When are you most productive? When do you find yourself most up to date at work, your to-do list finally whittled down to nothing?
The unfortunate reality — at least in my experience and that which many colleagues have reported over the years — is it’s usually the day you are going on vacation.
Often that productivity boost which helps clean the slate before your holiday is driven by a desire to pass a clean slate onto the person filling your seat, looking after your role, and your team.
But you can harness the productivity-enhancing benefits of the proximity of a holiday and the advance of the deadline which comes with it with a few simple steps.
Understanding why many people are so productive before holidays is a good place to start. Art Markman, the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin says the desire for the clean slate is all about the management of guilt.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Markman says the experience of guilt can can be “motivating” and “increase people’s propensity to cooperate”. He says guilt can even motivate people to move stalled projects forward.
He highlights that while guilt, in that sense, can be a positive “feeling guilty when you’re away from work when you aren’t in a position to do anything about it, is not helpful, and can be painful”.
That neatly explains the rush to get everything done in the days leading up to holidays so many of us experience.
Some guilt can be productive and motivational it seems. But you don’t need to feel guilty to get productive.
My personal favourite, the one I still do each day, follows Brian Tracey’s “Eat that Frog” mantra.
Writing in “Eat that Frog! Twenty-one Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” Tracey says you should just bite the bullet and get the “biggest, hardest, and most important task first”.
“If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first,” he says.
You’ll feel the glow of a task completed and be more productive for the rest of the day.
It’s pretty straightforward for simple tasks. But sometimes it’s a big “frog” you have to eat — one that involves a series of complex tasks.
If that’s the case then Carson Tate, author of Work Simply, recently told Business Insider that to fight the “pull of procrastination” workers should create and use a “15-minute list”.
“This is a list of tasks that can be done in 15 minutes or less. Keep it with you so you can convert those odd moments of time like waiting in line or waiting at the dentist office into productive microsegments of work,” she said.
In a similar vein Joshua Leatherman, CMO at Service Express in Greater Grand Rapids, took a similar approach. Writing on LinkedIn he suggested “batching” – organising similar tasks requiring similar resources – is the key.
He says batching “increases your productivity, creativity, and mental sharpness, while decreasing fatigue, procrastination, and stress”.
So, eat your frog, have your list ready, and batch your tasks. If you can follow these steps there is every chance each day you’ll be just as productive as the days and weeks before your holiday which are characterised by laser focus.
That has to be a positive outcome for you and your business.
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