Summer is an excellent time to take a brief pause from a busy year and reflect on progress made in the first half of the year before beginning the second. Though relaxation is deserved, life has a vexing tendency to throw up unexpected events; staying productive and working through constant challenges will hopefully create a more productive second half of 2016. The following six steps are aspects worth considering to enhance your work rate.
1) Set deadlines and work to them
When we have a deadline drawing near, humans have a natural ability to ignore all distractions around them and focus solely on a task that urgently needs pressing. In this case the "holiday packing" analogy is the most effective; when we have flights or travel to a holiday the next day and haven't packed, we subconsciously eliminate all latent distractions and focus on this task- because we are aware of its high importance and failure to do it results in no holiday. This method can be transferred to smaller tasks- creating deadlines and working closely to complete them. There are various methods to best achieve this- one of the best is compiling a to-do list prior to going to bed each night, and attempting to complete each task one-by-one (starting either with the smallest or largest, whichever suits best) the following day.
2) Take breaks: The Pomodoro technique
When Francesco Cirillo devised a method based on a simple timer that aimed to proportion work and breaks in the most productive way, little did he know it would become a renowned and internationally practiced technique universally (and conveniently earn some extra money on the side). The method- wherein you work for an uninterrupted 25 minutes and then take 3-5 minute breaks - allows you to create a suitable balance between work and relaxation. Taking regular breaks allows your mind to detach itself from the stresses of work and allows for a period of a vital period 'refreshment' before continuing work, and will ultimately result in higher levels of productivity- a U.S. study demonstrated that employees who took regular breaks throughout the day felt more energized, motivated and prepared to work.
3) Eliminate distractions
Perhaps the most instrumental and important factor in producing quality work for an extended time. We live in a modern world that is abounding with distractions on the periphery of our concentration, more so than ever before. For the younger (and likely also older) generation, applications such as Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter constantly distract us from tangible progress being made- notifications sounding relentlessly from our phones doing little to help us focus on work at hand. The simple, yet mysteriously challenging, solution to this issue is turning off any electronic device for the amount of time we have to work.
Linking into the separate point on creating occasional breaks from work, it is a valuable idea to limit your 'screen-time' (that is, anything on a digital screen that may be distracting to you) to a 10-minute spell every two hours, or simply a 30-minute session in the evening after having it off for the whole day. Renowned British banker and businessman Anton Kreil famously ditched his smartphone several years ago and replaced it with a mid-2000s Nokia- he hasn't looked back since and continues a flourishing enterprise. Turning off such a vital part of our lives is undoubtedly harder to do than it sounds- but it is so often that the most difficult things in life that reap the sweetest rewards.
The old adage that sleep provides the crucial foundations from which we can work in the new day are correct. Margaret Thatcher and Napoleon Bonaparte may have been renowned for functioning on 4 hours per night, but the average human requires between 7-8 hours a night for optimal performance (many attempts to disprove this finding in my secondary school and university days proved futile). Science shows that deprivation of sleep causes a higher rate of the release of cortisol- a chemical contributing to stress and adversely effecting blood sugar levels. Regularly getting under 7 hours sleep also impairs cognition, attention, and decision-making, and proves to increase susceptibility to irritation and depression. Falling asleep before midnight and waking up at approximately 7 a.m. is the optimal way to create energy for your day- putting your phone at the opposite side of your bedroom an hour before bedtime is practice I have slowly attempted to begin, and is extremely helpful in allowing your brain to turn-off prior to falling asleep.
5) Nutrition and stress
These two factors, singularly different but crucially interlinked, account for a substantial amount of your work completion. The adage that avoiding caffeine and sugary foods is correct- these provide a dopamine high and help block 'tired' receptors in the brain. As is commonplace in life, with every high there comes an inevitable low, and this situation is no different- after the chemicals 'run out', the inevitable 'drop' or comedown occurs, and work becomes more strenuous than before ingestion of the caffeine. Do not rule coffee out altogether- but moderate its usage.
Drinking green tea is a viable alternative: despite its caffeine content, the caffeine within is substantially lower and provides a more spread-out and balanced boost during the day, rather than the spikes that caffeine induces. Stress is a normal occurrence upon facing anything important: mindfulness and exercise are two conducive ways in alleviating this. Prioritising intake of vegetables and protein at regular intervals in the day (clinical trials show the high anti-oxidant content of vegetables, paired with high levels of folic acid, enhance mental clarity and focus). Studies also show that natural vitamins such as B6, B12 and zinc increase your energy and feelings of wellbeing. Consuming vitamins and natural supplements is often met by some with scepticism, but it is worth exploring into what natural herbs- such as valerian and ginseng, for example, which both contain calming qualities- can offer.
6) 'Feelization' and a focus on the future
Amidst the bustle and stress, detach yourself from the chaos of life and consider why you are doing the work you are. Consider for whom it benefits and wider motivations for your efforts in the long-term, whatever they may be. A psychologist once coined the term 'feelization' - the ability to stimulate, evoke and foresee the feelings of success and achievement; when you encounter any pessimism during work, consider carefully the positive feelings and emotions experienced when achieving something major (be it submitting an essay or completing a successful speech). Embedded in one's mind during a stressful period, it is a vital element that spurs people on to reach a goal.
The transience and changeability of life means that challenges and obstacles are never-ending and shall always emerge. Just as previous workloads and tests were navigated, current challenges shall too be overcome and provide a means with which develop your abilities and confidence. Hence, view continuous challenges not as a problem, but as an opportunity for personal growth. With this in mind, strive to be as productive as possible to reach your full potential. You'll thank yourself down the line.