In this digital age, everyone is striving harder to be more productive on the job. Caffeine supply and making to-do lists don't seem to work anymore, thanks to the numerous distractions that pop up from different directions.
The Basic Elements of Productivity
The essential components of personal productivity are:
1) strategy: the ability to make plans
2) productive deciding: the ability to distinguish the most important tasks and making the right decisions
3) focus: the ability to devote attention to one task at a time
4) consistency: the ability to work at a regular pace and being able to integrate elements 1, 2, & 3 into your work.
Moreover, productivity is also hugely affected by wellness, work environment, training, career development opportunities, diversity, increase in responsibilities, quality of management, and compensation (salary & incentives).
Some markers of productivity at work include setting goals, meeting deadlines, focusing on one task at a time, focusing on large projects first, being on time, blocking out schedules, taking breaks, participating in productive meetings, and delegating work.
Read RELATED: Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind
Unfortunately, productivity has countless adversaries. Distractions keep us from accomplishing our actual work: misused multitasking, interruptions from family or coworkers, too many meetings, social media, that next episode on Netflix, etc.
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But the worst of all hurdles are mental traps that block us. Author of Mental Traps: The Overthinker's Guide to a Happier Life and psychology professor, André Kukla, explains that mental traps are habitual thought patterns that consume a significant amount of our time, disrupt our mental clarity, and drain our energy without achieving something of value.
By identifying these pitfalls, we can eliminate the damage they do to our productivity. The following are common mental traps and a suggested solution for each one:
Mental trap #1: Planning Fallacy
The American Psychology Association defines planning fallacy as "the tendency to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a future task, due in part to the reliance on overly optimistic performance scenarios.”
You often find yourself unable to follow a timeline as you underestimated the amount of time required for some tasks. Whether you're a member of a team who depends on you to complete a project as expected or a freelancer with clients that have hard deadlines, meeting schedules is crucial to your professional success.
If you misjudge how much time an activity will take, you'll also strive to achieve more than is doable in a single day, which will undermine your life's balance.
If you take on too much at work, you may need to allot time that was originally reserved for other areas of your life, like your relationships and yourself, to complete those pending duties.
Burnout is a clear certainty as a result of both the high expectations and the limited control you have over fulfilling them. You're likely to experience a state of mental, emotional, and often physical depletion caused by extended (or recurrent) stress after having sacrificed time previously designated for sleep, leisure, or self-care.
How to counter this? Always use to-do list with timeboxing.
To-do list is a trap on its own. Without constraints, they don't help you follow a realistic schedule.
On the other hand, timeboxing is a time management strategy wherein you block out a certain amount of time in your calendar for each task. It's an excellent way for overcoming the planning fallacy as it lets you see how your time will be spent.
You can use time tracker apps to record how much time you typically need to complete a hobby, a job, a fitness session, a recipe, etc. Then plot the task in your time-boxed calendar once you have a fair estimate of how much time it might take you. This ought to help you get a good sense of what you can actually do in a day.
Be generous with the time you assign for your tasks. Set aside more time than you would need in the best case-case scenario; timebox for the worst-case scenario. If you complete the task sooner, use that time to rest or have a break.
Mental trap #2: "Interim" moments
Our days are filled with transition times called liminal moments.
Have you ever opened a tab in your computer browser, got impatient waiting for it to load, and then opened another window? Or did you use a social networking app as you made your way between chores, just to keep scrolling once you got back?
We are likely to make mistakes by doing these mindless acts for "five minutes tops" or "only a second," much like veering off course for 30 minutes.
How to counter this? Follow the 10-minute pause.
Anytime you have the compulsion to check your phone out of boredom or distraction, pause and wait 10 minutes. It's likely that your impulse will pass after that brief wait.
The 10-minute rule, also called "surfing the urge," is when you pause a moment to breathe and ride your sensations like a wave which helps you get through until they peter out.
Surfing the urge is a tremendous help when dealing with all kinds of impulses and distractions, such as watching another movie on Netflix when too tired to sleep or scrolling through video reels instead of writing.
Mental trap #3: The mere urgency effect
As defined by a recent study, this is the "tendency to pursue urgency over importance." It further explains that we prefer doing urgent tasks with short completion time frames instead of important work with greater results.
In other words, we often place greater value on doing the menial chore that will take us five minutes than the major project that will take us hours to complete. Spending time on emails is a good example. The modern-day worker is plagued by it.
Every day, the typical office worker receives 100 messages. Even if you can type out a response for each one in only two minutes, that still amounts to more than three hours per day. If you let it, it will take up all the time you need for more pressing responsibilities.
How to counter this? Do focused, blocked work per session.
Timeboxing shields us from the pull of repetitive tasks. Mark out a period on your calendar for focused work and inform anybody who might try to contact you during that time frame—including family, coworkers, and boss—that you won't be available.
By doing this, you will no longer feel anxious or guilty about not replying to emails every 30 seconds since your boss and coworkers already know that you are not being lax—rather, you just can't be bothered in that time frame.
Planning time for focused work also informs you that any other task during that period will be distraction. You might be tempted to check your phone or, if you're working from home, throw some quick laundry in the washer. But you immediately acknowledge that's off-limits during focused work session.
Mental trap #4: Guilt for not completing everything.
People are not machines. So even if we are diligent about managing our time and focus, there'll be times when our productivity is low. So it doesn't help if we make our self feel guilty about moments of low productivity.
Perhaps today's distractions were more successful in stealing your attention than usual. Or perhaps you chose to sleep in instead of getting up early for meditation or yoga.
Resist the urge to blame yourself. You won't feel any better because of that toxic guilt, which ironically may drive you to seek additional diversions to help you cope with the discomfort of shame. This leaves you in a loop of guilt.
How to counter this? Give yourself compassion.
Everyone has trouble avoiding distractions every now and then. But what's important is to take responsibility for our action without the destructive shame.
Self-compassion helps us bounce back from slips and letdowns as it stops the stress loop that often follows failure.
If you realize you're listening to that tiny voice in your head that occasionally taunts you, know how to respond well: remind yourself that setbacks are a natural part of the growth process.
Talk to yourself kindly as you would to a friend whom you are consoling. But sadly, we are our own worst critics. Instead of beating yourself up and falling in a guilt and stress cycle, tell yourself helpful things like, "You're getting there," or "It's not so bad."
Also read: 9 Habits Of Productive People
So try and remember these mental traps and be fully aware when they come knocking. You can effectively escape these common snares by shifting to a "productivity mindset."
Thinking about getting a professional to help you break unproductive habits or stop the cycle of de-motivation? Contact JarvisHypnotherapy today!
Here are more tips for healthy habits from JarvisHypnotherapy: WHY LAUGH? HUMOUR & MENTAL HEALTH.