All posts by Abby Vige

5 Productivity Hacks You Should Be Using Now

When things are really hitting the fan you don’t just need one productivity hack – you need an arsenal.


By Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

The panic is real. So many things to do, all of equal value and all due yesterday! How do you cut through the noise? Here are my proven hacks for achieving the impossible.

Mindset

The most important place to begin is your mind. Often in high pressure situations you begin to worry. You worry about the volume of tasks you need to do, the timeframes, the pressures put on you to deliver and the number of project responsibilities.

Within this context (the brow furrowing worry), the brain becomes overwhelmed. Research has proven that ability of working memory to direct attention to what’s relevant is incredibly compromised, the brain is effectively running lots of programmes at once and everything slows down. In terms of how the brain processes information, we know that the brain dedicates capacity to verbal information and some capacity to spatial information. When people are worried it is common that they talk to themselves in their head – worries tend to be verbal and therefore compete for the limited pool of capacity.

Psychologist Sian Beilock found that when students are presented with a mathematical problem presented horizontally “32 – 17 = x” it demands more of the brain’s verbal resources than when the same problem is presented vertically.

The brain processes vertical information visually and therefore accesses the spatial capacity which has less demand for its resources.

This is often why making lists can feel better!

Taking back control

Understanding how the brain works is one thing but if things are really hitting the fan then don’t just need one productivity hack – you need an arsenal! Here are my top five productivity hacks to help you take back control.

1. Eisenhower Matrix

President Eisenhower was on to something when he shared this technique of decision making and prioritisation. It is a four box quadrant that helps you organise tasks in order of urgency and importance. My on-the-ground approach is to draw up four large boxes in my notebook and head them up according to what I need e.g. Urgent / Do now, Do next, Monitor, Delegate then I simply put each task under these headings and focus on one thing at a time.

2. Find an organisational app like Trello

Once you have identified the individual tasks and organised them into an Eisenhower, it can be helpful to transfer them to an electronic platform where you can easily access and update them. I am a huge fan of Trello, it is a free “to do list” app that I use for all of my projects. Having your to do list in an electronic platform gives you the opportunity to share your to do list and collaborate with other people as well as update things when you’re on the go.

3. Pomodoro Technique

This is a time management technique that dates back to the 1980’s, it was created by Francesco Cirillo and is based on the principle of short, sharp, concentrated bursts of activity. If you’re curious, the technique is named after the Pomodoro (tomato) timer that Cirillo used when he was at university.

Once you have your Eisenhower Matrix completed and your life uploaded into Trello, take the most urgent tasks and block out your calendar accordingly. You may need to play with the time period that suits you, some people can do a full hour but I prefer no more than 30 minutes – that’s a long time concentrating on one task!

4. Technology lock down

It’s so simple to do and yet most people do not apply this last trick, shut down the emails! Close your emails and any other system that can notify or distract you.  Do not assume that you are superior to the temptation of technology and distractions. If you see an email pop up, you will be tempted to answer it. Just say no!

5. Change your environment

If possible, work away from your usual spot. Either work from home, a different desk, a café, a meeting room. It can be anywhere just as long as you can concentrate. Breaking away from your usual work spot should reinforce the objective you are trying to achieve, and most importantly it can keep you from being interrupted.

If you implement all of these tools and combine them into a new way of working, you will be sure to come out the other side winning. What are your proven hacks? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear about them.

Don’t Let Your Action Bias Take Control Of Your Career

What is this motivating force that continually drives us? The answer could be – action bias.

Recently I found myself in unfamiliar territory; I had reached the bottom of the barrel. There was no big project to immediately sink my teeth into. I had achieved the unthinkable, I had achieved the workplace equivalent of clocking Facebook, there were no more stories to load.

Like any staffer worth their salt I was able to quickly fill that barrel back up but the level of discomfort that I felt stuck with me. It boarded on anxiety. I started pondering… what is this motivating force that continually drives me? The answer could be – action bias.

Action Bias

The term Action Bias comes from a 2007 study of penalty kicks in football “an analysis of penalty kicks shows that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers is to stay in the goal’s centre. Goalkeepers, however, almost always jump right or left. This implies that a goal scored yields worse feelings for the goalkeeper following inaction (staying in the centre) than following action (jumping), leading to a bias for action.”

A large part of my driving force within the workplace can be characterised by ambition, the desire to do a good job, to achieve outcomes, to deliver and “complete” but also to keep busy. It’s the last part that made me reflect.

Is keeping busy always a good thing?

We all have colleagues in the workplace that are constantly busy, the never ending flurry of shuffling papers, or the ghost colleague that is always in meetings and seemingly only comes back to the desk to sigh. Rationally we know that being busy doesn’t correlate directly to the quality or output of a person’s work but as a society we generally buy into the belief that being busy is a good thing.

The other recognisable “busy bee” is the creative thinker, the fire type, the fast paced ideas guy or gal. The negative association with these action orientated people is that they can shoot first and ask questions later, they jump to conclusions and engage in solution mode before deep analysis has taken place. While this is most certainly not a bad thing, it can be if done 100 per cent of time.

It could be proposed that the drive and motivation behind being busy is really just a societal acceptance of action bias.

So what happens when we stop? What happens when we take time to think?

What are the alternatives to being busy?

Looking at the items in the barrel, I realised that the new additions were improvements and value add’s and the bonus is that they are now captured in my work programme amongst the demand driven projects received directly from the business. The tendency towards action bias worked for me in this instance but I don’t think it should be my default.

Being busy can be characterised with a certain type of pace; moving fast and being stressed.

But, when you break it down being busy is about working towards a goal at a consistent pace that delivers the results you require. By reframing busyness in this way you can see the fast action and stress as a symptom of the belief system – be kinder to yourself. It is important to schedule time for strategic thinking and brainstorming that extends beyond the near future.

It is important to find time to think of new projects that deliver value to the business. It is important to think beyond the scope of “work” and perhaps the most shocking of all, it can be as simple as going for a walk and getting some fresh air.  Taking time to pause and go for a stroll in the sun is perhaps the most productive thing that we can do.