The biggest productivity hacks are simple mindful techniques you can add to your daily routine.
Today, everyone has more demanding roles than ever with challenging workflows and tasks, hybrid roles, digitalisation, priority or transformation projects outside of day-to-day work, firefighting, responding to changing conditions, long team or Zoom meetings, and everyone pinging each other with questions, requests, and emails. This makes the traditional to-do lists out of date, hence the launch of thousands of new productivity tools and platforms each year to cater to hyper-busy teams and individuals.
However, there is no magic app or platform that will take care of your workflow and tasks. If you can’t manage yourself and optimise the conditions for managing the workflow, you will constantly feel overwhelmed and struggle to keep up.
In my team, we have faced the same challenges as any other team, and everyone, including myself, has struggled to manage all the complex tasks and projects effectively, especially during the past years when we essentially became a 90% remote team working from home. These challenges can make one feel overwhelmed and increase the perception that you are too busy, causing you to forget to take a break or eat, which, in the end, becomes counterproductive, leaving you stressed and exhausted.
Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse, keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.Gary Keller
Entrepreneur and best-selling author
Below, I have collected 6 hacks for productivity and reducing stress that we have tried, and I think they have worked very well. Self-leadership is much about the ability to manage your stress levels, mental and emotional state, as well as overall productivity and outputs in your work.
1. Clean your head and create a plan
Brain dump and organise your tasks. I took the course “Getting Things Done: Mastering the Workflow” by David Allen, and one of the most valuable takeaways was the concept of brain dumping and organising tasks. I will link to a summary of this course later in this article, but the key points involve taking a blank piece of paper and, for 15 minutes or so, noting down anything occupying your mind regarding what you need to do, whether it’s work or personal related. Once you have your “brain dump in place,” organise your tasks into categories, priorities, and a “Why/how/next action” structure. This will give your brain space, and you will see exactly what you need to do, how, and what the next action for it is. This works well to manage my tasks when I feel overwhelmed.
2. Mindful breaks to boost energy
Researchers have had people watch videos of larger animals, such as whales, to evoke a feeling of respect and reverence. This led to the people in the test group having a different perception of time; they simply felt that they had more time than before. A hint could be just a YouTube clip away. Look for things that evoke a childlike sense of wonder in the form of natural phenomena. Five inspiring minutes can do a lot of good for a busy mind. I have a colleague who likes to watch videos of small pigs being petted when she feels stressed, which makes me laugh but brings her a calm feeling.
Another mindful break that we have in Oxford Leadership’s Self-Managing Leadership® Programme encourages participants to take a 1-minute “full stop” between each session. This could be done between different tasks or meetings, where you just pause and sit for a minute to ground yourself and reflect on your intentions for whatever you are trying to achieve.
3. Find your grounding rituals
Both humans and animals feel calm from repetitive behavior, according to researchers. Our daily routines are a way for us to deal with stress. These routines are especially important in moments when we feel pressure or lack control. Therefore, if you feel that you are losing control, create a ritual. Find a routine that you can follow easily and takes 5-10 minutes to complete.
A couple of suggestions:
- Stretch: Get a short refresher break by stretching your neck, back, legs, and shoulders for full body activation. Stretching the body helps blood flow, provides flexibility, improves focus, and reduces the risk of injuries related to sitting in front of a computer for too long.
- Breathe: If you are losing focus or feeling stressed, deep breathing is a well-proven concept to reduce stress, calm your mind, and increase focus. Techniques such as box breathing or mindful breathing are used by top athletes and Navy SEALs. There are plenty of guides on YouTube, apps, and streaming services to help you learn these techniques.
- Exercise: If you start to feel fatigued or tired, find some upbeat, movement-based exercises that raise your pulse and heart rate, which you can do next to your desk. This gets your blood pumping and wakes up your body and mind.
- Meditate: If you feel stuck or frustrated, meditate! It is not as difficult as you think. Many accessible and simplified guides are available across the internet, YouTube, Spotify, apps, and e-books to find a meditation that suits your level and objective. The benefits are endless; it develops your brain, improves memory, develops your EQ, and helps you feel calmer and in control.
- Walk: Walking is good for you, not only for providing exercise but also for helping with your thinking process. Find a scenic route and take a 15-minute walk to get fresh oxygen, de-stress, and reflect on or process your challenges or upcoming tasks.
4. Timebox your schedule to find the flow in your workday
Having a flow doesn’t have to mean feeling busy. It’s about having complete focus and avoiding interruptions. To succeed, you must stop multitasking. To plan, organise, solve problems, and make decisions as a manager, you must devote yourself to one thing at a time. Figure out what helps you concentrate to the max. Maybe it’s listening to quiet music, pop music, or sitting in a room on your own. Remove things that can distract you, turn off notifications on your computer or phone, focus on one thing, and don’t do other tasks while working on the flow. When time-boxing and planning your day, make sure you block your calendar as busy for important and time-consuming tasks.
5. Understand the concept of how to get in to your “zone” or state of “flow”.
The more you understand how your zone or “flow” works, the easier it will be for you to get into it. It takes a person around 15-25 minutes of uninterrupted focus to get into the state of flow when working. This means that you need to plan for it to minimise internal and external distractions and optimise the work or task and yourself.
6. Reminder to Hydrate & Refill with healthy energising snacks
This may seem like a no-brainer; however, people like me who drink loads of coffee (which dehydrates) need a reminder to drink water and eat things that support energy levels and focus. Schedule a reminder in your diary to refill or drink water and eat something that supports your focus and energy. This is a quick and effective way to boost productivity and refill your energy levels, but it’s often forgotten during an intense workday. You could even schedule a 15-minute energy break with your team and get on a call for a fun, casual catch-up to fuel social and physical connections. If you’re dehydrated, you will lose focus and energy.
Planning and prioritising your tasks and outcomes is key. Time-box your day or week, clear the clutter of tasks from your head by creating a structured plan, and find physical or mental rituals that help you become grounded, energised, and focused. Complete one task at a time and optimise the conditions to enter your zone or “flow.” Don’t forget to fuel your system by hydrating and refilling with healthy energy.
A couple of recommendations for your mindful rituals that I have found useful:
If you are interested in developing your Self-Managing Leadership skills, head over and sign up for Oxford Leadership’s on-demand Self-Managing Leadership Online Certification Programme. Trust me, you will not regret investing in yourself, both for personal growth and enhancing your leadership capabilities in all aspects of life.
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