Are you as efficient as you want to be? Can you get as much done each day and over the course of the year as you aspire to?
If so, you are probably in the minority.
Personally, I have always struggled with the irrefutable fact that there are 24 hours in a day and that living – sleeping, eating, showering, and a few other basics such as having a social life and exercising – all have to fit into that time along with work.
This is not impossible if you work set hours, or if work is something you do to pay the bills. However, if you’re passionate, ambitious, driven, or just excited about whatever project you are working on, odds are it becomes challenging to juggle everything and stay sane.
Here are three slightly counterintuitive tips that are tested and tried and can help you achieve more in the same amount of time:
Take breaks at work.
Your brain is not wired to function non-stop. When you work continuously and for extended amounts of time, you might think and feel like you’re doing great but that’s when mistakes happen. Think of your brain like a car – if you don’t stop and refuel properly at regular intervals, you will soon be running on fumes. Not good.
As a rule of thumb, you should work for 50-90 minutes before taking a 15-minute break, although as with all things the most important is to find a rhythm that works for you and stick to it. Switching tasks does not count as a break, so doing emails instead of crunching numbers all counts as the same thing.
During your breaks, do not work.
Instead, let your brain recharge by doing something truly different and refreshing: go for a walk, read a book, chat with a colleague or friend, go to the gym, or if you work from home and are lucky enough to have an outside space, garden for a bit. Get creative!
Disconnect from work.
Beyond breaks during your working hours, it is also useful to properly disconnect from work every so often. Don’t worry, your brain will still be running analytics and problem-solving software in the background so to speak, but if you think about it too much, you’ll thwart the process.
Instead, embrace the disconnect. Whether it’s a few hours once a week, weekends, or even a few weeks every now and then.
Did you know, for example, that spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to improve performance at work? So plan a hike, go kayaking, get your ski gear out, or just organize a picnic.
And if you’re ready for more, you can travel to a new place or embark on an adventure.
Believe it or not, I have found solutions to problems while mesmerized by the landscape when hiking in Patagonia, in the middle of a horse-riding lesson, and while serving as co-pilot on a road trip in Portugal.
Trust your brain and let it work its magic while you are enjoying yourself doing something different. Even if it doesn’t work every single time, you will get great memories and anecdotes from the adventures you go on, and might meet some fascinating people along the way.
And it will work.
Take time to do something completely different.
Legend has it the circular design for iPod navigation came to an Apple employee while in the shower. That may or may not be true, but building on this idea that disconnecting can power your brain is the concept that solutions may come from seemingly unrelated areas.
Some people realize that their boxing matches have taught them valuable startup lessons, and others have solved building design challenges from having an unrelated conversation about sustainable farming.
So have a conversation that’s not about you at all, and listen. Truly, deeply, actively listen. You might be surprised what you learn, and how unexpectedly applicable – if not useful – it turns out to be.
This could also be the perfect excuse to finally start learning that skill you’ve always secretly wanted to develop, whether it’s playing an instrument, painting, basket weaving, speaking another language, or learning a martial art.
As long as you are giving your brain new material, experiences, and are open to unusual sources of inspiration, you will be well on your way to a whole new level of problem solving.
There will always be work.
The temptation will always be there to dive into your latest challenge or problem, and wrestle it into submission even if it means sacrificing sleep. Instead, try taking a break to refuel your brain. Or disconnect over the weekend, giving your mind and body a breath of fresh air – perhaps quite literally. And don’t be afraid to dedicate energy to do seemingly unrelated things.
Stop obsessing. Walk away. Learn new skills. And enjoy leveling-up at work, with newfound energy and efficiency.