The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
– Lin Yutang
We are a generation of overachievers. According to the 2016 Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index, 91% of people work more than 40 hours a week at least some of the time. We consider that by doing more we are better employees and we are not to blame. The era we are in is one of consumption: the value of quantity is thought to be more important than the value of quality. We are drowning ourselves with busy work using the false pretense that being productive means to do more. In fact, this “more-ness” is nothing but harmful. By increasing the number of things to do, the ones that are actually important are being left behind or done poorly. So, what are we going to do?
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1. Prioritize and Erase
We have previously talked about the prioritization of tasks. Remember the Pareto principle: 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. So, organize your tasks by order of importance (also known as impact). Put the tasks that will eliminate a larger portion of your workload first. Then, add those that your team needs to complete their tasks. Third, add those that are time-sensitive. Finally, ask yourself whether the leftover tasks will have an actual impact on your project. Unnecessary tasks should be erased.
2. Repeat After Me: "I Shall Not Multitask"
According to research by the American Psychological Association, multitasking reduces our productivity by 40%. Tasks are meant to be done in a sequential order, not parallel. Even though it has been proved that our brain can focus on two tasks at the time, that is our limit. Even then, multitasking increases the risk of making a mistake. According to experts, it can also cause stress and dampen creativity. To be productive you need to beat the multitasking myth and manage your attention. Focus solely on the task you are completing and then move on to the next one (and that includes “small stuff” like checking your e-mail). This will not only decrease the amount of time it takes you to complete each task, but it also will improve its quality.
3. Learn to Say No
No to your boss who’s asking too much from you. No to your coworker that just “asked for a favor”. No to yourself when you think you can do a “little bit more”. The best way to avoid overworking and hurting your productivity is by knowing when "more" is "too much". This might be the hardest part. Just remember: you are human, you have limits, and a job well done is more satisfying than three done in a rush.