Employees usually continue their professional development by attending seminars, reading books and registering for various courses, but does all this really help them to advance in their careers? Dr Vytautas Ašeris, Partnership Professor of Vilnius University’s (VU) Faculty of Mathematics, who has been observing employees for a decade now in his role as manager at one of the divisions of Danske Bank in Lithuania, agrees that theoretical knowledge is very important, but there is no point in investing in it if you are not personally effective.
What are the main principles of effectiveness that can help you work less and achieve more? How do you learn to adhere to them? What positive changes can effectiveness bring not only in your professional but also in your personal life? Dr Ašeris answers these questions in the latest podcast of Science without Preaching.
A tidy mailbox will help you to work more effectively
Today, the VU Partnership Professor applies various effectiveness practices in his daily life, but he remembers that a few years ago he was often short of time. So, the theme of effectiveness was prompted by life itself rather than inspired by a book or a film. Dr Ašeris is no longer short of time, instead people around him remark that he is now a real effectiveness fanatic.
“Sometimes colleagues say to me: ‘Vytautas, aren’t you overdoing it with the effectiveness?’ As a manager, I have recruited and worked with a lot of employees, so I can see who is doing better and who is doing a little less well. One of the things I have noticed is that employees often focus on improving professional skills. However, the ratio of conversion of theoretical knowledge into practical application at work is quite low. Gradually, I came to realize that while knowledge is a very important component, it is not worth pouring a lot of water into the glass if it is empty where the glass means effectiveness,” Ašeris shared.
But how should the glass be filled? In other words how can you become more effective? According to Ašeris, one of the practices that employees can use in their daily lives is the so-called Inbox Zero approach. The principle is to keep as few unread emails in the business mailbox as possible.
“If at the end of my workday, I see that someone is asking something, I either reply or note that I have to do something, for example, in my calendar and I move the email to the “executed” folder. This is a simple approach, but only some professionals practice it. Ašeris added that at present there are as many as 50 different folders in his mailbox, to which he distributes all the emails he receives.
Although some experts claim that incoming mail should be ranked according to importance for greater effectiveness, Ašeris points out that you only need a system like that if you receive a very large number of emails every day. However, if an employee answers 50 emails on average each day, they can maintain order in their mailbox by applying the Inbox Zero approach, which often inspires you to tidy up not only your digital, but also your physical working environment.
Advice not to go to extremes
While some professionals may benefit from this effectiveness practice, we should not forget that the labour market is made up of a wide range of professions. For example, some people do not use email at work. How can they increase their effectiveness? Ašeris advises that you also need to pay attention to your physical health, which is strongly influenced by sleep and nutrition.
“It does not matter whether we work with a computer or do semi-physical work, we all need sleep. You need to have good quality sleep as this is the basis for effectiveness. To have a good sleep, you need to look at your routine before bedtime. What time do you eat your last meal? What time do you drink your last drink? How do you start your morning? With your phone in your hand or a glass of water?” the expert lists small but significant habits that affect the quality of our sleep.
Ašeris also reminds us to keep in mind a balanced diet but encourages us not to go to various extremes. For example, don’t go on strict diets that cause a huge stress to the body or don’t rush to eliminate gluten from your diet just because it causes unpleasant sensations for some people.
“How to balance nutrition without big shocks? In my diet, balance appeared 3 or 4 years ago, when I heard the term a ‘T-shaped plate’. We draw a large letter T letter on the plate, thus dividing the plate into three sections. Most of the time, or 50% of the plate, must consist of vegetables, preferably green, but other colours too. A quarter of the plate is for meat, fish and similar food, and the last quarter is for potatoes, rice and pasta,” Ašeris said about the principles of his personal nutrition.
To be happier, people adhere to the dopamine diet
The ability to relax properly is another important component of effectiveness. According to Ašeris, this can be achieved in a variety of ways: from simple meditation to floating therapy (isolation tank), which is rapidly gaining popularity both globally and in Lithuania. The isolation tank is when a person is in an enclosed bathtub. The water in the bathtub is saturated with salt allowing you to float. We all have five sensations and the flotation takes almost all of them away: you cannot see, hear, smell or taste anything, only touch remains,” he explained.
Some people test methods that are little known to the general public. For example, they attend family constellations (or systemic constellations) sessions. This is considered pseudo-science, but its supporters believe that our past has had an enormous impact on our present. In other words, we are responding to our past. Anything that happened in the family, especially when we were small, has been embedded in our personality. Family constellations offer ways to clarify certain important aspects of yourself,” Ašeris said.
Ašeris notes that hypnosis has lately been gaining popularity in Silicon Valley, but he is interested in the dopamine diet. How does it work? Let’s say that I am speaking to Simon on this podcast, but he is not smiling and avoids eye contact. I ask him what is going on and he answers that he is on the dopamine diet for the next two hours, so he cannot do anything that will make him happy, in other words, he cannot stimulate the production of dopamine in his body. Those who adhere to this diet believe that abstaining from dopamine for some time increases the production of dopamine for the rest of the day,” said Ašeris with a smile.
It is advisable to use smart devices to increase effectiveness
In order to achieve greater effectiveness, it is advisable to use not only a variety of practices, but also digital tools to help you plan your time better or to assess the level of stress that you experience on a daily basis. According to Ašeris, the latest devices usually monitor the workings of your heart, blood glucose and brain activity.
“What does the body experience when it is stressed? I’m sure some of you have heard of smart rings. They track not only how many times a minute your heart beats, but also how the beats differ. It tracks the heart rate variability (HRV). When we are relaxed, our heart beats differ from those when we experience stress – the heart rate is more evenly paced. What does this knowledge give us? Well, for example, it helped me to find out that when I read emails I feel very stressed,” Ašeris said.
The VU Partnership Professor advises us to look into special gadgets that allow normal glucose levels to be maintained in the blood. “Our body works well only when the level of glucose is within certain ranges. It cannot be either too low or too high. Sometimes this is very difficult to understand, especially on days when you don’t know whether you want to eat. If you see your glucose levels, you will understand that you must eat in the next 15 minutes or else you will be much less effective during the next two meetings,” the expert said.