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How to improve your productivity (and it’s not what you think)

Modern living means that we are all constantly rushing around working on three million different things at once. We are so busy that we have no time to stop and think, our minds are permanently on what we have scheduled next or we are ruminating over how we should have done the last task better.

But you know all this already, you live this reality, day in day out, pausing briefly on the weekends, needing to rest to recuperate from the past week and recharge your batteries ready for the coming week. But despite all this relentless action, this neverending race to do everything, you always seem to be lacking, never quite finishing everything on your to-do list.

I know I’ve tried all the common methods to combat the stress of modern living, increase productivity and become an efficient whizz in all areas of my life. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mindfulness, a state of active, open attention on the present. According to Psychology Today, when you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to your current experience, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future.

Last year I read a book on Mindfulness and as I finished it, I was so excited to put my brand-new mentality into practice, convinced that with my new superpower, Mindfulness, I could conquer the world and finally finish my neverending to-do list.

Well, that didn’t work.

I missed the point entirely of the book, being present in the moment won’t work if you literally have too many things going on.

Scientists have proved that humans can’t multitask, all we can do is switch between tasks very quickly to give the illusion of multitasking, but really, all we’re doing is just making a lot more mistakes. In fact, researchers at Bryan College have just released this brilliant infographic detailing just how damaging multitasking is to our brains, it’s making our IQ drop by 15 points, very worrying as I don’t think I can afford to drop 15 IQ points.

The next obvious step for this article is to trot out a helpful list of five ways you can be more productive. Probably starting with a hand tip to schedule blocks of time for certain tasks and finishing with the recommendation of a special app that promises to revolutionise your life.

My only recommendations would be.

Do Less.

I can almost see you rolling your eyes at me, telling me that won’t work because you have a million and one things to do all before the end of the day. But ask yourself, which of those super important tasks will cause the world to end or for you to lose your job? If we’re being honest here, probably none.

Do less, take a step back, put your phone down so you can truly think without interruptions and then just think of the 3 most urgent things to do today and do those. No multitasking allowed. I love the phrase work smarter, not harder because it is so true, it’s not just for the high-powered business owners, the phrase applies to everyone. Before I start on something now, I try and take a bit of time to strategise otherwise I catch myself talking and planning and faffing about doing something, wasting a couple hours preempting the thing that will actually take me just 20 minutes if I just shut up for one minute and started.

The world won’t end if you do less, but you might just if you keep trying to do everything. Say no to people when they ask you to add yet another task to your mountain of work.

Steve Jobs - How to be productive

By doing less you can work out what’s truly important to you, it might seem counterproductive at first but by focusing on what’s important to you will begin to become more productive and make progress in the important areas of your life because you won’t be wasting time on the superfluous stuff it will force you to streamline and work smarter. You think you have to go shopping today, no you don’t, you could do it another day or you could order it online. You might think you have to go to the gym five times a week, Monday through Friday, again no you don’t, you could go on Saturday or Sunday. You might think you have to respond to all those emails mounting up in your inbox, but trust me on this one, you really don’t, half of those emails just need deleting and forgetting about. Try it today, sit down, have a think about what matters to you and what will help you achieve your goals in life and focus on those, forget about the noise. Simply put, do less.