Breaks to Increase Productivity? Really?
It’s not just taking breaks, but breaks in your day are a huge piece of increasing your productivity. There’s science behind it! So, what else can you do?
Let’s set the scene: You wake up around 6 in the morning ready to take the world by storm. You’ve got a to-do list a mile long in your head. Your plan is to have conquered the business world by 5 so you can spend some quality time with your family. Somewhere around 7:15, your day gets off track and you’re praying you meet a deadline before closing your office door sometime around 9, begging your family’s forgiveness yet again.
Does that sound familiar?
As a business owner, you have the freedom and the responsibility to run your business on your own terms. You and only you are responsible for its success or failure. You’ve got the passion. You’ve got the desire. So where are you going wrong? Why is your business (and your life) in such chaos?
There’s no simple answer to that, but I can give you a couple of ideas on how to be more productive and feel more in control of your business and your life. Here’s a place to start (pay special attention to the fourth strategy):
Make Like David Letterman and Create a Top 3 List
Okay, so he did a Top 10, but you don’t have time for that. Realistically, you can accomplish three tasks in a day. If you sit down at your desk with a list a mile long, you’ll be overwhelmed and disappointed at the end of the day when you’ve accomplished next to nothing. What should be on your list? Money-producing activities!
What are the top three things can you do today that will make you the most money? Put them on the list and do them. Depending on what works best for you, create your list as the last thing you do before leaving the office, or first thing in the morning before you do anything else. Reader’s choice. I also encourage clients to make a master to-do list of all tasks and projects that are in progress or pending. You can use this list to draw from as you create your daily list. There’s a whole process to successfully using to-do lists. I’ll cover that more in a later post.
Back Away from Your Emails
There’s nothing worse than opening your eyes to see the sunlight streaming into your bedroom, a furry friend curled up beside you, and then immediately rolling over to check your email. Admit it, you’re guilty.
Emails are other people demanding your attention and time. Is that really how you want to start your day? Look back at your to-do list. Did “fix other people’s problems” show up anywhere on your list?
It’s not that your clients, customers, suppliers, or your Aunt Daisy aren’t important. Making time to deal with issues that come up is part of life. Just don’t make that time the first thing you do in the morning. Checking email first thing in the morning means you start your day putting out fires which eliminates any hope for productivity.
Stop Praying to the Gods of Multi-tasking
Congratulations! You can walk, chew gum, spin plates, hum a little ditty, and train your rescue pup all at the same time. But let’s agree on something: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
When you’re working on one thing and decide to take a call, check email, or do any of a million other tasks you do every day, it actually hurts your productivity. A study in Fast Company magazine found it can take up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get your attention back to the task at hand.
Read that one more time – 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get your attention back.
Doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially if the chaos in your business is due in any part to you’re lack of productivity. It makes far more sense to focus on one task, complete it, and then move on to the next.
Think Pomodoro, But Not as in Tomato
Productivity has been a problem for almost everyone in business. College students suffer the same malady. A method was devised (and proven) to help students study and is easily applied to those of us in business. It’s called the Pomodoro Method and here’s how it works:
Have a timer available. A physical timer, or a timer on your phone or computer. Your plan is to work in sprints. Set the timer for 25-minute “sprints”, work for that time, then break for 5 minutes. Get up and move around. Ready for another sprint? Repeat the process.
I run a free group with a colleague called Fired Up and Focused. Every two weeks, the group gathers and each member commits to a specific task or project. For 90 minutes we work together in 3, 25-minute sprints, and 5-minute breaks. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you focus for short periods and then allow your mind to relax and take a break.
Next Up – 3 more tips for productivity.