You're stressed. I'm stressed. We're all "crazy busy" and to deal with increasing demands we work longer hours; we multitask; we track, measure and optimize. All the while we sacrifice other values, such as sleep and exercise, healthy eating and family time.
Josh Davis, Ph.D., author of Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done, doesn't believe that life has to be this way. In his opinion, "the typical and misguided response--which tends to fail--has been to expect ourselves to work constantly and pack more into our already packed days."
Davis formed his opinions from neuroscience research. He points out that:
Efficiency is a metric for machines and computers. But science is revealing that humans are not just computers on life support. We have brains and bodies, and we operate according to biological needs. The right metric for human performance is effectiveness, not efficiency. [emphasis added]
Davis guides the reader through a routine based on intentionality: intentionally deciding on the task at hand; intentionally perfecting the conditions for working on that task; intentionally treating our bodies the way they need to be treated in order to work at peak efficiency.
More than that, he teaches people to schedule their days around what their bodies need no matter what. Because cognitive, physical and emotional demands can be so devastating to your productivity when they go unmet, he advocates meeting them intelligently and within a timeframe that works, for your work. Specifically, Davis offers five strategies for peak productivity.
Strategy 1: Recognize Your Decision Points.
When we finish one task it is an opportunity to be productive. If we act on autopilot, unaware of time and our surroundings, we are likely to gravitate to tasks that are easy or urgent. The next thing you know you've handled a bunch of emails, but an hour has ticked away and the big strategic initiative sits untended to. Davis suggests that we learn to identify decision moments, and to pause and reflect on our true priorities.
Strategy 2: Manage Your Mental Energy
For peak productivity, we must tackle our work when we have the mental energy for it. Davis suggests that we identify our two best mental hours, and intentionally schedule our important work during that time.
Strategy 3: Stop Fighting Distractions
This contrarian advice doesn't mean we can check social media updates endlessly, rather Davis says that our attention systems "are designed to regularly refresh--to be ready to discover what is new in our environment." Letting our mind wander or taking a few minutes to stare out the window may actually help us to refocus.
Strategy 4: Leverage Your Mind-Body Connection
Our mind and our bodies are intertwined and Davis encourages us to focus as much on our physical health as our mental health. He recommends the usual: stay hydrated, eat smaller meals more often, moderate doses of caffeine and moderate exercise.
Strategy 5: Make Your Workspace Work For You
In order to get at least two awesome hours of productivity, Davis' final recommendation is to create a physical environment that is restorative rather than distracting. Choose a quiet area, with bright and cool lighting (rather than warm and dim) and keep your desk uncluttered.
The key to breakthrough levels of productivity is tied to our biology. Davis doesn't actually think you should only work two hours a day. Rather, the premise is that by setting up ideal conditions, you can use your best two hours to knock out your most important work and find success, if only you set the scene.
What's your time management personality? Take the Time Management Style Assessment to improve your productivity.