…if you want it to. Call them productivity tips, call it stress reduction, call it what you like, there’s no shortage of advice out there for making our working lives fitter/happier/more productive. So here’s another take on the secret to a happy working life, with one big difference: from personal experience, all of these tools and techniques really work. If you’re curious about changing your life for the better, read on:
A lot of people seem to take pride in being able to do lots of things at once, jumping constantly between emails, phone calls, and conversations. It feels productive. It looks productive. But it isn’t productive at all. To misquote the great Ron Swanson, you end up “half-assing everything and whole-assing nothing“. Even worse, multitasking makes you feel stressed and anxious, so you end up working inefficiently and feeling terrible too. There is a better way. Slow down, focus fully on one task at a time, and resist the urge to get distracted, whether by emails, phone calls, social media, or the sudden urge to do some laundry. It takes serious practice and effort to stay focused, but monotasking will make you calmer, happier, and more effective. Further reading: Multitaskers pay mental price
Yesterbox your email
Email is a big source of stress for many people. We all feel the need to stay on top of it, but often it just keeps on coming, so it’s never really finished, and there’s always that nagging feeling of falling behind. The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, came up with a clever strategy to deal with email stress, which he calls ‘Yesterbox’. The idea is really simple: you only ever try to deal with yesterday’s emails, so then there’s a finite list of emails to deal with (a list you can actually finish!) and you don’t get distracted/disheartened by new emails constantly arriving (because new emails are ‘tomorrow’s yesterday’, so not your problem today). Read all about it: The yesterbox technique
Have you ever had one of those tasks on your to-do list which sits neglected for a long time, because it just feels too big and too difficult to deal with? And then you feel guilty for not dealing with it, but still kind of paralysed by uncertainty? (Of course you have! That’s probably most of your to-do list, right?) A good way to crack those tough nuts is to tell yourself it’s not a task, it’s a ‘mini-project’. And then your first step is just to pin down what’s really required, ask some basic questions, do some initial research. Then you feel good for getting started, and some further steps start to reveal themselves. Before you know it, you might even find yourself enjoying your ‘mini-project-manager’ role (which feels way better than the ‘task procrastinator’ role). Read more: Break big tasks into smaller pieces
The idea of time tracking might sound a little scary, but it’s an incredibly powerful way to really understand where all your time goes. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know exactly how long you spent preparing that report, or stuck in meetings, or answering questions from colleagues dropping by your desk? Toggl is a great little free tool which makes it easy to hit the start/stop button on any number of tasks throughout your working day, then look back to review where all your time went. Treat your findings with interest and curiosity (i.e. don’t stress about it!) and you may well find a few very interesting surprises about how your time is spent. Try it out: Toggl website
Don’t forget to breathe!
No seriously – don’t skip this part! Most of us don’t even notice we’re doing it, but would you believe it’s quite common to hold your breath for short periods whilst reading email? So-called ’email apnea’ can then lead to feelings of stress as your disrupted breathing triggers the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response. From personal experience, this seems be worse during multitasking: all that focus-switching seems to go hand in hand with shallow breathing. Just try paying attention to your breathing while you work, and see if you too are literally forgetting to breathe. Read more: Building the case for email apnea
If all of this talk of focusing and breathing sounds like mindfulness, well, it kind of is. All the tools and techniques recommended here work in their own right, but if you’re serious about making a happier working life, some mindfulness practice will strengthen and support them all. Apps like Headspace are a great place to start if you’re curious to find out more about that.
And obviously, this article hasn’t changed your life yet… but if you feel inspired to try any of the recommendations above, then it just might.