Three quarters of us regularly leave our office feeling we haven’t achieved everything we wanted to. Even if you have been “busy” all day, the lack of tangible progress on important tasks can leave us frustrated and dissatisfied, according to Alice Boyes, writing for Harvard Business Review.
A clinical psychologist turned writer, she says identifying and dealing with the mental errors that limit your thinking will improve your focus and help you get on with the job.
COMMON MISTAKES AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
- Miscalculating the amount of time you have for focused tasks. You may believe there will be long uninterrupted periods to concentrate on creative projects, strategic planning or training, but routine time-sensitive jobs – such as email, meetings, phone calls and “quick questions” – can eat up a large chunk of the day.Accept those limitations and be more precise in productively using the time you do have. Reserve 60- to 90-minute slots for bigger, long-term endeavours; if you have just 15 minutes available, or time when you know you could be interrupted, use it to accomplish more mundane, must-do tasks.
- Ignoring well-tested productivity methods that look too ‘old’ or simple. There are solid, psychology-based self-help concepts that you might overlook. Boyes advises revisiting easy, proven principles and trying to use them creatively, instead of searching for more complicated solutions. For example, remove practical barriers to starting a focused task by gathering together all the elements you need in advance so you’re ready to roll when a stretch of time becomes available.Boyes says: “If you want to video yourself rehearsing a big speech, set up the space you plan to use, do a test recording for a minute, and make sure you have enough free space on your recording device.”
- Seeing big change as the only answer. Tackling a particularly ingrained habit you feel is holding you back can feel overwhelming and prompt psychological resistance. Try breaking it down into smaller wins that you can implement more easily.Boyes gives the example of getting more sleep. Making desirable, low-key changes in routine leading up to bedtime could gradually get the result you want. Immediately attempting to go to bed two hours earlier is a sure recipe for resistance.
- Failing to log instructions for sporadic but regular tasks. Next time you need to search online for something like how to clean your printer drum, take a few minutes to record what you did it instead of having to search again next time.
- Undervaluing the effect of little time-stealers. Ten minutes answering a non-urgent email isn’t a big deal in itself, but it can disrupt your flow and use up valuable mental energy when you are engaged in a creative project.“When you create systems (e.g., reducing unnecessary decisions, streamlining and simplifying tasks, batching, automating, outsourcing, or using checklists) that address small time/energy leaks, you’ll experience mental clarity benefits from doing so that far outstrip the time savings.”
Take time to address the mental blocks that hold you back and you’ll be on the way to starting and completing more important work.