How to Work Smarter in 2022

Welcome to 2022 — a new year, a new you, and most importantly, a new mindset when it comes to work. The stresses of the pandemic have put pressure on all aspects of our lives and finding balance hasn’t been easy. Diving into 2022, the question is: Can you work better and more efficiently so that you can spend more time on the balance? Thankfully, according to the experts, the answer is yes!

Morning mindset check: wake up and get ready to work

“Part of productivity is keeping our mental game really strong,” says Clare Kumar, WFA Advisory Council Member and productivity expert.

“I invite people to do a morning mindset check. I want them to tune in and notice: am I spiralling up or might I be spiralling down? And if you’re spiralling down, have some go-to strategies.”

Kumar calls these strategies “mojo lifters.”

“It could be music, a song — I listen to ‘Living on the Ceiling’ by Blancmange, a great eighties track — or maybe it’s a saying or something from someone you love. You could record your kid laughing. Or go for a morning walk. Noticing every day where your mindset is can go a long way to catching a negative spiral before it’s really hard to get out of.”

Accept your need for downtime

“It may seem an odd way to start a list to be more productive,” says self-described productivity ninja and president of Think Productive North America Barbara Green, “but if we understand that we are unable to maintain a high-level of concentration and focus over an extended period, we can stop beating ourselves up and learn how to spend our limited attention on high-value work.”

If you need convincing that you can’t just “power through” the day effectively, here’s a little science.

The adult brain accounts for just two percent of body mass yet consumes 20 percent of your calorie needs per day. Half of that energy is pure maintenance — keeping the engine running, as it were.

“That does not leave a lot of juice in the battery for the big draw from the executive function area of our brain — the frontal lobe — which we need for reasoning, planning, decision-making and adapting to changes… all those big-thinking activities we do each day,” says Green.

Health and productivity expert Michelle Cederberg echoes these points and says bluntly “take your darn breaks!”

“Your brain will tell you it’s time for a break — when you find it harder to focus, your mind wanders, you’re easily distracted, you find yourself yawning or breathing deeper, you get fidgety or hungry or absent-minded. We often ignore the signs, and keep working, even though we’re no longer doing our best work,” says Cederberg.

What should you do?

“Leave your desk and go somewhere to relax,” says Cederberg. “Have a healthy snack, take a walk, sit and breathe (without your device). Give your body time to rest, and your brain the chance to re-oxygenate and recharge. Twenty minutes is ideal, but in a pinch even five minutes can be beneficial.”

Mono-task NOT multitask

Trying to do more things at the same time is not efficient. You should do one thing at a time. And do it well.

“Multitasking, especially on complex activities, will drain your mental capacity quicker and will also make you stressed and lead to errors,” says Green. “We recommend mono-tasking — do one thing up to the point of natural completion or break, then move on to the next thing.”

Stop checking email first thing in the morning

Ok, but… what should you do first when you get to your desk?

“Before any other work, review your daily list,” says Green. “See what you need to do today that will help you achieve your goals. This will allow you to start your day knowing where your precious attention and focus needs to be applied.”

Don’t lose control and let your inbox become your to-do list.

“Sure, there might be a fire in there you have to deal with or an email from an important client that you can’t ignore,” says Green. “If so, rejig your plan to incorporate those items, but stay on track.”

Do some frog hunting

“One way to ensure you feel great at the end of your day is to tackle those big ugly foreboding tasks that you just keep putting off,” says Green.

Cooper credits productivity consultant Brian Tracy for putting a name to these “frog tasks” — after an adage from Mark Twain. This is a tip that resonates with her workshop and seminar attendees.

“Twain suggested that if it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning, as everything that follows will taste sweeter by comparison. So, do some frog hunting. Find those activities that you have been avoiding and are starting to cause stress. You may want to consider frog hunting with someone else, maybe a colleague or your team [to tackle more challenging tasks together, or at least at the same time]. By sharing our frogs with others, we're building in accountability and commitment to ensure our frogs are dealt with and not ignored.”

Sort out the urgent from the important

One of the biggest frustrations Green hears from people is that everything needs to be done now. 

“This blurring of ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ makes it difficult to prioritize our work,” says Green. “We need to challenge that statement and be more ruthless with our valuable attention and focus. To do this, you need to clarify if the task is truly urgent or is it important. The difference is that ‘urgent’ means it needs to be done right now but ‘important’ means it needs to be done right.”

The trade-off here is speed versus accuracy.

“You could probably get something done very quickly at 3 p.m. but, if quality matters more than speed, you would be better tackling it when you are at your peak brain capability, in the morning,” says Green. “Armed with this knowledge, you might be able to renegotiate some of your deadlines so you can give the work your best attention and you the best chance of being successful.”

Just breathe… it’s a lifeline

Do you feel overwhelmed when on a deadline with no time for a proper break? Just breathe,” says Cederberg. “Breathe in slowly through your nose for four to six seconds, pause for a moment and then exhale out your mouth for the same amount of time. Repeat that process for a minute or two. Close your eyes and relax your shoulders while you do.”

When you pause and focus on slow, deep breathing in this way, says Cederberg, “it allows the parasympathetic nervous system to push fight-or-flight aside and restore the body to a state of calm.”

Know your sleep number

Kumar says that everyone should know their sleep number. “That’s how much sleep you need in a 24-hour period to wake feeling rested without an alarm.”

How do you figure this out? It’s easy.

Kumar recommends everyone start by assuming their sleep number is five sleep cycles of 90 minutes — so that’s seven and a half hours.

“Set a bedtime alarm to cue you to go to bed, and continue to set your morning alarm. But if your morning alarm is what’s waking you, then advance your bedtime alarm by 15 minutes until you’re waking at that same time without your alarm. If you give yourself some consistency of bedtime, you’ll give yourself a better shot at getting rest. And if you don’t get rest, then allow some white space in your morning or afternoon for some recovery.”

Kumar cuts us all some slack for 2022.

“I think the more we can set intentions — [without being] attached to the outcome — can also be an awesome way to start thinking about 2022.”

By Staples Canada

January 27, 2022