Five Ways to Maximize Your Productivity: findings from brain science (Part 2)
This is Part 2 of a two-part series that shares productivity strategies that are supported by brain science. Refer to the previous issue for Part 1.
3. Do energy-intensive work first. Prioritize prioritizing.
Many of us jump into email and social media as soon as our eyes open. This practice drains mental energy and adversely affects our ability to complete more demanding activities such as planning, analyzing, problem-solving, and creation. We increase our productivity by doing energy-intensive activities first. One of the most intensive activities that we can do is prioritizing. This requires us to identify what we are required to do, evaluate each item’s importance relative to the others, and organize them for completion in order of priority. The need to prioritize prioritizing can’t be overemphasized. It creates a clear line of action so that we are less likely to waste time on less important tasks.
I used to boast about my multi-tasking prowess. I prided myself on being able to speak on the phone, rattle off an email, and switch between several open computer applications, all while eating my lunch! I then came across this idea that we cannot really multi-task. We actually have limited attention spans which means that doing several activities at once boils down to dividing that attention several times. What we end up doing is increasing the length of time each activity eventually takes, and reducing the accuracy with which each is completed. In reality, research is showing that we can only concentrate on one activity at any point in time. The exception is if we are doing a relatively automatic activity as well such as driving. So, this means that we should turn off all distractions, including email notifications, phones, and social media, and simply focus on the priority task at hand.
5. Write things down
I am sure that you have had the experience of trying to hold on to an idea that emerged out of a conversation, a personal insight, or something that you observed. By virtue of trying to remember that idea, you are dividing your attention and expending unnecessary effort that could be addressed by simply writing down what is on your mind. Leonardo da Vinci faithfully followed this principle by always keeping a notebook with him where he sketched concepts and made jottings as they occurred to him or came through people he encountered. You can take a lot of pressure off your memory and conscious attention by simply recording things. Apart from a simple notebook that you carry around with you all the time, you can also invest in digital versions such as OneNote or Evernote, which sync across multiple platforms.
Establish a routine, set up blocks of activity, prioritize prioritizing, focus, write things down, and watch your productivity soar!