instant rewards to maximize workplace satisfaction.
Which means this – while it’s good to reward yourself upon completing a project or goal, you should also think about creating milestones and rewarding yourself at various stages of completion.
As it turns out, the size of the reward doesn’t matter a whole lot, so you don’t have to take yourself out for an expensive dinner every time you have a win if you don’t want to.
A simple reward like a delicious smoothie or bubble tea (one of my favorites) can do the trick.
You may have heard elsewhere that you should hold off on rewards until you’ve completed a task, project, or goal, but as it turns out your motivation could suffer if you deprive yourself too much.
If you find your motivation slipping in the middle of a project, it might be a good time to consider rewarding yourself for the work you’ve completed to this point.
I might be the odd one out here, but I often like to reward myself with business resources and tools, like books or app subscriptions. I get excited about that kind of stuff.
Reward yourself with something that makes sense to you.
What science shows is that productivity might not be as complicated as we tend to think it is.
Single task. Take breaks. Reward yourself regularly.
Certainly, there’s more you can do to boost your productivity. I think understanding your core motivation (or your “why”) is one of the most profitable things you can do.
What motivates me on the days that I wake up tired or out of sorts is my personal mission to inspire creatives and creators. That’s my driving “why,” and it produces motivation like nothing else.
Chances are you don’t need to make any big changes to be more productive. Small adjustments can help you optimize for productivity.
And don’t just try to get a lot done. Try to get the right things done. That’s called effectiveness.
- APA, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/xhp
- Venture Harbour, 7 Scientific Studies That Reveal the Secret to Max. Productivity, https://www.ventureharbour.com/scientific-studies-productivity-secrets/
- ScienceDaily, Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110208131529.htm
- PsycNET, It’s about time: Earlier rewards increase intrinsic motivation., https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fpspa0000116