I get asked regularly how I manage my time, how I move from project to project, and how I create a work-life balance while maintaining high goals for productivity. There are a few simple habits I have adopted over time that can benefit anyone.
Start with a routine
When you follow a set routine, you don’t waste time thinking about what to do next; you know. For me, routine includes starting the day with an hour or more of yoga, meditation, journaling, or cardio exercise. It’s how I ensure I am energized and that my mind is clear before the day begins. There is a book called the The Miracle Morning that I found very inspiring and that I highly recommend.
Routine also means scheduling – everything. You may have heard an expression similar to “if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.” There are many variations on this, but its essence is the same and for me, it holds very true. This means that I schedule my day into blocks of time focused on specific projects as needed. If it is a task I am familiar with and I can predict accurately how long it will take, it may be a short block. If it is a new task, the block might be longer. What is important is to set goals or deliverables for each time block and then work towards that.
Another part of my routine is a quick nap after lunch. It shouldn’t be long – no more than 15 or perhaps 20 minutes. That little bit of rest, of closing your eyes even if you don’t sleep, can be refreshing and allow you to better focus through the afternoon.
In order to effectively set these blocks of time and the deliverables that are allocated, it is important to know yourself. I, for instance, am better able to handle creative or challenging tasks in the morning. This means repetitive or routine tasks get allocated to the afternoon. Setting a deadline can also be a way to force focus and give yourself an extra burst of effort in the evening, perhaps once you’ve had some time with family and to regroup.
Speaking of family – don’t forget them
Just as you schedule work time, you should build family time into your schedule. For me, I rarely work on weekends, preferring to use that time to turn off my phone, disconnect and to focus on my family. It makes every weekend a bit like a holiday, ensures I get quality focused time with them, and is very rejuvenating. Perhaps for you everything shuts off at 6pm, or between 4pm and 7pm. Whatever makes sense for you, build it in.
Multitasking is a fallacy
There are some who say there is no such thing as multitasking, that your brain simply switches from one task to another. There are others I know who claim to be quite adept at multitasking. While this may be the case, I wonder how much more effective they would be if they focused instead on one goal, one project, at a time.
For me, it is important to focus on the job at hand. I believe so strongly in this that I turn off email notifications on my phone when I am working and avoid reading emails except once a day. To ensure my clients understand, I have an explanation of this as part of my signature line. That way, if I don’t reply right away, they know why. You can even set an automatic response for your emails so clients get a direct message that acknowledges receipt of their communication and explains that you will be in touch at a later time.
So that I am not completely inaccessible or missing out on urgent matters, I do allow text messages and phone call notifications. However, everyone understands that these are to be used only for urgent matters, and they respect that.
An environment for focus
It helps as well to create an environment that will nurture and encourage focus. I could not do without my noise-cancelling headset. It enables me to cut out the distractions of the office or of whatever is happening outside my window. I also use an application called focus@will, and there is another similar option called Noisli that offers a variety of music and themed sounds designed to help increase focus. I find the app particular useful when I am tackling something very challenging, or when I need inspiration to get through a task I am not particularly fond of.
Understand the mind jump
No matter how well you set yourself up, there will be times that you experience a mind jump. This is a moment when you think you are focused on the task at hand but then something else pops into your mind. The reason may be that you are working at a task you don’t like and your mind is looking for a distraction. It may be that you have come up against a significant challenge. Whichever the cause, understanding the reason behind it can help you get through.
If, for instance, I am just doing something I don’t enjoy, I will push through. If I come to understand that what is before me is more challenging than expected, I will use focus@will to get back on track. Sometimes, I understand that I am spinning my wheels and that a brain break may be needed so I’ll take it, but only after I have achieved a minor goal. For me, walking away in the middle of something can mean extra effort to get back on task when I return.
And if whatever it was that popped into my mind was important, I’ll write it down to come back to later. Another great read is the book Getting Things Done. Many of these concepts, and others, are explored here.
Working efficiently has many different components. The first are your tools. I can say, without any brand preference, that I find a Mac to be 30% to 50% more efficient than a PC. There are just some functionalities built into the Mac that I have not found anywhere else.
Another part of working efficiently is understanding what and when to delegate. We live in a brand-new world, a world in which we have access to experts all over the globe that can achieve tasks faster than we can, and who, in doing so, free us up to pursue work that meets our own expertise. Yes, it may cost a bit for me to find someone to solve a technical issue I cannot resolve, but if they can do it in a fraction of the time I would waste, it is worthwhile. I have a very valuable virtual assistant who handles much of what doesn’t require my expertise and a writer who saves me the half day I used to spend writing my blogs, condensing it to a half-hour interview from which what you are reading now was derived.
There is no one trick to working more productively, no secret, no easy button. There are however, a number of habits that you can implement, one at a time, to improve how effectively you spend your time.
Are there any tips you have for being more productive? Share your advice below.