When I started working full time as a consultant, one of my goals was to improve my work-life balance. I have always worked more than the standard 40 hour work, and I desired to spend more time with family and friends.
To help achieve a better work-life balance, I have worked to improve my productivity. Some of the areas that have helped include the following:
- Physical activity: We know that physical activity is good for our brains. Exercise improves memory and thinking and decreases stress. I try to start the day with push ups and/or sit ups, and I find this helps me wake up, get the brain working, and immediately provides a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, I try to spend time walking during breaks throughout the day.
- Structured breaks: Many of us try to work longer hours to get more accomplished. This article suggests the ideal length of time to focus on a single task is 52 minutes followed by a break of 17 minutes. I find 45-60 minutes on task followed by a 10-15 minute break allows me to be very productive and mentally fresh. My breaks often involve a quick walk, reading, or a mindless task such as emptying the dishwasher.
- Mindfulness: My life feels constantly busy, and I find taking some time to meditate quiets my mind, sharpens focus, and relieves anxiety. Here is one of many articles about the topic. When I read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, I was surprised by the high percentage of successful people he interviewed that regularly practice meditation or mindfulness (80%).
- Schedule time to accomplish difficult tasks: I have worked hard to schedule my time better. My best mental focus occurs early in the day, so I avoid early morning meetings and other tasks that are not very mentally demanding when possible. I strive to keep the mornings open to focus on projects that require a great deal of focus, including complicated proposals, report writing for clients, blogging, and reviewing documents.
- Email: Most people I talk to struggle to keep up with their email. Some have suggested that people are more productive when they skip checking email when they first get up. I try to only check email when I am in a position to respond. In addition, I schedule time for email “blitzes” to knock out a lot of email in a short period of time. Fifteen minutes of uninterrupted email time can be very productive.
- Stop multitasking: I used to pride myself on my ability to multitask and was often working on multiple projects all at once. Instead, I endeavor to focus on one task at a time, and I find this approach allows me to complete tasks more efficiently than before. There are numerous studies that support the negative impact of multitasking on productivity, including this review of research from the American Psychological Association.
- Listen to audiobooks: Reading helps me increase my knowledge base as a consultant and stay current with best practices in my industry. It can be difficult for me to have uninterrupted time to actually sit down and read. I subscribe to Audible and listen to books in the car or when I exercise. Many public libraries offer free audiobooks for cardholders. I listen to audiobooks at 1.25X speed, and I know people that can listen at even faster speeds. The increased speed helps me listen to more books, and this Audible article suggests that comprehension can improve at faster speeds.
I’m not perfect. There are some days when I am more productive than others, but I find that intentionally focusing on productivity has changed how efficiently and effectively I use my time. What boosts your productivity?
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T.A. Dickel Group, LLC is located in Evansville, Indiana, and we focus on enhancing organizational leadership, creativity, and strategy in the surrounding region.
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Dr. Tad Dickel is a leadership, creativity, and strategy consultant who works with businesses, nonprofits, colleges, schools, and churches. He received a Certificate in Family Business Advising from the Family Firm Institute, Certificate in Foundations of Design Thinking from IDEO U, and holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from Indiana State University. Tad is a Certified Basadur Simplexity Thinking Facilitator and Trainer.