Fighting burnout? Try these five tips for working smarter, not harder

I wrote this article on reflection of my nearly 400 days since moving to full-time remote working, and the impact it has had on maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life. On the whole I have found the experience to be positive — greater flexibility in the schedule, prioritised and uninterrupted time to focus on important deliverables, and especially spending time with my young labrador, Lola.

But why should anyone else care? Well, consider this perspective of the 40-hour work week: One-quarter of the entire week. One-third of all waking hours — two-thirds of your time, excluding weekends.

And in today’s “always-on” era, for many, these ratios are even higher.

So whether working from home has become your new norm, you have returned back to the office, or somewhere in between, here are five practical tips to boosting productivity and maintaining a healthy work-life balance:

1. Turn your to-do list into a Top Three.

To-dos come in many different shapes and sizes, from never-ending lists, matrices, and scribbles on a rainbow array of Post-It notes. Consider an alternative approach of prioritising the top three projects or tasks that can have the biggest impact, and cut out the noise of less important or trivial tasks.

Tip: Try setting your Top Three list every Monday to bring clarity to your week.

2. Avoid multitasking during focused work

Studies have shown that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, which adds up when you consider that the human brain is not able to handle more than one complex task at a time.

Multitasking is a bit like the analogy of trying to catch multiple tennis balls at once — it’s unlikely you will catch any. But if thrown only one tennis ball, you’re much more likely to catch it. Focused work is no different.

Tip: If you work with multiple monitors, consider closing the second screen if it’s a distraction.

3. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb

New alert. Breaking news. New post liked. We’ve all been there.

In fact, studies have shown we can take up to 15 minutes to get back to important tasks after responding to such stimuli.

A quick fix to address this is setting your phone to Do Not Disturb. You can still keep tabs on important calls or texts, but you’ll be surprised by how much more you can get done in the day.

Tip: If you need your phone close by, turn the screen face down so the illumination does not disturb you.

4. Set meeting invites. With yourself.

I recently wrote about the dangers of home-office burnout, and the importance of taking breaks. The additional benefits and improvements in productivity should be obvious. So make a point of blocking out your calendar regularly to get away from your desk and recharge.

Tip: Consider using ‘Out of Office’ meeting invites as a signal that you really are busy during that time.

5. Make a habit of getting a good night's sleep

I am a big believer in the effect a good night's sleep has on one’s overall well-being. Having recently picked up (and struggling to put down) Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, the bottom line is this: “Humans in today’s nutrient-rich environment need 8 hours of sleep to function optimally”.

So if you’re thinking about putting in an extra hour or two tonight to get a headstart on tomorrow, consider an earlier bedtime to leave you feeling more refreshed and at the top of your game. I promise you your to-do Top Three list will still be there.

Tip: Charge your phone in a place that’s out of reach from your bed to avoid the bright lights and notifications likely to keep you awake longer.

By implementing some of these small changes into your routine, you can achieve big differences in productivity and give yourself more time back in the week.

This article is contributed by The Marketing Society. This month we hear from Rob Simons, head of SMB & partner marketing for international markets at PayPal.