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Always Swamped? A Therapist’s Guide to Improve Productivity and Avoid Burnout

how to improve improductivity
5 min read

Let’s be honest: Adulting is not always the easiest thing in the world. It seems that we’re a lot more stressed out, more burnt out, busier, and more overwhelmed than ever before.

With the ability to work remotely, younger people may be putting in more hours than our parents’ generation — and we’re all aware of how hard they had to work to get here. We’re so busy sometimes, it feels like we can’t even catch a breath. Our culture has become so preoccupied with the art of the hustle, that the concept of “free time” is foreign to many of us.

There’s nothing wrong with being busy, but it’s not the same as being productive.

Truthfully, some people default to saying they’re busy, when they, in fact, are more accurately in a state of chaos, which isn’t conducive to accomplishing much. Productivity is an art in which the goal is to spend the least amount of energy and gain the greatest return on that investment. If you find yourself constantly telling everyone how “busy” you are but feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle, don’t sweat it! We’ve all been there, and sometimes we just need a refresher in how to be more productive with our time and resources. Here’s what I tell my clients about improving productivity in their everyday lives.

Counterintuitive Ideas Are The Ones That Stick

Ever wonder where the time goes in your day? You’re not alone.

The annual American Time Use Survey found that this is how full-time workers spent an average day in 2017:

  • Working or doing work-related activities for 6.45 hours
  • Sleeping and doing other personal care activities for 9.15 hours
  • Engaging in leisure or sports activities for 3.92 hours
  • Taking care of household activities for 1.46 hours

It’s clear to see that most of us aren’t spending the majority of our time working or even doing chores (though it might feel like it sometimes). And while devoting a healthy portion of your time to self-care is absolutely critical to general wellness, it’s worth asking yourself if the hours spent binge-watching TV and subsequently crashing on the couch is truly doing much for your productivity or your mental health?

The data from the American Time Use Survey confirm that the key to success is not working hard, but working smart — working productively.

How to Improve Productivity And Reduce Work Hours

I know that it can be counterintuitive to cut back and do nothing all together. Many of us have a lot of demands and expectations that require us to perform to our most optimal levels. These are some suggestions I offer my clients to help them to not only be more productive but also to identify ways to work less:

1. Stop Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionists often spend more time on a given task which often results in wasted efforts. When we’re focused on being perfectionists, we either look at a more convenient time, or we lose so much time focused on the small things while missing the bigger picture.

It’s a concept that we desis can sometimes have difficulty accepting, but honestly, sometimes great is good enough.

[RELATED: South Asians Invented Mindfulness — But Are We Practicing It, Too?]

2. Set Boundaries

A recurring topic of discussion when I’m working with my clients, boundary-setting is challenging for many because no one wants to be the bad guy. Instead, many of us say yes far more often than we should. This happens for a variety of reasons: From fear of missing out to guilt, we end up overstretching ourselves because it’s much easier just to say yes and to suffer the consequences later.

So, set boundaries! If that relationship is draining, or you can’t make that social event because you need to take time to recharge, do it. Not only will your body thank you but it’ll improve your overall mental well-being. Sure, it might be difficult at first, but it gets more comfortable with time. Also, it will make the things you do say “yes” to all the more enjoyable. Plus, it’s hard to be productive when all your allotted time has been accounted for by others.

3. Take and Ask For Help

Sometimes it truly does “take a village,” and that’s okay! There is only so much that we’re capable of doing on our own, so it’s totally okay to let someone help you out. Some of us have support systems, but when we’re in need, we often don’t reach out. The key is to know when you’re feeling overworked and when your productivity is declining, so when you receive the assistance, you can fine-tune your focus on the tasks that are really the most important.

[RELATED: Self-Care Is Not a Luxury: How I Learned This as a Brown Guy]

4. Take Time to Do Nothing

Especially for the hustlers, doing nothing productive can feel uncomfortable because it seems counterintuitive. So often we can neglect self-care while we’re focused on achieving a particular aspiration. Some of us ensure that our smartphone is charged to 100 percent when our mental capacity is not.

Studies have demonstrated that over time the more we work, the less productive we become. Ever try to pull an all-nighter? I’m sure many of us can recall a time where we had a deadline to meet, an exam to study for or not enough time that day to accomplish a task. The first all-nighter may be productive, but as sleep deprivation and fatigue kick in, our productivity and progress start to stagger. We burn out much faster the longer we work without a break. This is why it’s important not to overwork ourselves and to get adequate rest because it allows us to maintain a high level of productivity.

5. Have An Agenda

You ever been to a meeting or a gathering where there was no agenda? Not only are these meetings draining, but there’s also no focus. When we don’t have an agenda or a vision for what we’re trying to accomplish we end up going in circles, which gets us caught in a an unproductive routine. So set aside an agenda, a to-do list, or even a vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. Companies have vision and mission statements, so why can’t we? Think of having a vision as planning a trip. There are many places you can go, but the first step is to find your destination, and then you can prepare for how you’ll get there.

6. Disable the Digital Devices

As the American Time Use Survey found, a lot of us are spending a considerable amount of time in our days to both “leisure” and “personal care.” But how much of this involves your screens is important because from phones and tablets to smart TVs and AI assistants, we are connected to the point of being totally dependent on our devices — and that’s a problem. One of the best ways to really improve productivity is to set your phone/table to airplane mode throughout the day and look at it in increments.

When your phone is buzzing from group chat messages or Instagram DMs, it’s very tempting to check what the alert is, which will derail you from your task-at-hand. Once you lose focus or momentum, it can take quite a long time to get it right back. And if you find yourself feeling like a ball of blah after binge-watching for hours on end as an excuse for “Self-Care Sunday,” then rethink this! Fresh air, exercise, meditation, a massage, and in-person interaction are all highly-recommended ways to decompress and recharge, which in turn contributes to improved productivity.

[RELATED: The Era of the Digital Biodata: Is Online Dating Keeping us Single?]

A Final Note

Increased productivity doesn’t happen overnight. Being more productive requires effort, patience, practice. Learning to be productive is about knowing how to optimize your time, your energy, and your efforts which leads to a more prosperous and less stressed life. Set the proper boundaries, get adequate sleep, and stop wasting your time trying to make everything perfect. And remember, being busy doesn’t mean being productive.

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