With more pressures being placed upon our time, there are often days when we wish for an extra hour.
But Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work says a new clock isn’t what’s needed to deal with conflicting obligations and a seeming lack of time, energy or patience. Instead, she argues the key to achieving more in our day is actually to do less. Here’s how:
When faced with a major project, you may think the best way to get through it is to strap yourself down to your desk and focus on the task at hand until it’s completed. Not so, says Carter. She argues the key to getting a project done is not to spend more time hyper-focused on it, but to break up these periods of intense focus and take a recess. “Our brain does not operate on all cylinders at all times,” says Carter. Regularly changing the type of activity you’re performing throughout the day allows your brain to perform at its highest capacity and get more done in less time.
“When you’re really focused on a task, you’re only accessing one part of your brain,” says Carter. That means staying focused for too long effectively shuts off the other parts of the brain–such as the parts that allow you to be creative. Backing off the focused task and doing something different causes different neurons in the brain to fire, allowing you to access more of your brain and making your brain more powerful.
Willpower is a depleting resource that disappears as we’re forced to make decisions throughout the day. Reserving willpower for our most important work, Carter says, is key to ensuring we don’t run out of gas too early.
The trouble is, many of us wake up and immediately check our phones for notifications from social media feeds, emails and texts–all of which use up some of our willpower even before we’ve rolled out of bed. To save up your willpower for those important later-in-the-day decisions, Carter says keep the smartphone away from your bed and place your morning routine on autopilot. “When you do the same things in the same order every single day and you don’t make a lot of decisions in the morning, you free yourself up to sit at your desk and start working totally fresh with the ability to focus,” says Carter.
We use up too much of our brain power trying to out-perform ourselves. When trying to decide where to hold a company event, for example, you may sort through dozens of venue options and spend hours trying to decide which one will make the best impression. This not only wastes a lot of brain power, but time, as there may be six or seven venues that meet your exact criteria.
Instead, Carter recommends a process she calls “satisficing”–that is, working on something until you find the option that is “good enough.” Outline your criteria for success, then stop when you find the first thing that meets your criteria. Don’t continue to search for other options. “We’re very tempted by more,” says Carter. “We assume that more is better, but in most cases, it isn’t. Will the project necessarily be better if you do more research?” she asks. If the answer is no, stop working once you have everything you need.
“Positive emotions set us up for peak performance,” says Carter. A great deal of psychological and neuroscience research has proven that our brains work significantly better when we have a sunny disposition. When we’re positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive – and can even make us better leaders. “When we’re happy, we’re more empathetic. We can read others’ emotions. We can see what they need. We can understand what they’re talking about better and feel more connected to them,” says Carter. To help you carry a positive attitude throughout the day, keep a gratitude journal, writing down three things you’re grateful for each day; get in 15 minutes a day of exercise; or develop a regular meditation routine.
“We need to reject this idea that more is better and that busyness is a marker of importance,” says Carter. “Busyness is just a sign of busyness. It’s not a sign of importance.” Pay attention to how you feel about a task when deciding whether to take it on and say yes only to those things that truly inspire and motivate you.
“Our emotions are big cues to what we’re going to be successful at, what we’re going to be most passionate about doing,” says Carter. Saying yes to the things that aren’t motivating or inspiring will not only take longer to do, but are less likely to contribute to your happiness or success.