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Work smarter, not harder for better mental health

work smarter

How a better work/life balance contributes to better mental health

As introductory lines to articles go, the one written for an Economist article in 1955 by Cyril Northcote Parkinson is perhaps one of the most famous ever – his piece starts with this statement “work expands to fill the time available for its completion” which has become a well-worn adage quoted widely by productivity enthusiasts everywhere.

By giving yourself one week to complete a two hour task, psychologically, you’ll find a way to draw the task out. Perhaps it really will take just two hours to do, however, people will often fill the extra time with stress and tension about having to get the job done. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the psychology of productivity and how you can make the most of your time.

Exploring why we procrastinate

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to productivity is procrastination. But why do we do engage in this behaviour, especially when we consciously know it to be a drain on our time? We know that a brief few minutes on Facebook can easily turn into half and hour, or that answering a particular person’s phone call will zap a good portion of the morning.

Many lump procrastination in with some kind of failure of willpower, some will even go so far as to say it indicates differences in morality (laid back, liberal values versus a strict, get it done mentality). However, according to Timothy Pychyl, Professor of Psychology at Carleton University, procrastination is simply an emotion-centred coping strategy”. One has to look deeper at what’s beneath the behaviour, to see why it’s being used. Perhaps a person is trying to self-soothe their fear of uncertainty. Or they’ve set the bar on what they’re trying to achieve so high, that they become intimidated. Entrepreneurs are likely to experience both the fear of uncertainty and their own high expectations, as they set out to create new ventures or conquer new territory.

Believe that you are good at multitasking

Research shows that the brain can only really handle one task at a time. While it may seem that you can comfortably listen to music and write an email at the same time, what’s really happening in the brain is a stop/start process – a kind of round robin effect, where a person spends a small slice of time on each task in turn. It just happens so quickly, that it gives us the appearance that we’re doing multiple things at the same time.

However, researchers have also found that when participants of comprehension quizzes and note-taking studies are told that they are multitasking, they actually accomplish more than those who take the exact same tests and are told that they are doing one task at a time. As it turns out, being under the illusion that you are multitasking (or adopting the label or identity of a multi-tasker) can help you get more done in a shorter amount of time.

Shalena Srna of the Stephen M Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan explains “We find that multitasking is often a matter of perception that helps, rather than harms, engagement and performance. Thus, when we engage in a given activity, construing it as multitasking could help us.”

Use technology to create smarter boundaries

Cloud computing and the rise of mobile devices, has meant that more people than ever before work in locations other than the office. According to research conducted by Strategy Analytics, the global mobile workforce is set to rise to 1.87 billion in 2022, which accounts for 42.5% of the global workforce.

Technologies like Zoom conferencing, Trello boards and collaboration hubs like Slack, all enable people to work from home, abroad, or while on the go.

However, some people struggle with having a work/life balance – especially if they work from home. Without the commute to and from an office, it’s difficult to leave the tensions of the workplace behind once the day is done.

There are very simple things you can to create a better balance. For a start, you can use two web browsers – use one for work, that contains all of your work logins and work bookmarks, and at the end of the day, you can quit that program, and open an entirely different browser, to check your personal social media channels and emails.

You can also try out personal time-tracking apps, like Hours and My Minutes, which will help you see how you spend your time, and will help you decide how you’d like to spend it in the future.

If you have a smartphone addiction, you might like to try apps like Moment or BreakFree, which will help you see how often you unlock your phone, what apps you most frequently use and how much time you spend on them. These apps will even help you spend less time on your phone, by putting up reminders and notifications that time is up, due to limits that you are able to set.

We’ve helped countless people adopt healthy mind-sets towards work, so that they flourish in their careers. If you would like to discuss how we can help, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.