How to boost productivity by being deliberate about how you spend your time

- September 15, 2023 3 MIN READ

In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to fall into the trap of busyness and urgency, operating on autopilot without conscious thought about how we spend our time, attention, and energy. However, this can lead to a depletion of resources and a lack of true productivity, explains Donna McGeorge, productivity expert and author of It’s About Time.

If you find yourself falling prey to the busy syndrome, don’t despair; there are tactics to help you regain control of your time, and it begins with choice.

Here are 5 ways you can take control and make more deliberate choices

The 15 per cent rule

Instead of constantly operating at 100 per cent capacity or more, you should aim for about 85 per cent, giving you a 15 per cent buffer.

Olympian Carl Lewis, the nine-time gold medallist sprinter, was known as a ‘master finisher’. Interestingly, for us, he was considered to be a slow starter. In a 100-metre sprint, he was often either last or second to last at the 40-metre mark, but breezed past other competitors by the finish line. Contrary to common sense, he did nothing special towards the end. His breathing and form remained the same throughout the race. While other runners were clearly having to push harder at the end — clenching their fists, scrunching their faces — Carl Lewis looked exactly the same when he won the race as he had at the start.

The concept of the 15 per cent buffer may seem arbitrary at first, but it has real-world applications in various domains. Whether it’s manufacturing, sports, or our personal lives, maintaining an 85 per cent capacity utilisation is considered optimal. Applying this principle to our daily routines can help us create more space for creativity, relaxation, and overall well-being in order to be more adaptive and productive.

Pay attention to the clock in your body, not the one on the wall

Similarly, our bodies have circadian rhythms that determine our peak alertness and cognitive abilities throughout the day. By understanding these rhythms, we can schedule tasks for optimal brain performance. Our most productive time is often in the morning, where tasks requiring attention and focus are best tackled. As the afternoon arrives, our bodies are more suited for routine tasks that demand coordination.

Breaking free from Autopilot

Instead of letting email dictate our day, we should set aside dedicated times to address it, allowing us to focus on essential tasks during our most productive hours. By consciously designing our day, we can align tasks with our peak performance periods, using our valuable time and energy best.

Reprogramming habits operating on autopilot can hinder our productivity, leading to wasted energy and lost opportunities. Like a computer program, our brains have ingrained settings dictating our actions. To boost productivity, we must break free from these habitual patterns and consciously choose how we spend our time.

Time alignment for optimal results

The key to productivity is not just the number of hours we work but the impact and value we create during that time. Trading energy and impact for results can lead to more meaningful and fulfilling work. Reframing laziness and embracing restful activities, such as daydreaming and social interactions, can enhance creativity and overall cognitive abilities.

Moreover, building a 15% buffer in our day can lengthen our fuse, giving us the capacity to manage unexpected challenges effectively. We can optimise our productivity and decision-making by strategically choosing when to perform tasks and leveraging our body’s natural rhythms.

Manage decision fatigue

Making important calls, having important discussions and doing important work should be done in the morning before you suffer from decision fatigue.

Just stop and think about this for a minute. For many of us, our jobs require that we make decisions — in fact, it’s why we are hired as a leader in the first place! We need good knowledge, experience and the ability to make a sound judgement in our area of expertise.

By being mindful of our energy levels, we can make better choices and avoid reactive decision-making.

Stop the vicious cycle of overwhelm, tiredness and stalled productivity and start working with your natural rhythms and demands. By embracing simple principles, we can reclaim our time and resources to boost productivity, enhance well-being, and achieve greater success across all aspects of life.

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