If you’ve been finding yourself tired all the time or you consistently hit a wall at work, you might benefit from changing your bedtime habits. In this infographic from SleePare, they outline 15 bedtime rituals that can help you to not only get better sleep but to be more productive and happy during your waking hours. For example, did you know that setting boundaries between your work and home life will help you to boost both your productivity at work and will improve your overall happiness?
Working from home is now standard practice for office-workers around the world and there are so many obvious benefits — less of a commute, more opportunity for work/life balance, and increased comfort… just to name a few. While critics of WFH have typically been opposed because they feel it would reduce productivity or break-up teams, it’s safe to say that the world has adapted in a positive way.
Now that we’ve had a taste of the work-from-home convenience, few people want to go back. In last month’s Contractor Quick Poll, we asked where you’d prefer doing most of your work and, while there’s a fairly even split among those who’d prefer all at home or a 50/50 split, it’s clear that few independent contractors are interested in returning to a routine where they go to the client’s site all the time.
Multitasking is not a new concept in the workplace and much research has been done on the topic for decades. Some people are proponents of it, digging for solutions on how to optimize your multitasking to get more done. Others hate the practice and there are plenty of studies proving that it harms your productivity. One thing all sides agree on is that multitasking can increase your stress levels and you need to keep that in check.
What Is Multitasking?
Taking a step back, for the purposes of this post, multitasking comes in two forms. First, there’s the practice of doing multiple items at once. For example, checking emails and writing code while on mute during a conference call.
The other, slightly harder-to-define, form of multitasking is alternating between tasks, without finishing one first. This is also the more common type of multitasking that is a reality for nearly all office workers. Many of us are checking email every 15-30 minutes while bouncing back and forth between projects.
How Multitasking is Stressing You Out
We won’t get into the debate of whether or not you should multitask. As already noted, for some, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate it all together. It is important, however, to recognize that you need to manage it to reduce your stress and better serve your clients.
We first need to understand what the brain is doing when we multitask. Studies have shown that although we believe we’re thinking about many items at once, the brain is more similar to your web browser, going back and forth between different tabs. It can only focus on one tab at once. Each time you go to a different task, it must use energy to open the other one and reprocess what’s happening. Too much of this can cause burnout and even lead to anxiety.
If we agree that multitasking harms productivity, then we can understand how it causes more stress because you start missing deliverables, submit bad work and it can all snowball into more negativity. In addition, the result of switching between projects can deteriorate your focus and, in turn, your ability to retain information.
On the other hand, if we subscribe to the belief that multitasking has benefits and improves productivity, studies continue to show that stress is inevitable. Interestingly, one study found that even when multitasking makes you more productive, you’re still likely to feel as though you weren’t productive which, you guessed it, leads to stress! Being a master multitasker also creates habits of needing to check-in. This causes stress when you find yourself in situations where you suddenly can’t regularly check emails or work on multiple items.
Taking the Stress Out of Multitasking
Certainly, if multitasking isn’t for you, the best solution is to eliminate it. Monotasking takes more discipline, but as noted a couple times already, many productivity experts swear by it. They say it allows you to be present in the moment and complete tasks faster.
To make it more of a reality in your job, you can monotask by creating sub-tasks and mini-goals. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to focus on writing my resume and will not do anything else until it’s done”, you would say “For the next hour I’m going to focus on writing a summary of my Project Management experience in the Oil and Gas sector.”
If you want to continue multitasking, that’s great too. Here are a few quick tips that will help you get to where you want to be, and reduce your stress:
- Use the right tools. There are plenty of apps to help you out with this and the most basic tool is a pen and paper. Write to-do lists and take notes on where you’re at with each task before switching. This prevents you from using energy when picking up where you left off.
- Limit distractions. Multitasking is fine, but sometimes it’s toxic. Turn off your notifications so you control when you check email, not the other way around.
- Know what requires your full attention. Sometimes you cannot multitask. Especially with more complex items or in subjects you’re still new and need all your brain power. Turn off the music, close out your email, and save all other projects for another day.
- Practice! Like everything, practice makes perfect and multitasking is no different. Set your own routines and processes until you find a system that works for you.
For most Canadians, the amount of time we spend on our phone, and productivity lost because of it, is terrifying. Just have a look at this post from the RescrueTime blog that’s filled with eye-opening statistics. For example “Most people check their phones 58 times a day (with 30 of those during working hours)” or “Half of all phone pickups happen within 3 minutes of a previous one“. Fortunately the post is also filled with some great tips on how to combat such behaviour, with the third in the list being “Turn off notifications (or go into do-not-disturb mode while working).”
With that in mind, last month’s contractor quick poll set-out to find out how many people heed that advice, and to what extent. There appears to be a mix of behaviours among IT contractors…
A few years ago, we shared this infographic about coffee and productivity. It summarizes statistics about how many people drink coffee to get through the workday, what it does t our systems, and how coffee actually does (or doesn’t) affect our productivity. This is, of course, one of thousands of articles you can find online debating the effects of coffee and whether or not its healthy to be as addicted to caffeine as many of us are.
There is a stereotypical image of techies, most commonly developers, who stay up all hours of the night pounding back coffee, tea, energy drinks and any other form of available caffeine. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we decided to learn how much Canadian IT contractors really do rely on caffeine. Does it stray from the Canadian average of 3.2 cups per day or are we just about on par?
Fast Company recently published a post by Daniel Rose at Rescuetime where he explains his productivity experiment that lasted a month. Rose typically turns off notifications on his phone as he’s aware of the distractions they bring and how they easily hinder one’s productivity. Still, though, he took a chance, went against his instincts and reversed his productive settings by turning on all notifications.
The first week wasn’t terrible, but it did wake him up to just how many notifications apps send… all the time. By the third week, he felt that the notifications were destroying his work/life balance because there was no escaping anything. In the end, he concludes that notifications don’t just disrupt you, they destroy your ability to focus long-term.
That article inspired this month’s Contractor Quick Poll. IT consultants bill by the hour and clients want to know their money is being spent wisely. More importantly, you juggle multiple tasks while you manage your business, sometimes serve multiple clients, and other times are searching for your next IT gig. Based on the Fast Company article, notifications can slow down those efforts. So now we’re curious, what do you do with all of those notifications being pushed to your phone?
Contract or permanent positions — job searching is not easy. You must work hard if you want any chance of getting that phone call for an interview and, depending on your skill, job market and industry, it’s going to take time. But that doesn’t mean you should give into long hours and no social life just because you need to find your next gig.
Working hard is great if you’re doing the right things. Otherwise, 90% of that “hard work” will be wasted time, while only 10% of those hours are what get you a phone call from a recruiter. Create a successful, smart job search by bringing that percentage of quality time as close to 100% as possible. Here are four ways you can work smarter, and not harder, next time you’re looking for an IT job.
1. Manage Your Time
There’s a common illusion that putting in more time automatically means you will get more results. That is false. Whether you put in 5 minutes of 5 hours, time is irrelevant if you achieve the desired outcome. To best manage your time, embrace common time management practices and batch common tasks together. Check email during scheduled time blocks, answer the phone during certain periods and schedule specific time for breaks (yes, breaks are important!)
Avoid getting caught in common time-sucks due to misconceptions. Recruiters stress that a quality resume will set you apart from the competition, but, just like many software projects, searching for “perfection” is not always beneficial. Know when it is “good enough” to submit and move onto the next job application. Another misconception is that multi-tasking will save you time. Studies prove time and again that multi-tasking lowers productivity and leads to shabby work all-around. Still, so many of us fall into the trap, thinking we’re being more productive because we feel busy juggling multiple projects at the same time.
2. Take Advantage of Technology and Tools
There are so many technologies, tools and apps available (often at no charge) that will help you save time, maximize productivity, and work through the job search process. Start with your existing ones and learn how to maximize their shortcuts and settings. Templates, styles and macros throughout Microsoft Office can make resume-writing a breeze. The settings, automations and filters in Gmail (or any email client) will help you manage applications and recruiter responses as though you have a personal assistant.
After you’ve exhausted those options, evaluate other productivity tools. (Be careful, because here’s where you can fall down a rabbit hole.) Most major job boards allow you to set-up job alerts and some have apps that will send you push notifications. Make sure you review the leading tools to manage your calendars and reminders, store your resumes, keep your notes, and secure your passwords.
The more you can automate your life, the better – most of the time. Over-relying on technology, however, can also have disastrous effects. Working smarter can mean knowing when to eliminate the fancy stuff and sticking with tried, tested and true techniques, like picking up the phone and calling somebody.
3. Set Goals and Measure Results
The easiest way to let your job search (or any project) go off-track and waste your time is to have no defined direction. Ensure you know exactly what you want to accomplish — What kind of job do you want? Where and in what kind of industry? Which staffing agencies do you want to work with most? Then start each day by setting SMART goals. Review x jobs descriptions and apply to y of the postings. Call these recruiters, reach out those past colleagues on LinkedIn and follow-up on last week’s applications.
With proper goals and objectives, it’s easier to measure your success and track how you’re doing. Keep statistics and track data points to know what’s working and what’s not. Do certain job boards and staffing agencies bring better opportunities or rates? Is there a resume or email format that performs better than others? In the end, you’ll know where to focus your time and where time is being wasted.
4. Embrace Change (and know when not to change)
Change is inevitable and companies around the world are embracing it. If you want to succeed at your job search, you need to embrace change as well. A classic example of job seekers falling behind due to resistance to change is when the internet took recruiting by storm. Companies and recruitment agencies wanted to move to electronic formats, yet some job seekers were determined that the paper resume were still the way to go. The result? Recruiters ignored paper resumes because they were not in their electronic database and not searchable.
It’s smart to always adapt to changing environments and look for better ways to do those tasks you currently run through on autopilot. But, don’t change just for the sake of changing and never unnecessarily reinvent the wheel. Create templates of resumes, emails and interview questions that worked, or revisit and tweak those that did not. Trying a brand-new approach, simply for the sake of being different, is going to waste your time and is not smart.
Working smart is a must for anybody looking to get ahead in today’s busy world where time is a hot commodity. If you don’t believe us, then take it from Scrooge McDuck, the world’s richest duck. He relayed the message to his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie in his famous quote “I made [my fortune] by being smarter than the smarties and tougher than the toughies.”
Sunday night. A night full of great weekend memories (or regret) and next week blues. Everyone’s heart drops at the reminder that in 12 hours they will be in their car, on the bus or on the train commuting to their office. Even if you are going to your dream job, it’s human nature to feel a bit reluctant to be a slave to the office hours.
Things might be stacked against you but if you are able to channel your productivity, there are 5 simple things you can — and should do — every Sunday night to make sure that you start your week on the right foot. Just watch this video from The Art of Improvement.
Last week we shared an infographic outlining 12 bad habits you should break if you want to be more productive. Productivity is a massive asset for an independent contractor. The faster you deliver quality work to clients, the more likely they are to want to hire you again or, at the minimum, give you a glowing reference. As an added bonus when you’re productive, you have more time for yourself to either make more money or accomplish other personal goals!
Everybody is unique and different approaches to productivity work better for different people. This infographic created by NFIB summarizes five options:
- Eat That Frog
- The Seinfeld Approach
- Getting Things Done
- The Pomodoro Technique
- The Action Method
Do any of these work for you?
We are often told that we are our own worst enemies. Often we get in the way of our goals without even noticing. We continue to perpetuate these bad habits into our lives until they are harder to spot out.
As independent contractors it is important to address possible bad habits that may be holding back your productivity and frustrating your clients. Check out these 12 bad habits you should break, compiled in this infographic from Business Insider! If you address even some of these habits that you could benefit with more personal time, happy clients (better references), better time management skills and have the potential for a heavier coin purse. If you can’t identify the bad habits in your life, send this to a friend!