Productivity hacks to lower stress-levels

I’ve usually been a pretty relaxed person, I’m quite happy to say “no” if I am asked to do things beyond my current capacity timewise. I can only do one thing at a time, and I can only do them as quickly and well as I can do them, it’s an immutable law for all people.

However, lately I’ve had higher stress-levels than I’ve suffered for at least the last 4 years. In part because of other peoples expectations on what I can do, in part because of my own sometimes unreasonable expectations on myself.

So starting this week, I am going to reset, make sure I go back to my old good habits, and try out a few new ones:

  • Do one thing at a time. Set the expectation with others that I am only going to do one thing at a time, and if I need to look at two things, it will take four times as long. Context switching is poison to productivity and makes things take exponentially longer. A priority list for one person can only have one top priority at a time, if other people have influence over it, make them chose which one is at the top.
  • Personal discipline. Be at my desk, with a coffee, at 8:30am sharp, work on the most important priority for the day for a solid 2 hours before my morning meeting. Continue afterwards, or pick up the next most taxing priority thereafter. Save small & simple admin type things for the late afternoon when energy is lower.
  • Forego distractions. E-mail will be dealt with three times a day (morning, lunch and late afternoon), turned off at all other times. I’m banning all news and social media websites during certain hours, in particular office hours, except lunchtime.
  • Push back on interruptions. Slack messages do not need an immediate response (I have turned notifications off for everything but sound). Not every issue or question needs a meeting or call immediately unless they are critical (see “top priority”). Communication is essential to knowledge work, but impromptu interruptions are not. The cost of interruptions and context switching on concentration is too high (see XKCD: http://i.imgur.com/3uyRWGJ.jpg).
  • Switch off. Stop at 6:30pm at the latest. Switch off, read a book. Excessive hours do not help.

RescueTime CEO Joe Hruska says their company has data to prove that knowledge workers who get 4–5 hours of productive work done in an 8 hour day are in the top percentile. It goes to show how much distractions and interruptions set us off course. What would you be able to achieve if you got 50–100% more focused work time into a day?

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