To Be More Productive, Work Less

Guest Post by Daniel Tay, Piktochart

Daniel is a Content Strategist at Piktochart, where he writes regularly about creativity, design, and storytelling. His motto in life: Always be improving, always be loving. Check out his latest articles over at the Piktochart blog.

Back in the 1800s, American author Herman Melville was facing a problem while writing his to-be masterpiece, Moby Dick. Like many famous creative people who would come after him, he struggled against mankind’s greatest nemesis – procrastination – and even had to resort to chaining himself to his desk to be productive.

That particular story turned out pretty well. Moby Dick went on to become one of the greatest literary works of all time. Sitting at our desks mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, though, it’s hard to imagine that we could ever overcome the Instant Gratification Monkey, and get to work on the ever-increasing mounds of assignments and projects ahead of us.

Even if we did chain ourselves to our desks and get started, distractions continually attempt to pry and lure us away. And unlike Melville, we live in an age of perpetual distractions which are easily accessible at the swipe of a finger. Stanford sociologist Clifford Nass says that we are “suckers for irrelevancy.”

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Each time we get distracted, we mess up our flow – defined as an “optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.” Not being in the flow is naturally very, very bad for doing actual productive work.

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The Science Behind Why You Procrastinate In The Afternoon (and How To Stop)

4 ways to beat the afternoon slump

It’s 3 p.m. and you find yourself struggling to focus on work. You can’t seem to stop checking Facebook. Instead of being productive, you welcome distractions like text messages and co-workers coming by to chat.

Welcome to the afternoon slump: that time in your workday when your brain refuses to cooperate with you and you can’t stop procrastinating.

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Designing Habit Hacks to Change Your Life

Each morning, my mother would hand me my daily Flintstones chewable vitamin before I left for school. But now that I’m an adult, she can’t tell me what to do — Mountain Dew and Starcraft all night!

Well, and less vitamins. Since moving out of my parents’ house long ago, I’ve also moved away from this healthful routine. Sometimes it takes effortful self-control to do things we know we should do. But not always. Habits can function as a force, shaping our behavior and negating the need for self-control.

So months ago, I purchased a jar of multi-vitamins and placed it in my cupboard to get back into my healthy vitamin habit.

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The Science of Productivity

Productivity is really about how you and your brain work. Gregory Ciotti‘s collaboration with ASAPScience yields a fascinating video on the science of productivity, giving a quick look at willpower, energy management, and effective work habits like documenting your progress.

Productively intrigued? Check out Greg’s full post, which positively bursts with more information and work strategies, and our post about understanding the science behind to-do lists.

How to Master the Art of To-Do Lists by Understanding Why They Fail

I don’t like to-do lists but found it odd that I still continue to use them. Is my list-making just a futile exercise or productivity-flavored self-torture?

The to-do list is an inescapable, age-old productivity tool. It is our very human attempt to create order in our disorderly lives and an expression of our ability to impose self-control. Most of us, including to-do list haters, keep one, and so do  63% of professionals, according to a survey released by LinkedIn in May 2012.

Yet to-do lists seem particularly difficult to tame.

At iDoneThis, we used to have a to-do task feature, and we discovered some interesting numbers demonstrating the common struggle to conquer our to-do lists:

  • 41% of to­-do items were never completed.
  • 50% of completed to-­do items are done within a day.
  • 18% of completed to­-do items are done within an hour.
  • 10% of completed to­-do items are done within a minute.
  • 15% of dones started as to-do items.

to-do list stats

In other words:

  • people aren’t that great at completing their to-do tasks;
  • tasks that do get completed are done quickly; and
  • tasks that are reported as done don’t correlate with planned to-do tasks.

The popular to-do list, then, appears to be rather ineffective, and it’s this paradox that may explain the spiky love/hate relationship that people have with to-do lists. Is the to-do list just a blunt instrument to wield in the quest for personal productivity and getting stuff done? Or does the weakness lie deeper in ourselves in our human struggle to impose order and control?

It seemed too facile to chalk up the poor figures to the simple failure of to-do lists and/or humankind, so we wanted to take a closer look into why people aren’t good at completing their to-do lists.

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Take Control Of Your Life

[W]e have one reservoir of willpower. It’s a highly limited resource, and it gets depleted by every act that requires its use.

Tony Schwartz, proponent of maintaining your energy levels for sustainable productivity, offers a Master Plan for Taking Control of Your Life back from all those temptations that ultimately deplete your tank of willpower.

His two tips related to eating and sleeping are great reminders to attend to your physical health in order to give your best during the day:

4. Sleep as much as you must to feel fully rested.

Enough with the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality. That just makes you a zombie.

And:

6. Eat energy rich foods in small doses at frequent intervals.  

Schwartz recommends refueling at least every three hours. Skip the mocha choco latte yeah yeah and donuts, and snack on lean proteins and complex carbohydrates for longer lasting energy boosts. Here are some helpful meal and snack ideas.

Summer Lovin'

John Tierney on Stress

Years ago, when I was researching an article on research into stress, one social scientist passed on a simple tip: “At some point every day, you have to say, ‘No more work.’” No matter how many tasks remain undone, you have to relax at some point and enjoy the evening.

John Tierney, NY Times columnist and co-author of Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, in an interview with Gretchen Rubin.