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This article was originally published by SmartCompany

By Dr Amantha Imber

December 10, 2021

We are on the home run to the Christmas holidays, but given the events 2021 has thrust upon us, it’s probably taking every ounce of energy left to get to the finish line.

If you are finding yourself in ‘Struggletown’ in the lead up to the break, here are some things that will help you finish the year on a high.

Five tips for working smarter

  1. Stop multitasking;
  2. Structure your day according to your chronotype;
  3. Re-learn how to stay focused;
  4. Boost your energy through taking the ‘right’ kind of breaks; and
  5. Eliminate digital distractions without relying on willpower.

1. Stop multitasking

If you are anything like the average person, you are probably a chronic multitasker. Your day involves flitting between emails, Slack, working on a presentation, checking your phone, and so on. Professor David Meyer found that multitasking makes tasks take 40% longer compared to if we monotask (focus on one thing at the one time).

The next time you catch yourself switching from task to task — but not really finishing anything — remind yourself that all you are doing is making everything take 40% longer to complete. And by becoming a monotasker, you will free up two to three hours per day if you currently work an average eight hours a day.

2. Structure your day according to your chronotype

When is the best time of day to undertake certain tasks? The answer lies in working to our chronotype (the natural peaks and troughs of our energy levels over a 24-hour period).

Larks, for example, are at their cognitive peak in the early morning. As such, Larks should schedule their most cognitively demanding Deep Work for this time of day. In contrast, Owls have their cognitive peak at night and are best served working on less cognitively demanding work during the day.

Assess your chronotype to determine when you should be doing work that requires the most heavy lifting. Schedule your most challenging tasks for when your brain is performing at its peak and do easier tasks, like checking email, when your brain is having a dip in energy.

3. Re-learn how to stay focused

We are working in the age of digital distraction, where the average worker can only stay focused for six minutes before they do a “just check” or email or messenger, according to research by Rescue Time. This leads to us prioritising “Shallow Work” (work that is non-cognitively demanding) over “Deep Work” (work that requires intense focus and concentration for uninterrupted periods of time).

By understanding the difference between these two types of work, you can start to proactively prioritise Deep Work over Shallow Work, and schedule Deep Work for when you are at your cognitive peak (according to your chronotype).

4. Boost your energy through taking the ‘right’ kind of breaks

We need to forget about the stereotype of the innovation genius who works 16 hours straight without a break — this is not the best way for your brain to thrive. Psychologists have uncovered that there are ideal conditions for taking effective breaks. For example, research from the University of Colorado has shown that in contrast to one 30-minute break or no breaks at all, hourly five-minute walking breaks boost energy, sharpen focus, improve mood and reduce feelings of fatigue in the afternoon more effectively.

Especially when you are feeling exhausted or burnout, schedule breaks in your diary and force yourself to take them across the course of your workday.

5. Eliminate digital distractions without relying on willpower

Email, social media, Slack. The endless pings, dings, and notifications they produce are designed to grab our attention. To avoid being constantly distracted, use Freedom to block yourself from visiting distracting websites and opening up your email and pause your inbox to stop your inbox feeling like a game of whack-a-mole.

Eliminating digital distractions will make you feel more mentally alert and help you make progress on Deep Work tasks.