No matter how hard you try, your day will only ever have 24 hours in it. If we’re talking about productive hours to accomplish your goals, of course, that number is a bit lower. We can debate how many hours of the day you should devote to sleep (we won’t, but we could). We can debate whether you build in breaks or you press forward checking to-do list items off in a crazed frenzy to get it all done. The debate is futile because working long hours and pressing up against your limits isn’t the same thing as being productive.
This is the age-old debate between quality and quantity. We want to encourage you to ditch the idea that you’ve got to put the pedal all the way to the floor and pull long, full days at the office. If you want to be more successful at meeting your goals and accomplishing big things, aim for quality hours in the day to yield better productivity.
Be Honest About Your Time
Did it really take you 2 hours to write that email to your top prospect? Was it 120 straight minutes of typing, backspacing, typing, editing, and typing again? More likely it was two hours of typing, checking email notifications that just came in, typing, backspacing, reading texts from your partner about dinner plans this evening, typing, sneaking a peak at Facebook on your phone (hey, you need to know how many people liked your new puppy picture!), typing, editing, talking with your co-worker about the latest gossip, typing, getting input from someone else on whether the email reads okay, typing, sending. In other words, if you stripped back how long it really took to customize a pitch you’ve written 100 times before, it could have taken you about half as long as you think it did.
It’s hard to check your phone for texts and social media if your phone isn’t sitting next to your laptop keyboard. When it’s time to hunker down and complete a task, put distractions – your phone included – away. Focus on the task at hand. Put the time in it takes to get it done right and then move on.
But Take Breaks
Let’s talk about those big projects – the ones that stress you or that require intense concentration. Let’s talk about the little projects that are fundamentally simple but require some focus and time. Actually, let’s just talk about what it takes to get stuff done.
No one, not even the most determined among us, can hold steady at a high rate of productivity from project start to finish. Research supports this. Short breaks enhance productivity. When we don’t take them, our focus and our performance declines over time.
Give up the Multitasking Myth
No. You are not a good multitasker. None of us are. Not only have researchers discovered that we’re actually less productive when we multitask, they’ve also found that multitasking hinders recall, the ability to filter out irrelevant information, and subsequently makes tasks take longer to complete. Don’t even get us started on those studies out of the University of London that noted a drop in IQ points while multitasking. (You can read about all those studies here: Multitasking Studies.) Pick a task and focus on it.
Make a (Shorter) To-Do List
Track your priority tasks. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a giant list of items to accomplish because it feels good and important to have a giant list of items to accomplish. Identify what you really MUST get done today and then erase or cross them off when they are done. Are there legitimately more priority projects than you have hours in the day? Delegate what you can. Reprioritize what is left and identify a realistic set of deadlines.
Don’t Skip on Sleep
Yes, we know. We said we weren’t going to debate how much sleep you needed at the start of this conversation. We’re still not, because this isn’t up for debate. You need a good night’s sleep if you want to be productive. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Lack of sleep – even one night’s worth – can impact your working memory, logical reasoning, and concentration. And no, even that quad cup of espresso macchiato with an extra shot from Starbucks isn’t going to make up for a brief night of sleep.