Ah, new year. Time for our annual barrage of “new year, new you” adverts and the never ending pressure to create a whole host of new year’s resolutions that, deep down, you know you’ll never keep. It’s no wonder that the January blues hit us so hard. But what if, this year, we tried something different? What if we tried doing less?
Traditional corporate environments place a vast amount of pressure on being busy. Citing an extreme work week as the cause of your tiredness has, sadly, become a status symbol as we face a constant pressure to do more more more. But, many argue that doing less could actually help us achieve far more in the long run. So what if this was the year that you shook things up a little bit?
1. Review your priorities
It’s all too easy to get stuck in your ways. The same breakfast, same route to work, same morning coffee shop… sometimes routine can be a good thing. On the flipside, it can leave us persevering with activities that no longer serve their true purpose.
It’s only natural for organisational priorities to evolve over time, and we need to make sure that our daily activities also evolve to meet those changes. Sometimes this can mean some tough evaluations are needed, and you may end up cutting out an activity that you enjoy. But if it isn’t getting results anymore, then it’s clearly no longer needed. And you’ll find yourself with some extra time to focus on new, more appropriate priorities.
You never know, you may even end up freeing up some extra room in your budget for some much needed library resources.
2. Set weekly reflections sessions
Just like it’s good to set your priorities straight, it’s key to review your progress towards achieving these goals. They say that Friday afternoons are the ideal time to reflect on your week’s achievements, and set your goals for the next. But really, I think the timing of your reflection session is unimportant. It’s simply key that you do it.
Use that time to assess what you’ve achieved with your week, are you headed in the right direction? What could you have done better? What blocked your success? What enabled you to do better? Use this assessment to determine what you can take into the next week, and what you might want to leave behind in this one. Making this practice a regular part of your week will enable you to be more productive and efficient in the long run, as you become better at enhancing your working habits.
3. Get personal
Whilst it may feel hard to remember this at times, life isn’t all about work. Research has shown that we work harder when we are happy1. But what does happiness actually mean? The shorter answer is, it’s different for everyone so it’s really a case of finding what works for you. For most of us, taking sufficient rest is essential in enabling us to be more productive with our time and produce more in a shorter time period. What’s more, having hobbies and activities that you enjoy outside work are key in creating a happy life. And a happy life outside the office = better (and more enjoyable) performance in the office.
4. Take advantage of time management tools
Typically, if you have 2 hours for a task, it’ll take 2 hours. If you have 5 hours, it’ll take 5. When I was a teenager I was training for the British rowing team, which required me to complete 11 training sessions a week alongside studying for my exams. Because I had a limited amount of time to complete my work I knew I had to work quickly and efficiently in order to succeed. So that’s just what I did. On rest days, where I had more time, my work would take me longer and, often, I’d get less done.
Planning your week in time blocks, where possible, creates the mentality that you only have a certain amount of time to complete each project. Which, in turn, encourages you to be more efficient as you know you have that limit. Imagine - this could be the year that you stop working late!
There are a whole host of time management tools out there, from the more sophisticated like Amazon’s Alexa or simply blocking out the time in your calendar, just find the one that works best for you.
5. Ban multitasking
I know that it can often feel like we have no choice other than to multitask but it really isn’t productive. In fact, it’s likely that you’re taking far longer to complete each task than if you were to complete each one sequentially.
Once you break away from one task to focus on another, be it an incoming email or a quick chat with a colleague, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds2 to regain concentration on the original focus. Whilst ignoring colleagues isn’t generally advised, there are some matters that you can control to help ban multitasking for good. Try closing your email system when working on important projects, and set particular times in the day when you check it. Or, if closing your emails isn’t a possibility, perhaps it’s a case of muting your internal chat system to gain some extra focus. You’ll find that you’re spending far more time checking in than you realise.
6. Check in on your health
I know health check ups are par for the course when it comes to new year blog posts but hear me out. Adopting a healthier lifestyle can bring significant benefits when it comes to your achievements at work.
Britain’s healthiest companies report a 24 per cent lower cost of lost productivity3 (i.e. absenteeism) compared to the worst performing companies. Whilst poor health is said to cost the U.S. economy $576 billion per year4. Clearly there’s a correlation between leading a healthier lifestyle and workplace productivity. But how can you begin to make the change?
Like any new habit, taking an incremental approach is key. Start small, perhaps take a short walk at lunch and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water (plus, the more frequent bathroom breaks will help you get up and moving on a regular basis). You could opt to shake up your lunches, having something a little lighter is less likely to leave you so sleepy in the afternoon. And that 3pm slump? Try a herbal tea in place of a sugar hit, it’ll help you sleep better at night and give you less of an energy crash later on.
7. Become an early bird (or a night owl)
I’m told that genius is created when everyone else is asleep, and can’t help feeling that this is true. There’s something quite special about working away whilst the rest of the world is dreaming away, free from distractions and without interruptions. Instead you can simply immerse yourself in whatever project you need to focus on.
Whether you’re an early riser or someone who prefers to work late at night, these silent hours are perfect for working on your passion project or simply getting ahead on your daily activities.
8. Send fewer emails
Does that email really needs a response? It can be far too easy to fall into the trap of an endless email thread when, really, a phone call would get the job done in 5 minutes. The founders of Birchbox, Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna5, have even gone so far as implementing email rules at their company, requiring that employees indicate when a response is required. Again, this is where priorities come into play. We each spend an average of 4.1 hours a day6 working our way through our emails, imagine what you could achieve if you cut that down, even if just by 5%.
You don’t need to implement all of these habits in order to have a more productive year, pick the one that appeals the most and test the waters. It could make all the difference. And, if everything else fails, just start a coffee habit. Hey, at least you’ll have more energy to get you through the day!
1. Warwick University (2017) New study shows we work harder when we are happy https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/pressreleases/new_study_shows/
2. Wong, K. (2015) How Long It Takes to Get Back on Track After a Distraction, Life Hacker https://lifehacker.com/how-long-it-takes-to-get-back-on-track-after-a-distract-1720708353
3. Lambert, V. (2015) Commitment to employee well-being aids productivity, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/business/britains-healthiest-company/11844748/employee-wellbeing-linked-to-productivity.html
4. Japsen, B. (2012) U.S. Workforce Illness Costs $576B Annually From Sick Days To Workers Compensation, Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2012/09/12/u-s-workforce-illness-costs-576b-annually-from-sick-days-to-workers-compensation/#56c833c65db0
5. Miller, T. (2013) We are Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, Founders of Birchbox, and This Is How We Work, Life Hacker https://lifehacker.com/5992574/we-are-katia-beauchamp-and-hayley-barna-founders-of-birchbox-and-this-is-how-we-work
6. Dewey, C. (2016) How many hours of your life have you wasted on work email? Try our depressing calculator, The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/03/how-many-hours-of-your-life-have-you-wasted-on-work-email-try-our-depressing-calculator/?utm_term=.4af51c8cd40f