“I’ve got to get to work.”
You probably hear this phrase at least once a day (especially if you’re in college), but how much work actually gets done?
What if I told you there’s an equation that can help you understand how to get work done and even increase the amount of work you complete?
First off, work is defined as:
An activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
Let’s reiterate that last part: …in order to achieve a purpose of result. It takes purpose to do great work and work is necessary to achieve a purpose.
Before you start doing any type of work, it’s important to ask yourself:
“What is the purpose of doing this work?”
We have all worked toward a goal. The goal gave us a purpose. Whether it was acing a midterm, getting a new job, or making a new friend out of a stranger, hitting these goals required a bit of effort.
For those of you in school, why do you want to get good grades? Do you need a competitive GPA to obtain an internship? Is a high GPA necessary to attend graduate school?
Why pursue internships or go to graduate school? Does the internship allow you to develop your career? Will going to graduate school help you get a job, so you can ultimately give back to your parents?
It’s about having a big-picture understanding of why you do any work. It’s about having long-term goals. It’s about knowing your purpose.
You Need to Improve These Two Other Things
Let’s talk physics (oh boy…). In physics, the work equation is:
Work = Force x displacement
The amount of work an object does is equal to the force acted on the object multiplied by the displacement of the object. Okay, enough physics talk.
One day, I realized this equation is relevant to more than just physics. This is what I derived from that equation:
Amount of Work Completed = Intensity of Focus x Time Spent
It’s much easier to see how this equation relates to doing work on a day-to-day basis.
Think of the phrase, of “going the distance.” Now imagine going the distance but with no direction. You may be going very, very far, but without direction, going the distance doesn’t matter because you may not even be working toward your goal.
What gives you direction? Purpose.
Without purpose, what use is time spent? Without purpose, what use is intense focus? When you have a purpose for the work that you are doing, you know what course of action to take to achieve your goal.
How to Increase Your Focus
It’s common to believe that more time spent working results in more work completed. The time you spend working is important; if you spend ten thousand hours on something, you are no doubt going to be an expert at it. However, it is more than just time that will allow you to get more done.
For example, studying for a long period of time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the longer you study, the more your concentration will decrease. You will feel like you’re studying a lot and it will feel challenging, but you won’t be efficient.
This relates to the law of diminishing returns which states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will yield lower returns.
This is to say that staying up all night to study harms your cognitive performance due to a lack of rest. You probably won’t do as well on your exam because your brain won’t have the chance to solidify the information you crammed into it. In this case, more studying can actually harm your results.
There’s a difference between studying and efficient studying.
Cal Newport, author and assistant professor at Georgetown University, describes the illusion of actual work as pseudo-work. Pseudo-work can be thought of as going the distance but not having a clear direction–it’s being busy, but not producing results. Sound familiar?
Maybe you like being busy. Heck, I know I like being busy. But being busy for the sake of being busy won’t get us anywhere. This is what’s called the ‘busy’ trap as coined by Tim Kreider.
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
If we want to maximize our efficiency and optimize how we work, and eliminate the chances of doing pseudo-work, we must avoid the busy trap. We
How to Maximize the Amount of Work You Do
You may have heard of students who get straight As but don’t seem to spend much time studying. Maybe you’ve heard of the guy at work who gets everything done and has the energy to go out after work every night.
Some may justify this by claiming that those people have a natural aptitude to do well. This may be true, but smarts can only take them so far. Their high performance is the result of more than just their nature.
The answer lies in how focused they are when they study or do any type of work. Having intense focus will allow you to hustle even more. Newport states that the key factor in the amount of work produced—aside from the amount of time spent—is the intensity of one’s focus.
A snapshot of my previous week. I usually schedule in my work during the day so I can do whatever I want at night.
6 Strategies to Maximize Your Focus
1. Habitually plan out your workdays. Taking 15 minutes out of your morning or night to plan out your days can turn your 60 hour week into a 40 hour week. You can always revise your schedule as you go. Planning your workday in advance saves the time you would spend on deciding what to do.
2. Work in intervals with short breaks. Research has shown that taking short breaks increases efficiency because it gives your time to recharge your focus (and maybe have a snack).
3. Distribute your work throughout multiple days. This allows your concentration to be at optimal levels each time you begin your work. If you’re a student, this means breaking down your paper or reading throughout multiple days.
4. Schedule your work during your optimal periods of concentration. Some people get most of their work done in the morning and early afternoon. For others, it’s the nighttime. Whatever time it may be for you, it makes sense to get work done when you’re at optimal levels of concentration.
5. Sleep well, eat healthy, and exercise. We are constantly preached to make these habits, but all for good reason: These things play a huge role in determining our physical and mental energies. These energies determine our amount of focus. For starters, you don’t have to make a vow to go to the gym everyday; a simple workout of a few pushups and situps in the morning will jumpstart your energy for the day.
6. Stick to an environment you thrive best in. I like getting my work done on my university’s campus or at a coffee shop. For others, working at their desk at their apartment is better. Some people are most productive when they are alone, while other people are when they are around others. Know the environment you thrive in and stick to it.
The amount of work get done is dependent on both the amount of time you spend and the intensity of your focus. If you do one without the other, you’re doing pseudo-work. To avoid pseudo-work and make sure you’re actually getting work done, you need to have a big picture understanding of your work’s purpose.
To maximize the work you produce:
- Make time to do the work.
- Stay focused while working.
- Plan out your workdays.
- Work in 50 minute intervals with 10-15 minute breaks.
- Distribute your work throughout multiple days.
- Schedule your work during your optimal periods of concentration.
- Get quality sleep, exercise, and eat healthy.
- Stick to an environment you thrive best in.
- Remember your purpose for doing the work.
Once you slowly build these habits, before you know it, you will be getting a lot more done in shorter periods of time.
Let’s do work.
Image source: TheNextWeb.com