by Katie Lundin of crowdspring
Striking the right balance between your personal life and work is hard.
But, getting your work-life balance right is vital for your health, happiness, and quality of life.
No one wants to look back at the end of their life and regret that they spent too many hours at the office.
But, you do want to be productive and successful.
So how do you walk that line?
There are only two ways to increase your productivity. You must either work more hours or work smarter.
People who find a great work-life balance always pick the latter.
Here are five scientifically proven ways you can improve your productivity at work and reclaim your personal life.
- Take more time off.
- Take advantage of natural breaks in your day.
- Unchain from your desk.
- Eliminate the negative.
- Seek opportunities for “flow”.
Let’s look at these productivity enhancers in detail.
1. Take more time off.
It seems counter-intuitive, but taking more time off is one of the best things you can do to create a better work-life balance.
In the U.S. we’re taught that a workday is 40 hours; but, if you really want to get ahead you’ll work harder and longer.
Get in before the boss and be the last one to leave – that’s the way to get ahead!
And, if you’re an entrepreneur, you may feel like the demands are even higher. It’s a badge of honor and dedication to work through meals, pull all-nighters and skip vacations.
This approach is wrong.
When you work yourself into the ground there’s no one waiting to give you a medal.
And, it actually makes you less productive.
Joe Robinson of Entrepreneur Magazine explains in The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off:
You get more done quicker when you step back and recharge the brain and body. Studies show that performance increases after breaks of all durations: from extended vacations down to microbreaks of 30 seconds….
One study found that mental fatigue takes hold after three hours of continuous time on-task; other scientists say brains need a break after 90 minutes, the length of the “basic rest-activity cycle.”
Burning up mental resources without replacing them leads to stress, burnout and poor performance.
You wouldn’t drive your car until it was completely out of gas. It makes no sense to treat your body that way.
Dan Sullivan, a successful author, and business coach coaches entrepreneurs on ways to increase their productivity by prioritizing free time. According to Sullivan,
It’s not the amount of time you spend working each day. Entrepreneurs get paid through problem-solving and creativity. You can create a solution in a shorter period of time if you are rested and rejuvenated.
In fact, one of Sullivan’s client’s reports quadrupling the size of their company in the 12 years they’ve worked with Sullivan’s coaching firm – a feat they attribute to Sullivan’s radical take-more-time-for-yourself approach.
From regular work-day breaks to honoring your existing time off, to actual vacations… every bit of rest time helps make you more productive at work and gives you more time to enjoy at home doing the things that really matter.
2. Take advantage of natural breaks in your day.
Taking more breaks will make you more productive.
But, what’s the best way to take breaks?
Adding a new item to your mental to-do list, even if it’s something fun like “take a break,” still adds another thing you have to think about.
And anytime you need to make additional decisions, it’s going to drain those cognitive resources that we’re so anxious to optimize.
There are better ways to improve your focus and concentration.
Take advantage of the breaks that naturally present themselves. Like lunch.
Stop working through lunch!
You’ve got to eat. Lunch is an obvious stopping point in your day. So, take that time to recharge and socialize. Ditto for breakfast and dinner.
Do you have a dog? If you do, I’ll bet you probably prefer your dog to do his business outside. If you work from home or bring your pooch to the office, schedule in regular walks so you can both get some exercise, spend some time outdoors, and give your brain a rest.
Are you a work-from-home parent? Then stop and take a break when your kids get home from school and your spouse gets home from work. It shows them that you care and also gives you an opportunity to reconnect with the people that are important in your life.
Be creative in finding ways to incorporate meaningful break times into your day.
But, make sure that your breaks work with your schedule and not against it.
3. Unchain from your desk.
We are blessed to live in an age with technology that allows us to work from nearly any location.
Laptops, tablets, smartphones, and even noise-canceling headphones are available if the need should arise.
Being able to move your office with you allows you to live while you work. Or, better yet, work while you live.
The ability to create location independence will greatly serve you on your path to creating work life integration. Being able to run an entire business from my laptop comes in handy when I want to take a random trip, need a change of scene or need to speak with clients on the other side of the world.
Now, this tip can be a bit of a slippery slope. Taking your work on the go does NOT mean that you should be actively working at all times.
But, it does give you the flexibility to live your life and still be productive.
Schedule that doctor’s appointment or haircut you’ve been putting off because you’re “too busy” and then work from the coffee shop next door.
Meet your friends for lunch at their house and then piggyback on their wifi for your afternoon meeting.
The possibilities are endless when you think creatively about how you can structure your time and location. You can stimulate both your social life and your productivity with simple changes of scenery.
4. Eliminate the negative.
Setting healthy boundaries is essential to getting the most out of your life.
And, if your goal is to increase your productivity, one of the most valuable boundaries you can set is to minimize the negativity in your life.
Realistically, you can’t eliminate all negative things.
Life throws all sorts of challenges our way and all we can do is make the best of them.
But we can make smart choices about the people with whom we spend our time.
And, it’s in our best interest to eliminate the people who drag us down and distract us with unnecessary drama.
Allison Gabriel, Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Arizona, studies employee motivation. She shares that humans have a “limited pool of cognitive resources.”
So, if we burn those resources focusing on hurt feelings, anger, resentment or frustration we will deplete our reserves much faster. And those are the very same emotional and cognitive resources that we use to be productive at work and engage with our friends and loved ones.
So, when choosing your colleagues, friends, and romantic partners; aim for people with high emotional intelligence and low negativity.
The less time you spend dealing with drama, pain and anger, the more time and cognitive resources you’ll have to accomplish your goals. And, the happier your personal life will be.
Not to mention that when you’re surrounded by a support network of positive people who lift you up, your emotional resilience is improved. And, as a result, your cognitive resources will replenish that much faster.
5. Seek opportunities for “flow”.
Flow is a state of mind that has commonly been linked with higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Therese J. Borchard, author, and mental health advocate explains:
Flow is the mental state of a person when he is completely immersed in one activity or event — a moment in which all of her energy is focused on one thing so that she is oblivious to the world around her.
One of the hallmarks of flow is to be so deeply immersed in the task at hand that everything else just seems to fall away – which sounds like a pretty productive state of mind!
And, while you’re not aware of being happy in the moment of flow, people who experience it tend to derive great satisfaction and increased happiness after they’ve resurfaced.
But, there is no magic switch you can flip to activate a state of flow – it has to be found authentically. And, that’s where finding flow can get tricky.
Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first identified the concept of flow.
According to Csikszentmihalyi’s research, you can attain a state of flow when the challenge of the task is a strong match for your skill level.
In other words, if the chore is too easy – no flow.
If the project is way too hard – no flow, either.
Instead, you have to find that Goldilocks space – a task just slightly more challenging than your skill level.
So, seek out opportunities that will allow you to tackle undertakings that are just outside of your comfort zone.
And, find other ways to solve problems that are far outside your comfort zone.
For example, entrepreneurs and small businesses often need help with branding and design. After all, good design is good business.
Very few entrepreneurs and small business owners can create professional designs for their own company. They’re typically too busy running their businesses and solving dozens of other problems.
Consider getting outside help with branding and design if you don’t have experts on your own team.
Over the past decade, crowdspring has helped tens of thousands of the world’s best entrepreneurs, small businesses, agencies, and non-profits with everything from professional logo design to product design, packaging design, and even naming businesses and products. You can get a finished design in as little as one day. Custom design and naming projects on crowdspring start at $299 (including all fees) and there’s a 100% money-back guarantee.
Outsourcing problems far outside your comfort zone to others on your team, or to companies like crowdspring, will help you create flow and substantially improve your productivity at work.
When you outsource problems far outside your comfort zone and aim just beyond your current level of expertise at work, you’ll steadily grow your own skills and become more productive.
Importantly, those feel-good flow vibes will lift you up both at work and at home.
You can also find flow doing fun activities like exercising, painting, ballroom dancing or sewing. Any task that consumes your attention and challenges your mind.
Seek out new activities to find flow and you’ll find your life expanding in unexpected and rewarding directions.
Before You Go.
If you’re serious about optimizing your personal life and your productivity at work, you’re going to have to make it a priority.
If you don’t make conscious choices about how you spend your time, you will live your life reacting to the events occurring around you. And events are alwaysoccurring around you.
Design the life that you want to live. Only then can you take the steps to remedy a work/life situation that isn’t working for you.
Katie Lundin is on the customer support team at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. Katie helps entrepreneurs, small businesses and agencies with branding, design, and naming, and regularly writes about entrepreneurship, small business and design on crowdspring’s award-winning small business blog.