Congratulations! You’re busier than ever, and you’re not alone. Americans are working longer days, retiring later in life and proactively choosing to skip vacations — paid vacation time! — in order to clock more hours at work.
What’s most surprising is that many of us choose to be this way. Our culture tells us that being busy is a sign of success. If you’re busy, you’re doing well. If you’re not busy, though, something must be wrong.
Being busy all the time comes at a cost. Health, happiness and work-life balance are the typical victims. The most ironic part of it all is that busy workers are not necessarily the most productive workers. We pack our days full and end up stressed out and inefficient.
If you’d rather strive for productivity over busyness while cutting stress out of your work days, here are five ways to find the sweet spot you desire:
1. Schedule for efficiency
Work smarter, not harder, by maximizing your schedule. Create dedicated periods of time throughout your day for particular tasks. A basic example: rather than answering each email as it comes in, dedicate periods during the morning and afternoon specifically for email. That leaves time open during the remainder of the day to work on projects and give other activities your full attention.
2. Don’t be afraid to say no
Many people think saying no to a requested work task will make them seem like they aren’t a team player. But being able to manage your time and saying no to projects you can’t dedicate 100 percent to is a smart career choice. Would you rather complete two top-quality projects this week or rush through five? If you’re worried your boss will balk, try to explain how much time you need for other projects so he/she can understand, or at the very least bring in some additional help to get everything done.
3. Track stressors
For two weeks, keep a journal of activities, people and things that cause you stress. Once you identify stressors, you can try to eliminate them from your life as much as possible. For the things you can’t eliminate, find healthy ways to deal with them. For example, move that hectic morning meeting to the afternoon, partner with positive people who enhance your productivity or take a walk during the lunch hour.
Everyone is guilty of working through breaks in order to get things done. While tempting, this strategy typically backfires. Short breaks increase focus, according to ScienceDaily. The brain needs time to rest and recharge, so by denying yourself your much-needed rest, you’re actually decreasing your productivity, not to mention you’ll be pretty crabby by the day’s end. So take a break, eat a healthy snack and rest that mental muscle.
5. Establish boundaries
Technology has dramatically changed how most of us work. While it may make parts of our jobs easier, it also connects us to work 24/7. It’s important to establish boundaries before work-life balance becomes nonexistent. Make rules for yourself and follow them; for example, don’t check email after 6 p.m. and never answer your phone during meal times.