Being busy is not the same thing as being productive, and working as hard as you can isn’t always a guaranteed way to achieve results for yourself or your employers. In fact, sometimes working less can actually produce better results.
Here are six things — all of them confirmed by science — which you need to stop doing if you want to maximise how much you achieve in your professional life.
1. Stop working overtime
Have you ever wondered where the 40-hour work week came from? In 1926, Henry Ford, American industrialist and founder of Ford Motor Company, conducted experiments with interesting results: when you decrease your daily working hours from 10 to 8, and shorten the work week from 6 days to 5, your productivity increases.
The more you work, the less effective and productive you are going to become over both short and long term.
In an article for AlterNet, editor Sara Robinson referenced research conducted by the US military that revealed that “losing one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level.“ You can get fired for coming to work drunk, but it is deemed acceptable to pull an all-nighter.
It’s important for us not to overwork ourselves and get enough sleep to maintain a high level of productivity. Next time you’re wondering why you may not be working productively, the reason may be simple as you being one of 70% of people who doesn’t get enough sleep.
2. Don’t say ”yes“ too often
According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of the effort produces 80% of the results; however, 20% of the results consumes 80% of the effort. Instead of working harder, we should focus primarily on those efforts that produce 80% of the results and forgo the rest. We will have more time to focus on the most important tasks. We should stop saying “yes” to tasks that bring low or almost no result.
This begs a question: what should you say ”yes“ and what should you say ”no“ to? If you can’t figure if something is going to be worth your time, consider running a simple split test. Track everything you do and optimize if it is possible.
Most of us say yes more often than we should because it is so much easier than saying no. Nobody wants to be the bad guy.
In a 2012 study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers split 120 students in 2 groups. One group was trained to use “I can’t”, while the other was trained to use “I don’t“. The results were interesting: The students who told themselves ”I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.
Next time you need to avoid saying yes, say ”I don’t“.
3. Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
At some point in my career, I was managing a very large community and couldn’t handle it. I tried to do everything myself. I burnt out, but the community ended up taking over and managing itself. Surprisingly, members did a better job than I have ever done. I learned the power of community.
It’s important for us to realize we can seek help when needed. We cannot do everything ourselves. It is better for you to let someone who can do a better job taking over some of your tasks. It will give you more time to focus on your most important tasks. Instead of wasting your time trying to figure something out yourself, let the experts help you.
A lot of time, even if your friends can’t help you, having them around can help you become more productive.
Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. ”There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’ “ says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double.
4. Stop being a perfectionist
We found that perfectionism trips up professors on the way to research productivity. The more perfectionistic the professor, the less productive they are,” Dr. Simon Sherry, a Dalhousie University Psychology Professor who conducted a study on perfectionism and productivity, tells University Affairs magazine. Dr. Sherry found a robust correlation between increased perfectionism and decreased productivity.
Here are some problems associated with being a perfectionist:
- They spend more time than required on a task.
- They procrastinate and wait for the perfect moment. In business, if it is the perfect moment, you are too late.
- They miss the big picture while being too focused on small things.
Always remember that the perfect moment is now.
5. Stop doing repetitive tasks and start automating it.
According to a research study conducted by Tethys Solutions, a team of 5 people who spent 3%, 20%, 25%, 30% and 70% of their time on repetitive tasks respectively reduced this time to 3%, 10%, 15%, 15% and 10% after 2 months of enhancing their productivity.
People often forget that time is money. People usually do things manually because it’s easy and requires almost no research. But keep in mind that you need to spend money to make money and that time is your most valuable commodity.
6. Stop working, and have do-nothing time
Most people don’t realize that we’re essentially locking ourselves in a box when we are too focused on something. It’s important to walk away from our work once in a while and have some alone time. Alone time is good for the brain and spirit. One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone. Another indicates that a certain amount of solitude can make a person more capable of empathy towards others. And while no one would dispute that too much isolation early in life can be unhealthy, a certain amount of solitude has been shown to help teenagers improve their moods and earn good grades in school.
It’s important for us to take time for reflection. We often find the solutions when we’re not searching for them.
So remember: We don’t become more productive overnight. Like everything in life, it requires effort. Change doesn’t happen if you just sit there and wait for it. It’s important for all of us to learn more about our body and find ways to optimize our energy for a more successful and happy life.
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