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Productive ways to improve your work performance

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CEO of Asian Scientist Magazine shares five tips on how to combat burnout and be as efficient as possible

Haven't been very productive at work, or just haven't been faring too well in your job?

Unless you're experiencing burnout and need time off, it would probably be a good idea to find the most efficient ways to pull yourself out of the slump.

Ms Juliana Chan, CEO and publisher of Asian Scientist Magazine, shares five tips on how you can go about picking up the slack.

Be proactive, not reactive

When our inbox and to-do lists get overwhelming, most of us instinctively switch to being reactive - a task comes in, we slay it, another task comes in, we move on to the next immediate task at hand. This may lead to an increased number of mistakes, or projects carried out inefficiently.

I often suggest to my colleagues that it is always better to be 'proactive' than 'reactive'. When you find yourself stuck with recurring issues, or if you feel that you are doing a project in a less-than-ideal way, it is good to stop and reflect on whether the task can be carried out differently.

Find a mentor in your company to review your workflow and talk to colleagues to pick up some useful tricks from them.

Practise time-boxing

Instead of juggling an overflowing to-do list or working late into the night, set aside a fixed slot on your calendar and only accept tasks that can legitimately fit into those working hours. This is a concept known as time-boxing.

For tasks that cannot fit into that day, pencil it into tomorrow's calendar, alert a supervisor, delegate it to a colleague or simply say 'no'. It is also helpful to time-box 'free and easy' casual time for checking e-mails, finishing less urgent (but important) tasks, as well as exercise and rest.

Resist code-switching between maker and manager

In most jobs, we end up donning two kinds of hats: 'maker' and 'manager'.

When we are in Zoom meetings, drawing up business pitches and responding to e-mails, we wear our 'manager' hat.

And when we are deeply focused on creative assignments which require concentration, we are wearing our 'maker' hat.

Code-switching is dangerous as it requires us to completely reset our frame of mind each time. Therefore, it is better to group 'maker' activities for when we are fresh and alert, such as in the morning after a cup of coffee, or when we are free from interruptions.

Likewise, it is better to group 'manager' activities for when our focus is weak, such as before and after lunch, and right before the end of the work day.

Finally, social media is the number one enemy to productivity at work. It would be better to block out a period of time to check your social media feed. Being able to focus on a task without distractions allows us to complete it faster, with less stress and fewer mistakes.

Take control of the narrative at work

Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, where most people are working remotely, we are dealing with an unusual situation where there is both over-communication via endless Zoom meetings, as well as a lack of face-to-face bonding time with teammates.

When we don't see each other in person, especially for new hires whom we have never worked with before, there are very few opportunities to foster trust and rapport with each other.

A major downside of remote work is that it may lead to second-guessing each other because of different working styles, and micromanagement by supervisors who need to ensure a project gets done.

Demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness to your supervisor by establishing a pattern of voluntary updates on key, ongoing projects, and flag a problem before it occurs so that resources may be reallocated as needed.

Aggressively rest and relax

Like professional athletes, all of us need to have optimum rest and recreation during the weekend so we can return to work in tip-top condition.

Instead of taking on multiple side gigs and freelancing projects after work and on the weekends, it is a far better investment (with longer-term career benefits) to find personal time to decompress.

A strong work-life balance is the best defence anyone can find against stress and burnout at work. We not only perform better and make fewer mistakes, but are more present and relaxed while doing the job.

Another way to support our mental health is to limit access to sources of negativity by unfollowing people who do not serve our growth and well-being, or by limiting our exposure to them on social media and the news.

This article was first published on Her World Online (