Feel like you need to get more done each day and hour? Productivity tips are only a Google search away. Those are important, but what you need is quality not quantity. This isn’t about being merely efficient, says inc. You need to be effective.
Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute and a consultant, has a new book called Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done. You can apply neuroscience and psychological insights to be more effective during critical times — maybe a few hours — in which you bring the best of you and your abilities to the task. A relatively small number of techniques can open quality time to tackle what can make or break your day.
Here are some of Davis’s main takeaways:
1. Recognise your decision points.
The human brain likes predictability and, when possible, will opt to work on learned behaviors that it can do without too much concentration. When you move between tasks, your brain will want to select what is easiest. There are times during the day when one task or function ends, whether filling out a report or brushing your teeth. For a moment you become self-aware. At that moment, step back and decide what really needs to be done in your next available block of time. That allows you to choose the truly important task.
2. Manage mental energy.
All work requires energy. Mental work, much of what is done at many jobs, requires mental energy. And yet, we don’t act as if it does. You wouldn’t think of spending a morning lifting weights only to face an afternoon of framing houses. Your body would be tired out. But you might spend much of the early part of your day making small decisions, cold calling, networking, tracking deadlines, or scheduling projects. Guess what? You just burnt through much of your available energy. Put creative work and important decisions early in the day before you have a chance to burn through cognitive resources. Push as much else as you can, including answering emails, to the latter half of the day. When facing a big day, make as many of the decisions you’ll need to the evening before. Take a ten-minute nap if you’re tired and consider what emotions your schedule will trigger, so you can try to manage emotional energy as well.
3. Stop fighting distractions.
Eliminating distractions would seem a must. And some is important. Arrange your working environment to minimise noise. Turn off devices that will only lure you away into useless expenditures of time. However, some mind wandering can help in being creative or long-term planning. If you’ve been concentrating on a challenging task, switch to something only mildly demanding and that doesn’t require your “working memory,” a part of cognition that processes new and existing information necessary for reasoning. So, notice colors and shapes in a piece of art or your surroundings or straighten your desk. (Avoid tasks such as trying to solve a difficult puzzle or handling email, because they either can require too much working memory.) Also, practice mindful attention. When your thoughts drift away from something, even reading a book, gentle direct them back without scolding yourself. It helps you become more present and gives you practice into letting distracting thoughts go and bringing yourself back to what is at hand.
4. Leverage the mind-body connection.
Use exercise and diet to clear your mind for a block of more effective work. If you have an important meeting or critical creative session coming up, take a brisk half-hour walk or briefly hit the gym for a short period before the time you need to be sharp. Carbohydrates can offer a short-term boost, but then you can get a crash. Instead, break up breakfast or lunch into two portions, eaten a couple of hours apart, which helps even blood sugar. Eat sensibly with a mix of vegetables, fruits, protein, and good fats. Drink water and keep doses of caffeine small.