There’s a misconception that working in an office means combing through endless emails while clutching the phone in one hand and scribbling notes in the other. There are better, more productive ways for people to spend their work day. It took me multiple degrees and several careers to realize I needed to optimize my process by working smarter, not harder.
When I joined ShopKeep, I found myself booked in back-to-back meetings from morning until night. That left little time to focus on completing tasks. My previous experiences had made me believe I was a strong multitasker, but this new venture taught me there’s truly no such thing. According to psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, “It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try.”
To increase daily productivity, you need to learn how to focus on one task at a time. It’s pointless to try to do everything at once. Fortunately, a few key tactics can boost productivity and sharpen your overall ethic.
Make a to-do list.
When you’re working a full-time job, mornings and evenings might be the only components of the day under your control. Take advantage of this time by staying organized and pinpointing daily priorities. Clear and Evernote are two apps that allow users to create a checklist of tasks. Creating an in-app list before bed allows you to clear your head while sufficiently planning ahead. During sleep, your brain processes and prioritizes some of these tasks even though you don’t realize you are thinking about them.
Every morning, I review and edit my list before executing any of the tasks. This prevents me from prioritizing someone else’s to-do list over my own — which is exactly what happens when I start my day responding to emails. This practice also applies to meetings. Preparing an agenda ahead of time lays out goals and objectives, keeps the team on track, minimizes distractions and leads to a more productive conversation for the entire group.
Multitasking divides your attention. If you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll feel ineffective and frustrated because you’ve focused on the product over the process. The anxiety you feel when procrastinating is caused by pain in the insular cortex portion of the brain. It sends warning signals that cause stress as you worry about the end product. Think instead of one task and the process you need to accomplish that goal, and you’ll experience that anxious feeling less often. Not surprisingly, directing less mental energy to stressors ultimately helps you increase overall efficiency and achieve more.