Media articles covering these stories waffle about government level initiatives, each trying to point score in relation to their political leanings, what I’m going to look at here is what YOU can do to solve this problem for yourself. If we consider the well-worn adage of ‘control the controllables’ then there is plenty in our court for us to play with.
The first place to start is by cutting your hours to what you are contracted to work. Parkinson’s law suggests that work expands to fill the time allocated for it. If you are loose on your working hours then you will rapidly fill that time with work and start pushing at the boundaries, if you are strict with your hours it forces you to ask better questions and find better solutions. In a Tim Ferriss podcast on this subject he says that ‘busyness is a form of laziness’. Whilst this statement might sting a bit it is absolutely true. If you are busy then you aren’t thinking about how to improve your productivity. Set your daily hours based on your contract and stick to them. If you are self-employed or a student then create your own working day.
The next point is one of identity – how many of us label ourselves as overworked, sleep deprived and exhausted, glamorising these as if it makes us macho and better than others. “I’m more tired than you”. Take a step back now and just appreciate how ridiculous this situation is. It may be that identifying yourself as ‘busy’ helps you escape from problems or tough questions you have elsewhere in your life. Now is the time to pump the brakes and deal with those issues. Ignorance of them will only exacerbate them. How many people lay on their deathbed wishing they’d worked more? The old adage of ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ is a sure fire way to bring that about much quicker. Stop identifying yourself solely through the lens of work and busyness; you are a more complex person than that, start exploring it.
Now the above points are hugely important and I buy into them 100% but they aren’t an excuse for slacking in the workplace. As Breeds we are still in the relentless pursuit of success, we’re just changing the game clock from a 5 day test to a 20/20. You turn up, you smash it and you go home to the rest of your life knowing that business is taken care of.
This brings us onto productivity, how can we do more of quality in less time? To start we need to look at how to structure a day, my go to here is the Pomodoro technique, 25mins of work followed by 5mins break. This simple structure allows your mind to stay fresh and keep you at your creative best. The 5min breaks also give the opportunity to do something positive for our general wellbeing such as a breathing technique or an exercise. Use the Marinara timer to make this process fool proof.
Next we need to consider how to order tasks, here we are looking for the lead domino or the ‘key log’, the one thing that, when completed, will make everything else seem easy. A great rule of thumb here is to organise your to do list by how uncomfortable each item makes you feel. Shifting the discomfort first makes a world of difference and the remaining tasks quickly fall. Finally it is crucial to understand how disruptive task switching can be. If you are working away on a task in flow state and an email pops up that you respond to it may take you 15mins to get back into that productive flow state again. The rule is simple – find flow and stay there. When you start a piece of work shut down your email and mute your phone. Batch check messages at certain points and deal with them in bulk. These methods of communication run on other people’s schedules and ruin your own so take control of them.
I hope this article serves as both a wakeup call and an instruction manual. The facts are that we are working too long, producing too little and this is ruining our health. It is time to take control of what we can and reverse this trend. Old habits die hard so dig in and pay attention to your successes. The evening where you get an extra hour with your child, the old hobby that you can pick up again, the old friend that you reconnected with. Notice these things and cherish them, they will keep you from going back to old habits.