The risk of inaction may be one of the least obvious risks of doing business. Businesses may fail if we make the wrong decisions. They may run out of funds if we don’t spend wisely. We also understand the threat of competition. As a result, we plan, set goals and strategize to minimize these risks. Too often though, we do not fully grasp the magnitude of the risk of inaction.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to working long hours and having the lines between work and personal time blurred. Many times, the very success of our business correlates with how much time and effort we invest into it. This concentrated effort might be both necessary and sustainable in the short run but can be detrimental in the long run. A light workload day can help maintain some balance in both our work and personal life.
Getting inspiration can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially for creatives. It is normal to look for inspiration from others or seek enlightenment from those who have experienced things that we have not. There’s nothing wrong in that. This helps us to be better rounded individuals with a more diverse perspective. We should not ignore a source of inspiration much closer to home though – our past.
Ever get a great idea while doing something totally unrelated to work? Ever hesitate to make a note of that idea? How many times do we actually remember this great idea by the time we have finished our current task? Even a little procrastination can derail our train of thought and interrupt a spontaneous spur of productivity. This is not to say that we must drop everything whenever we get an idea. Nevertheless, we should be weary of how procrastination affects our productivity.
A job can be a stressful experience and it is not always one that we look forward to. This is especially true when we are not doing the jobs that we really want to do. Those of us who are overworked may find it hard to concentrate and react harshly to distractions that make use of already limited time. Those of us who are underworked may feel that our contributions are insignificant or inadequate. These negative feelings that get associated with work over time can demotivate us and stifle our creativity. Personal projects related to work can help us harness our creativity and encourage self-motivation in addition to creating a break from the more frustrating parts of a job.
Choosing a personal project
The key to choosing an appropriate personal project is that it has to provide some intrinsic value to the organization for which we work. Approval may be necessary before we can start working on a personal project and if we work on the project during company time it is very likely that the results will belong to the company and not to us personally. Nevertheless, if we spend 40 hours or more each week at an organization it is in our best interest to improve our working conditions and efficiency. A personal project may alleviate some of the problems we face at work if we follow these steps and choose it wisely.
1. Identify organization’s shortcomings
Think about the things in our business or organization that we would complain about. We may need to put ourselves in the shoes of a customer or outsider to get a more unbiased view. We do not need to identify the solutions to these problems at this stage. Focusing solely on identifying the shortcomings will allow us to brainstorm both those that we think can be solved easily and those that seem beyond our scope. This is necessary because the resources which we will have at our disposal to take on the project are not yet confirmed. Later projects which are not feasible can easily be eliminated.
2. Focus on individual and collective strengths
We all have unique skill sets and talents. Often times our proficiencies may extend beyond our daily job assignments. These skills may be easy for a boss or supervisor to overlook since they are not directly related to the job at hand. A project allows us to utilize and improve these skills while still contributing in a meaningful way to the development of the organization. It is also not uncommon for someone to get employed in the field where the vacancy exists rather than the field that best suits the individual’s qualifications. Knowing our strengths allows us to contribute in ways beyond what is expected and may open up new opportunities. Co-workers may also be able to identify “hidden” talents in us and we may be able to do the same in them. By identifying these strengths we get a better idea of which projects are feasible.
3. Collaborate with others
Many projects cannot be done alone. Others can just be done better or quicker with the help of others. The contribution and feedback of a team can lead to discoveries that a single person may have overlooked. Team members may also have different specialities which when combined make more complex projects feasible. Entire products or services can be born as a result of a collaborative effort. Collaboration can also help build better relationships among co-workers striving for a common goal and enhance communication in the organization. It is not only a problem solving exercise but also a team building opportunity.
4. Work with passion
A project is extra work and at times we may need something to justify spending the additional effort and energy. Choosing something we are passionate about can help motivate us and even allow us to have some fun. Remember a project can be a productive distraction from other more mundane tasks. Progress made on personal projects give us a sense of achievement and lessons learned on a project can be applied to regular work. The interest and desire generated from personal projects can have a positive effect on mood and productivity.
Getting the project off the ground
Resources will be required for any personal project and we may need approval or investment in the project before we can start. It therefore becomes imperative to sell the project to those in control of the resources which we require in order to get the ball rolling. This will require having an in depth understanding of the project requirements and being able to explain how the project will benefit the organization. For smaller projects we may be able to contribute in our down time. For larger projects, however, some level of coordination and project management will be required. At this stage the goals and mission of the project should be established and all stakeholders should be identified. We may also need to provide a plan on how the project will be run without interfering with everyday activities.
Once we have started a personal project we can use it to express ourself creatively and to motivate us to succeed. Since the project is what we chose it should be a challenge we are willing to take on and progress can be used as inspiration. Even small failures can teach important lessons that can be applied to other areas of work. The best part is that when one project is completed another one can be chosen to repeat the cycle and reap further benefits.
Distractions are the enemy of productivity. They lure us away from current tasks for seemingly short periods of time which can ultimately add up to a significant percentage of our day. Having to start and stop tasks can waste valuable time and cognitive effort as we readjust and try to regain focus and rhythm. Distractions can also demotivate us from completing difficult tasks since the alternative to doing boring or arduous work seems so much more appealing. All is not lost though; we can overcome our penchant to procrastinate by using these 5 simple steps to guide us in the right direction.
Allocate time for breaks
We are not robots and productivity does not mean working for 8 hours straight focusing only on tasks in a to do list. We will get tired, frustrated and go through a whole range of normal human emotions. Ignoring these factors and soldiering on might seem admirable but can lead to burnout, unhappiness and generally higher stress levels. It is okay to take occasional breaks and these cool out periods can help clear our heads and increase our productivity.
Choose entertainment wisely
Entertainment is another thing that should not be omitted from a busy schedule. A work life with no entertainment can lead us to seek entertainment at the wrong time or leave us easily distracted. There are appropriate times and places for various types of entertainment and choosing these strategically can help us deal with stress. Music can be played softly or through headphones, our lunch hour can be spent doing something we like or we could simply socialize with co-workers. There are also countless of other after work activities to get our minds of the stresses of the job.
Disconnect from social media (temporarily)
Being constantly connected to our favourite social media websites may keep us “in the loop” but is it really a productive loop? The compulsion to check messages or status updates can distract us from the job at hand especially if we get roped into a discussion. One solution is to temporarily disconnect from social media sites while we are working on important projects. This could be as simple as refusing to use social media for the duration of specific tasks.
Turn off mobile phone
An unwanted call or text message can not only disturb us from our train of thought; it can totally change our mood (for the better or the worst). Notifications from apps on smart phones also tend to pique our interest or curiosity until we finally give in to the temptation and have a look. One solution is to turn off the phone completely or at least put it on silent mode to minimize the distraction it creates.
We may not realize it but our comfort levels have a lot to do with how distracted we get. Physiological discomfort such as hunger, feeling too hot or too cold, and being tired can influence our concentration levels. Environmental factors such as noises or odours can also cause distractions. While we may not be able to control all these factors we can minimize their effect. Changing posture, using ergonomic tools, or simply changing the font size on your computer can make working more comfortable and reduce the desire for distractions.
Despite our best efforts there will always be distractions. Left unchecked these distractions can steal large chunks of our most productive hours. By strategically managing our time and balancing fun and work we can be more productive while reducing the likelihood of burnout.
Everyone can dream big and there’s nothing wrong in that. In fact, dreaming big is a major characteristic of an ambitious individual. Setting lofty goals and striving to achieve them is great motivation and a key to success. Success does not come instantly though. It is also important to set short term objectives, be flexible, and to be unafraid to ask for assistance in order to reach ultimate success.
Overcome small challenges
A problem may often seem large and complicated and this leads us to assume that it is difficult to solve. While this may often be the case, problems can be broken down into smaller more manageable chunks which are less overwhelming. Trying to save the world from pollution is a daunting task. Not littering, composting and recycling are simple steps that benefit the environment despite seeming trivial. Overcoming small problems is one way of contributing to a large solution.
Switch it up
Sometimes simply changing the order in which you solve a piece of the puzzle can make the whole thing easier to decipher. Small changes is perspective can change the entire overview of the problem. This is why you are advised to skip the more difficult questions in a test and do the easier ones first. Not only does it prevent you from wasting time getting frustrated, it also allows you to gain confidence from the problems you can solve simply by breaking the routine of chronological order.
Ask for help
As talented and resourceful as we may be their are times when we need help from others. This not only refers to getting help to do what we cannot do alone but also getting help to do what a team can do more efficiently. Asking for help can save both time and effort and can be mutually beneficial to members of a team. We all have different specialities and utilizing our individual strengths in a coordinated manner makes for a stronger and more productive collective group. Help may be much more forthcoming if you reciprocate and also offer to help others out.
A genuinely positive attitude can have a much greater impact than you expect. Being polite, respectful and showing concern for others may have nothing to do with a specific problem but can affect your mood and the mood of those around you. A simple smile can make the workplace a more comfortable environment. It also makes you more approachable which encourages collaboration.
These are just a few strategies to keep in mind the next time you are trying to achieve a difficult goal. There will be ups and downs but doing these little things may help you get through the more difficult challenges. Keep the big picture in mind but remember you cannot get to your destination without taking the first few little steps.
When you get comfortable in an occupation you begin to develop a unique way of getting things done. Through trial and error and experience you develop a workflow which makes your work easier and makes you more productive. Part of this development of efficiency involves identifying the best tools for different jobs, learning how long certain tasks will take or even how best to interact with different people. The problem, however is that many times our ideal workflow is interrupted and we have to improvise to get things done.
As a website developer and graphic artist I use tools such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator all the time. I am accustomed to the software so it is easy for me to use. It also produces work that can easily be transferred to the desired medium whether online or in print. However, there are occasionally times when I have to work without my preferred tools and I am forced to use alternatives which are not as well suited for the job. Here are a few reasons that we may be forced to improvise our workflow:
The tools that we are accustomed to are not available
The customer insists on using a specific tool or system
Our current workflow is incompatible with the job at hand
The scope or budget of the project does not justify the time and effort of using the normal workflow
It is easy to refuse to change our workflow and there are some situations when this is an appropriate response – if a specific change will adversely affect the quality of the job and in turn misrepresent the quality of your brand for instance. There are situations, on the other hand, when we need to adapt and do the job regardless of the situation not being ideal. When I am working out of the office I am at the mercy of the whichever internet connection I end up using. If it is not as fast as I am accustomed to I have to adjust and find a way to get things done. I may do more graphic designs than website work to compensate for the poor internet access. Improvising is a way of staying productive when conditions
Sooner or later there will come a time when we have to improvise on the job. It may be an uncomfortable situation and an unwelcome change. Being able to adapt to different situations can help us through these stressful periods though. Try using an alternative tool in a non-critical situation to get familiar with it in case you have to use it some day. Practice operating in less than ideal conditions to learn how to react with both the conditions and the emotional impact it has on you. Practising how to improvise will help to make it second nature when it is really needed.
You may not always think about what affects your productivity but there are many factors that play a role in how productive you can be. Favourable working conditions allow you to get more done while unfavourable ones provide distractions and other obstacles to productivity. You may not be able to control your work environment all the time but by making a few little changes you may be able to discover your peak productivity zone.
Consider the following questions when determining how to reach your peak productivity zone:
Physical conditions: Do you work best before meals or after meals? When are you least tired? Do you require special ergonomic conveniences in your workspace?
Time: Do you work better at day or by night? Do you work better when you are punctual or you get to work just on time? Do you need breaks at strategic times to boost your productivity?
Environmental conditions: Are you distracted by noise, heat or unpleasant smells in your workplace? Do you get along well with co-workers? If you work from home are you distracted by chores, family members, neighbours?
Geographical conditions: Do you usually have to work on the go? Do you prefer working in an office or at home? Do you have access to the technology and equipment you need to do your job at different locations?
Your peak productivity zone simply refers to the conditions where you can perform at your best. It is in these conditions you kick into gear and can get the most work done. It may be the time when you are most comfortable doing work or the time where urgency demands a heightened level of performance to achieve objectives. To identify your peak productivity zone you will have to look at your performance and the factors that affect it. Tweak certain aspects of your work to determine what conditions allow you to be the most productive. Once you have identified your peak productivity zone it is easier to get back into that zone when necessary.
As a freelance website designer I usually have to work from various locations, including client offices. I am most productive at home though, where I can control most of the variables about my workspace and working hours. Do you have a peak productivity zone? Feel free to share yours in the comments.
Even though you love doing your job there are times when you may become overwhelmed or frustrated. In these times it is easy to focus on what is going wrong since, after all, you want to fix it. Focussing exclusively on problems that are difficult to solve can be discouraging and frustrate you even more. It is important not to forget what works well and celebrate the successes that you can identify in challenging times. Here are some reasons why you should celebrate the small victories.
It boosts confidence
Just as a team is more confident after winning a few matches, individuals also gain confidence in there ability to succeed after other successes. These successes do not necessarily have to be related. The simple act of accomplishing an objective gives you the feeling that you can do what you put your mind to and this confidence allows you to see your challenges as only temporary.
It injects positivity into the situation
Celebrating an accomplishment allows you to focus on positive aspects of work, especially when negative ones may be bearing down on you. If you are working on a large and difficult project, any task that you accomplish which brings you closer to completing the project is a small victory. By keeping these small victories in mind the entire situation may not look that bad. Your positive attitude may also influence those you work with and release some tension.
It refocuses you
Celebrating small victories refocuses your mind on your successes instead of dwelling on your failures. The big picture becomes accomplishment of the entire task rather than getting through the drudgery of the task. This slight change in perception of the situation can help you focus on it in a more productive way.
Celebrating small victories does not require a party or a bragging session. It can be a quiet acknowledgement of your success or even giving yourself a small treat. It does not have to be extravagant or lavish to work. You should however, ensure that you acknowledge your progress and use that to motivate you to accomplish your goals.