Recently I have fallen back into my evil habit of writing a to-do list and then ignoring it because I don’t think I can get it done. I know from past experience that my best way out of this rut is to read research about productivity. Even if I don’t act on the research, taking the time to think about productivity inspires me to be more true to my to-do list.
Here are four ways I’ve found to get out of a rut and start making progress again:
1. Pay attention on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tuesday is our most productive day at work, according to a study from Robert Half International. Apparently, Monday is the day we get our lists in order, and Tuesday is the day we plow through them.
Bill Driscoll, from Robert Half, recommends that you recognize your peak performance times, and schedule as few interruptions during that time as possible. This is one of those pieces of advice that makes sense, but very few of us manage our calendars so carefully that we are actually implementing it.
But also, what about being as gung-ho on Wednesday and Thursday as you are on Tuesday?
2. Stop obsessing over your choices and just decide. Most people overestimate the regret they’ll experience after making an emotionally charged choice, according to research from the University College London. In fact, Karim Kassam, a psychologist working at Harvard, explains that we figure out how to justify most of our big decisions, no matter how good or bad they were. He calls it our "psychological immune system."
The Harvard Business Review also reveals that we are not good at making decisions with a lot of data points involved. Which means that frequently, the longer you spend on a decision, the less productive you are. This research, maybe, gives you the temerity to take a leap, knowing that your decision won’t get smarter or easier to live with if you take longer.
3. Be more optimistic. In her blog for TIME magazine, Lisa Cullen reports that girls who go to church work harder than other people. Maybe you think this is because church girls are so bored in their upstanding lives that they can’t think of anything better to do than work. But I think it actually has something to do with optimism.
People who go to church regularly are more optimistic people in general, and optimism makes people feel more positive about their work. If you feel like you will affect your work in a positive way, you’re more likely to dig in and do it.
(Here is a small study to support my claims. There are a ton of these studies, and I’m hoping the Christian bloggers who read this blog – there are a lot, surprisingly enough – will aid in this cause with some more links.)
4. Combine physical and mental activity. People think better from getting a little exercise. Not the kind of activity where you feel like you are going to pass out, but the low-level, reasonable-pace types of exercise. The difference in mental capacity while we are active and passive is huge.
So look for ways to incorporate exercise into your work routine or vice versa. I thought I was a genius taking work calls on the elliptical trainer at the gym (until the manager told me absolutely never again because people were sick of overhearing my calls).
But now everyone’s got an idea for working while walking, and there are workstations designed especially for use on a treadmill. Ask your boss to buy you one. They’re $3000, but that’s a great company investment if you can get your to-do list done every day.