Jan 2, 2024

12 Proven Productivity Tips for VC Operations Managers to Stay Sane This Holiday Season and Beyond

Have you ever wondered how some people manage to achieve more in less time and with minimal effort? We all know that one guy or girl who never seems frazzled, rushed, or stressed by much, and yet things always get done. Somehow, they achieve high productivity without putting in extra long hours. Wouldn't it be great to learn their secret?

There are many productivity tips and tricks (and even apps) that people claim will boost productivity. However, most of these often require too much work or are challenging to implement, especially for a busy individual like a head of platform and operations manager.

So, where does that leave you? Is there a way to genuinely improve productivity without adding extra workload or increasing hours worked? The answer is yes! Thanks to scientific studies, we now have simple ways to optimize our brains and bodies for better performance.

Whether you're looking to increase your productivity at the start of the new year or are trying to manage your energy now during busy seasons like the holidays, here are 12 scientifically-backed yet often-overlooked productivity tips that you can easily implement to achieve better results than if you were to invest in another productivity app. And feel free to share them with your team to improve workforce productivity as well.

1) Switch up your source of dopamine hit.

Our brains are wired to crave dopamine - a natural biological experience that makes us feel good. Social media has tapped into this addiction, and we find ourselves scrolling through our feeds for hours on end. But what if we could harness this desire for dopamine to boost our productivity? Instead of mindlessly checking social media during breaks, we can try a different approach.

By engaging in activities that do not provide a dopamine hit, such as staring at a wall, we can give our brains a chance to rest and recharge.

This little technique can refresh our minds and help us perceive work in a more positive light, which will help us stay focused during work time instead of just chugging through it to get to the breaks. According to Rian Doris, this simple change in behavior can lead to significant improvements in our productivity levels.

2) Optimize your peak time to do the challenging tasks first.

Optimizing your peak time for handling challenging tasks is a strategy based on research on circadian rhythms and cognitive science, and it can help you maximize productivity and reduce stress.

According to studies, individuals experience peak mental alertness and focus throughout the day, with mornings being the best time. During this period, people are most mentally sharp, making it the ideal time for tackling demanding tasks that require a high degree of cognitive effort. In other words, this is the time when you handle the most important tasks on your to-do list because you can achieve the most intense focus of the day.

Research has shown that decision-making abilities are also better during peak times. For example, judges were more likely to grant parole earlier in the day, which aligns with their peak cognitive periods. As the day progresses, decision-making becomes more conservative, and people's ability to make difficult choices declines.

Align demanding tasks with your peak time to utilize your cognitive strengths. By doing the toughest things when you are laser-focused, you can produce higher-quality work, enjoy increased efficiency, and benefit from reduced stress. Save less demanding activities for later in the day so that you can decrease the difficulty of your challenges as your mental acuity declines. Understanding your own rhythm helps maximize the effectiveness of this strategy, so make sure to pay attention to when your thought process is most clear and when it is not.

3) Stop multitasking

In order to be productive, it is important to focus on one task at a time instead of multitasking. Various scientific studies, including research conducted by Stanford University, have demonstrated that multitasking not only impairs cognitive abilities, but it also increases the likelihood of errors. This is because the brain is not designed to handle multiple high-level tasks simultaneously, which can lead to reduced efficiency and mental fatigue.

Furthermore, neuroscientific studies that use techniques such as fMRI have shown that multitasking can decrease brain efficiency and prolong the time it takes to complete a task. Shifting attention between tasks can also result in attention residue, which can hinder the ability to focus on the current task.

On the other hand, when individuals concentrate on one task, they are able to allocate their full cognitive resources, leading to better quality work, increased efficiency, and reduced stress. Scientific evidence consistently supports the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time for improved productivity and overall performance. So avoid multitasking.

Bottom line: It's less about getting apps that help you avoid distractions and more about getting you to commit to a single focused task at a time.

3) Keep meeting sizes small and the agenda short

Scientific research supports the notion of maintaining small meeting sizes and concise agendas. Studies and workplace analyses have consistently shown that smaller meetings with focused agendas lead to better outcomes. In these meetings, attendees are more efficient and productive in their discussions and decision-making processes.

According to research conducted at Microsoft and the Harvard Business Review, larger meetings tend to be less productive. The study revealed that larger meetings often lead to lower engagement and fewer actionable outcomes. As the number of participants increases, the average speaking time per participant decreases, which hinders meaningful contributions and decision-making.

Further research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that smaller groups facilitate better communication and decision-making processes. Attendees in smaller meetings are more likely to actively participate, share diverse viewpoints, and become more engaged.

In addition to smaller groups, keeping the agenda short and focused is also critical. Research from MIT Sloan Management Review suggests that concise meeting agendas increase productivity by maintaining a clear direction and purpose. With a well-defined agenda, participants can prepare more effectively, stay on topic, and achieve specific objectives within the allocated time frame.

In a platform role, this is especially important advice. You must coordinate and communicate with so many people, from the platform team to business leaders to other stakeholders of the VC firm. By readjusting your approach to meetings and narrowing down your agendas and attendee sizes, you can accomplish more in your meeting times and increase overall productivity for you and your team as well.

4) Chunk tasks down and prioritize for urgency and importance

Breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable chunks and then prioritizing those chunks based on their level of urgency and importance is a widely accepted and proven strategy for improving productivity.

This approach is supported by extensive research, including studies on information processing and productivity theories such as the Eisenhower Matrix and the Urgent-Important Matrix. By dividing tasks into smaller parts, you can better focus on each step and make more informed decisions, leading to increased motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

This method of task chunking and prioritization is particularly effective because it aligns with the way the brain processes information, helping you to stay on track and focus on what matters most. So implementing it leads to productivity growth and helps you tick more things off your task list.

5) Enable seamless communication between teams

Efficient and clear communication among teams is an indispensable aspect of labor productivity. When teams communicate seamlessly, it promotes collaboration, enhances efficiency, and helps achieve goals. Numerous studies and workplace analyses consistently underscore the crucial role of good communication. That is especially applicable when looking to drive greater productivity across portfolio companies.

Research indicates that effective inter-team communication leads to improved problem-solving and innovation. The International Journal of Innovation Management published a research paper that suggests open communication channels facilitate the exchange of diverse ideas, leading to creative solutions and better outcomes for companies.

In addition, a Harvard Business Review study found that teams with strong communication practices exhibit higher productivity levels and are better equipped to handle challenges. Transparent and clear communication reduces misunderstandings, minimizes errors, and fosters a shared understanding of objectives, platform roles, and responsibilities among team members.

Collaborative tools and technologies significantly enhance team communication. Research from McKinsey & Company emphasizes that organizations that use collaborative platforms experience higher productivity due to improved information sharing, faster decision-making, and streamlined workflows.

6) Learn to say NO

Contrary to popular belief, declining requests isn't about refusing things; instead, it's a powerful strategy to protect your time, energy, and focus.

Numerous psychological studies on decision-making and time management highlight the importance of setting boundaries. Research suggests that saying "no" to non-essential tasks is critical for staying focused on priorities and preventing burnout.

Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that refusing certain commitments has a positive impact on mental well-being and productivity. It's associated with a sense of empowerment, enabling individuals to redirect their efforts toward activities that are aligned with their goals and values.

The concept of "opportunity cost" from economics is relevant here. By agreeing to every request or task, individuals may be sacrificing the opportunity to engage in activities that could yield higher value or align better with their objectives.

Importantly, saying "no" doesn't mean that you're unwilling to contribute or support others. Rather, it's a conscious and thoughtful choice to allocate your resources effectively, ensuring that your efforts are aligned with your objectives and lead to optimal outcomes.

It's a strategy for self-care and effective time management that contributes significantly to sustained productivity and personal fulfillment.

7) Create your productivity ritual

Achieving optimal productivity requires an understanding that there is no one formula that works for everyone. Each of us has our own unique circumstances, preferences, and rhythms that determine our most effective work style. Therefore, you need to develop personalized morning and evening rituals that align with your needs and maximize your personal productivity too.

The science of chronobiology has revealed that individuals have distinct biological rhythms, known as chronotypes, which influence their energy levels and cognitive abilities at different times of the day. Some people are naturally more alert and productive in the morning (larks), while others tend to perform better in the evening (owls).

Do you know your chronotype?

Knowing your chronotype can help you structure your productivity rituals in a way that is most effective for you.

Psychology research has also shown that habits and routines play a significant role in shaping behavior and performance. So here's a simple way to craft yours.

  1. Understand Your Peak Performance Times: Recognize when you feel most alert, focused, and energized throughout the day to schedule high-priority tasks during these periods.
  2. Design Morning and Evening Routines: Tailor routines that cater to your unique needs, incorporating activities like exercise, meditation, planning, or reflection based on what energizes or relaxes you.
  3. Experiment and Iterate: Be open to experimenting with different activities and timings to find what works best for you. Continuously adjust your ritual as your needs and circumstances evolve.
  4. Set Intentions and Goals: Start your day with clear intentions and goals, aligning your routine with tasks that move you closer to your objectives.
  5. Balance Consistency and Flexibility: While consistency is valuable, allow flexibility to adapt your ritual to accommodate unexpected events or changing priorities.

8) Take frequent breaks

A common misconception is that working constantly leads to a higher level of productivity, but scientific research suggests otherwise. Taking regular breaks has been shown to be more optimal for both performance and overall well-being.

Psychology and neuroscience studies reveal that the human brain has a limited capacity for sustained focus and attention. Continuous work without breaks can lead to mental fatigue, decreased motivation, and diminished cognitive abilities.

The "ultradian rhythm" phenomenon suggests that our bodies operate in cycles of high productivity followed by periods of fatigue. Research shows that taking short, strategic breaks helps reset this rhythm, which leads to increased focus, creativity, and productivity.

Moreover, studies conducted by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign demonstrate that brief breaks can significantly improve mental agility and overall performance.

Regular breaks have been linked to better problem-solving skills and increased task engagement. Therefore, taking regular breaks is an effective way to improve work performance and well-being.

Experiment with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a widely recognized and effective productivity method that enables individuals to structure their work into focused intervals of 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute rest period.

This technique is an excellent way to increase concentration, boost productivity, and maintain energy levels throughout the day. By breaking down work into manageable intervals, the Pomodoro Technique can help you stay motivated and focused, thereby enhancing the quality of work output and reducing stress levels.

And what do you do during these breaks? Go back to productivity tip #1 and find simple activities that will starve your brain of dopamine and allow it to refresh and reset.

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9) Get enough sleep

Obtaining enough sleep is a fundamental pillar of being productive and maintaining overall well-being. And yet, it's becoming a luxury that very few enjoy (especially for those working in VC firms). Scientific research consistently highlights the critical role of sleep in cognitive function, productivity, decision-making, and physical health.

Studies in sleep science underscore that sleep is vital for memory consolidation, learning, and overall brain function. Sufficient sleep duration and quality are associated with improved attention, concentration, and problem-solving abilities.

Research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine emphasizes the correlation between sleep and workplace productivity.

Employees who reported better sleep quality and duration exhibited higher productivity, fewer errors, and improved performance. This association suggests that sleep is not only crucial for individual health but also for overall organizational productivity.

Moreover, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for most adults to maintain optimal health and performance. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, has been linked to reduced alertness, increased stress, impaired decision-making, and a higher risk of accidents.

We understand that getting a consistent nine-hour sleep can be a difficult task, but the key is not just the quantity of sleep but the quality of sleep. To achieve better sleep quality, it is crucial to focus on winding down with a relaxing evening ritual, as discussed in productivity tip #7.

In addition, paying attention to the sleep environment, such as keeping the room cool and quiet, is also essential. Furthermore, setting a strict deadline for screen time can help avoid the negative impact of electronic devices on our sleep. If you are looking for more helpful tips, Arianna Huffington, a sleep ambassador, shares some valuable insights in her TedTalk, which we highly recommend watching.

10) Build REST time into your schedule

Beyond sleep, incorporating rest time into a busy schedule is an essential practice that can enhance productivity, cognitive function, and overall well-being.

Studies in psychology and neuroscience emphasize the benefits of rest for cognitive restoration and creativity. For instance, research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience suggests that rest periods, which include activities like daydreaming, mind-wandering, or simply doing nothing, allow the brain to process information, consolidate memories, and generate creative ideas.

Moreover, the concept of deliberate rest, as advocated by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his book "Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less," emphasizes the importance of balancing work with periods of deliberate relaxation. This practice allows individuals to recharge their mental batteries, increasing productivity during focused work sessions.

Scientific evidence also supports the importance of intermittent daily breaks in contributing to sustained productivity and well-being. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that brief, intentional breaks during the workday were associated with higher job satisfaction and reduced employee fatigue.

Making it a regular practice to engage in activities that promote relaxation and mental restoration, such as meditation, deep breathing, or mindfulness exercises, is an easy way to rest. You can take short walks outside or spend time in nature during breaks. Create time over the weekend when you can give your mind time to just be. Intentionally practicing rest will work wonders for you.

11) Move your body

Regular physical activity is a powerful strategy for improving productivity. Exercise stimulates the production of neurotransmitters, which enhance mood, reduce stress, and improve cognitive abilities. It also increases blood flow to the brain, promoting better concentration and memory. Regular physical activity positively influences workplace productivity and personal well-being.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Implementing regular physical activity involves finding enjoyable activities, incorporating movement throughout the day, scheduling exercise sessions, and mixing up your routine.

Making time for movement in your daily routine enhances physical health and boosts cognitive function, energy levels, and mental resilience, ultimately contributing to heightened productivity and success in various aspects of life.

12) Leverage technology

Using technology to automate tasks streamlines processes, enhances productivity, and enables individuals in leadership positions to focus on more critical responsibilities. Automating routine activities allocates energy towards more impactful initiatives. Studies highlight the positive impact of technology adoption on organizational performance.

For instance as head of platform, automating vendor management processes using specialized software or platforms can significantly reduce manual intervention and streamline interactions with suppliers. This automation can include tasks such as order processing, inventory management, or communication, freeing up valuable time for you as head of the platform to concentrate on strategic planning, innovation, or relationship-building with key stakeholders.

To implement technology for task automation, identify repetitive tasks, select appropriate tools, integrate and train, and continuously improve. Embracing technology as a productivity enabler is vital in today's fast-paced business landscape.

Conclusion

To be productive, we must be intentional with our efforts, aligning our actions with our values, and prioritizing what is important. Productivity is not only about completing more tasks in less time but also about optimizing our actions while taking care of our well-being. We should shift our focus towards intentional rest, personalized routines, and the strategic use of tools.

We need to adopt a holistic approach that takes into account our unique needs, personality, and circumstances. By doing so, we can create a meaningful impact in our personal and professional lives while also evolving, adapting, and thriving.

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