It probably sounds like common sense: the more work you put in, the more productive you will be.
Hard work is indeed one key to being productive. But in reality, it isn’t about the sheer amount of work you put in. It’s about using your time in an intelligent and efficient way to achieve extreme productivity without overworking yourself and eventually burning out.
Like many things in life, this is easier said than done. Here are four tips that will help you work extreme productivity into your life without overloading yourself.
1. Get Some Rest
Before you prepare yourself mentally, and well before you actually get any work done, you first need to get your body right. That means getting plenty of sleep, but also being wise about when you get your sleep.
A recent survey found that 10.2 percent of those who consider themselves early birds feel overworked rather often. Among those who consider themselves night owls, however, that number is 26.7 percent.
This suggests it’s not only about getting enough sleep, but also about when you sleep. Those who go to bed at a reasonable hour and jumpstart their days earlier tend to get things done without feeling over-worked.
On the other end, more than a quarter of those who like to stay up late regularly feel burnt out. One of the overarching themes of extreme productivity is using your time wisely, and in this case that means getting to bed well before 2 a.m. each night.
2. Focus on Efficiency
Many of the principles that author and financial executive Bob Pozen lays out when discussing this concept revolve around efficiency. One principle is to know your comparative advantage, which in part means knowing which functions only you can pull off for the benefit of your company.
This means analyzing and knowing your company’s assets and comparing that information against your skill set. For example, you may be a great presenter that takes charge at meetings, but so are three others on your team. On the flip side, you’re also among the strongest when it comes to dealing with numbers. You can focus on that skill, both to boost the overall productivity of the group and to give yourself a nice sense of self-value.
Another principle Pozen discusses that’s related to efficiency is to think first, then read or write second. You may have a ton of emails you need to respond to or a stack of papers to read. First, you should understand exactly why you need to take care of these tasks and prioritize when and how you handle each one.
Also, if you’re writing something longer than an email, such as a company memo, an efficient way to do so is to start with an outline. Put together a list of your main talking points and then write the concluding paragraph. This will let you know whether you’re headed in the right direction — and if you are, the rest will essentially write itself.
3. Learn to Schedule Your Day
Earlier, we mentioned that those who wake up early tend to feel overworked far less frequently than those who stay up late. If one key is to set up your sleep schedule to make sure you’re up early each day, another is to plan your day accordingly to make use of that time.
This is about more than deciding when you will schedule meetings and when you’ll make time for lunch. It also concerns thinking smartly about how you work and feel throughout each day and taking advantage of your own strengths and weaknesses.
For example, if you typically tend to feel on top of your game each morning between 8 and 10 a.m., then focus on using that time to take care of tasks that might be particularly challenging. Conversely, if you tend to ease into your day more before hitting your stride in the afternoon, mornings might be the better time for you to take care of the more mundane things that require less thought, such as catching up on email or leveraging social media.
Also, don’t be afraid to recharge your batteries each day with a short 20- or 30-minute nap. This will help regenerate your alertness and make you more productive during the afternoon hours than you would be if you’re dragging along and using coffee as a crutch. Even the most productive and successful people work a short nap into their routine every day.
4. Rewrite the Rules
Sometimes, maximizing productivity requires you to rethink old conventions and not do something simply because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Innovation is a key to progress, so you should feel free to innovate the way you do things to achieve extreme productivity.
One example Pozen frequently cites is the way law firms or accounting firms bill clients by the hour. This is a method many firms use mainly because that’s how they’ve always done it. And yet, Pozen argues this policy gives firms an incentive to work slowly and churn out the hours on a given project.
Meanwhile, this old way of doing business doesn’t reward getting results quickly. That’s why it often makes more sense to bill clients on a per-project basis, in which you guarantee top results for a flat fee. In the end, you’ll be judged based on your performance. It gives you the incentive to work quickly, which will of course benefit both you and the client.
Innovation and creativity in other areas can also help increase productivity. This could mean flexible hours for employees or an efficient way to hold meetings quickly without diminishing their importance.
Rethink How You Work
At times, achieving extreme productivity requires you to rethink how you do things. Take a step back, assess what works and what doesn’t and then evolve your current routine into one that delivers better results.
And remember: This doesn’t always mean working longer hours or burning the proverbial candle at both ends. It means getting more out of the hours you’ve already committed to.