Overworked? Maximize your productivity by knowing your zone

Since my company’s layoff last year I’ve had more work than I can handle. I’m working really hard, but can’t seem to keep up with it. Any thought on ways I can increase my productivity?

Thanks for your question. My belief is that there are millions of other people asking the same question. I think the best way for me to answer you is to tell you what I do. I’m a big believer in working in your highest zone. The rest of this column will explain this statement.

Let me begin by explaining my concept of being in the zone. In the zone is being:

    1. Mentally clear on the task to be performed 2. Highly focused on a specific task 3. Physically able to perform the task 4. Motivated to perform the task

By Mentally Clear, I mean having an exact understanding of what you want to do. It could be something simple, like deleting spam email, or something intense, like designing the new structure for your company’s communication backbone.

By, Highly Focused I mean single-mindedness, namely, being able to free yourself from mental distractions, like thinking about other projects, all the emails you must answer, or a presentation you are making later in the day.

By Physically Able, I mean that at this moment you are able to perform the task. For example, I know that if I’m very tired, I have great difficulty doing mentally challenging work like writing my columns, answering important emails in a concise manor, or making important decisions.

By Motivated, I mean is this a task that you want to (or have to) work on right now.

For me personally, and I know anecdotally by speaking with others, that when people are truly in the zone on a task, regardless of the task’s simplicity or complexity, you are more productive, more innovative, and do a better job. This powerful combination of productivity, innovation, and quality is why you, and me, should strive to be in the zone on any task we are performing.

Now, with these definitions in mind, Your Highest Zone is the task at that time that best fits the above descriptions. Using a previous example, if I’m mentally exhausted and have two hundred emails to review, my highest zone work at that time may be simply deleting spam and other irrelevant emails from my inbox. If I am mentally alert, the deadline for my next IT WORLD column is quickly approaching, and I have a great topic idea in mind, I’ll write my column, even if my email inbox is a mess.

Given these two examples, of cleaning out my email or writing my column, from a personal productivity perspective, it would be a mistake for me to spend my time deleting emails, if at I have the ability, motivation, and focus, to write my column. I can delete my old emails later, when I am less mentally sharp.

The final lesson for you here is mentally dividing the items on your to-do list by zone levels. These levels could be:

    1. When I’m at my best 2. Business tasks I can do on auto-pilot 3. Busy tasks that must be done but don’t require mental challenge 4. Things you do as long as you are not asleep

Then, pick the task to be performed based on your physical, mental, and motivation at that time.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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