Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Maintaining & Sustaining Work Productivity

“Forgetfulness is one of the characteristics of genius”.  Now, I am not sure if I heard this on the radio or read it in an article … I forget!  But to me it sounds a lot better than “forgetfulness is a sign of old age”, so I am adopting this sage philosophy.
However, after reading / hearing this comment I went on to think about all the suggestions / myths / scientific research that have been said about how we can increase our memory function and perhaps increase our productivity.

The most common / well known ones being:

  • Breath deep – more air means more oxygen to the brain.
  • Sit up straight – posture affects your thinking process.
  • Sleep better – adults need at least 7 but ideally 8 hours of sleep.  When sleep is restricted to less than 7 hours per night it results in reduced working memory capacity, impaired vigilance, lowered attention span and poor comprehension.
It is apparently very difficult for anyone to learn a new skill or maintain a reliable memory of prospective appointments without adequate sleep. If your memory is unreliable due to lack of sleep, your overall levels of stress increases, which further reduces your ability to remember anything. Be kind to your prefrontal cortex – take a nap. It will help.  

  • Caffeine – which is my personal favourite, but apparently the way I drink it is not good enough.  A new research suggests that a morning cup of coffee has much more forceful effect on the brain if it is taken with sugar!
  • Exercise – long term exercise can boost brainpower.
  • Clean desk – cluttered rooms can contribute to cluttered thinking.  I am a strong advocator of this.
  • Eat fish – it speeds up brain waves and improves concentration.
  • Have a healthy diet – including breakfast which is the most important meal of the day.
  • Drink red wine – another favourite of mine.  It is rich in antioxidants which protect brain cells.  But remember … moderation.
  • Room Temperature – everyone has different preferences (you need to play around with this one to get the ideal).
Now I am sure you have all noticed that a lot gets said about productivity?   We are always keen to squeeze a little bit more out of our day, fighting against all the interruptions and distractions of modern life.  It’s easy to end up struggling much harder than you need to, though, by trying to be productive in the wrong ways, at the wrong times and ending up forgetting the important issues. Working with your body clock and your natural peaks and troughs of energy lets you maximise your productivity all day long.

I have definitely noticed that I am much more productive in the morning and my productivity declines throughout the day -- but the worst is during the middle of the day. Unfortunately most meetings are usually scheduled at lunchtime or towards the end of the day.  I am sure I'm not the only one whose mood is affected by time of day - especially around noon?

I have found some tips to try overcome our dips and lows and to improve our overall productivity.  I hope they help.

  1. Morning Lark or Night Owl?  Firstly, you need to figure out whether or not you are a morning or night person. Given the chance, would you prefer to get up early to finish off some work, or stay up late? I am not sure where I fall here as I find physically I drag in the morning but peak in the afternoon, yet mentally I peak in the morning and drag in the afternoon.  If you can work it out and have any control over your hours, then start earlier (if you’re a lark) or later (if you’re an owl)?
  2. Peaks and troughs of Energy.  Throughout the day we all find that there are regularly times when we focus well – or not! This might seem obvious, but it will really help if you can do harder work – like writing, designing, brainstorming and planning – during your “peak” times. Leave more routine tasks – most emails, phone calls, filing, photocopying, etc – for times when your energy is at a low.  I have noticed in general that these peaks and troughs can also be monitored by day of the week with Friday’s being a very unproductive day for many.
  3. Organize Your Day on Paper, Before Your Day BeginsSpend ten minutes each evening or ten minutes each morning planning your day on paper. Write down your top priorities for the day, and circle the two most important items on your list. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at all the work you must do, focus only on those two items. This is one tool I use daily - I am a compulsive list maker.  Without my lists I am lost and my stress levels rise.
  4. Keep non essential meetings and appointments outside your peak times. (Ie. Doctors appointment.)  Scheduling non essential meetings and appointments at these times would take a big chunk out of your best productive time.
  5. Keep a positive attitude. There’s is nothing more powerful for self-motivation than the right attitude. You cannot choose or control your circumstance, but can choose your attitude towards your circumstances.
  6. Staying productive throughout the day. Even when you’re working with your natural peaks and troughs, it’s still a good idea to do what you can to keep your energy levels up. For most of us, that means following some simple good health practices like: Drink plenty of water, eat sensibly and get sufficient exercise.  And most importantly when taking a break, make it a proper rest.
Oh, and according to a new study, showering during the working day helps employees become more productive and more creative.  I used to go for a run during my lunch breaks and my energy levels were always high in the afternoon.  Now I am not sure if it was the run or the shower that was responsible for this.
Now on a scale from one to ten, one being the least productive and ten being the most productive, how would you rate yourself on productivity during an average work day? And do you have any tips to share on maintaining your productivity?

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