By Aleks Sasin
“I’m working flat out, but my to-do list only keeps growing.”
“I’ve been super busy all day, but I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything.”
“I am always running behind.”
If this sounds like you, keep reading. This short article won’t immediately solve all your problems, but it might help you spot some easy fixes and inspire you to take action.
We all have the same amount of time. 24 hours each day. 168 hours every week. Here are some ways to help you use this time more effectively.
1. Stop multitasking
Trying to do more than one thing simultaneously is ineffective and bad for your brain. Instead, practice mono-tasking or simply intentionally focusing on just one thing.
Try it. Set a timer for 25 minutes and see how long you can stay focussed on just one task – no checking emails, no scrolling through Twitter or LinkedIn, no picking up your phone, no cheating. It’s harder than it sounds, right? The world we live in means we’ve lost our ability to concentrate for long periods of time, but the good news is that, with repeated practice, you can learn to focus more deeply and for longer. And it is in those deep focus sessions that we do our best work; that’s what being “in the zone” or “in the flow” is all about.
2. Eliminate the noise
Create an environment that promotes the flow or, as Cal Newport calls it, deep work.
Turn off email notifications and put your phone in focus (or airplane) mode. If you mindlessly drift towards social media sites or check the news every few minutes, know that we’ve all been there; your brain is simply trying to protect you from the pain of doing something hard.
If you’re fighting a losing battle against self-discipline, consider apps like Freedom or Cold Turkey that block distracting websites during the hours of your choice, leaving you more time for what really matters.
3. Have a system
Most of us love a good to-do list. (Some even treat their inbox as one, but let’s leave all the reasons why this is a bad idea and a real productivity killer for another day…)
Having a place where you can keep all professional and personal to-do’s, including stuff you want to do next week, next month or simply someday, is crucial to freeing up your brain to concentrate on the important stuff.
A list is a starting point, but simply working down your list each day rarely results in a focused and productive day. Rather than tackle the big and important tasks (deep work) that will move our lives forward, we are more than likely to do all the unimportant little things (shallow work) because who doesn’t like the feeling of crossing things off the list!
Instead, have a system you can fully trust that allows you to capture everything you need to do, organise it and then action it in a methodical way. No balls get dropped; everything gets done.
And in case you’re wondering, you really don’t need fancy apps, complicated spreadsheets or expensive software - the more intricate the system, the more likely you are to give up once the novelty wears off.
4. Give time-blocking a go
Once you have a system in place, block time each day for specific tasks (or batches of similar tasks such as answering emails or making calls) and then practice mono-tasking during these specific time blocks.
This allows you to build in meaningful chunks of time each day for intentional work on your MITs (or most important tasks) rather than spending time firefighting and not really achieving much. It also prevents context switching (or jumping between tasks), which destroys focus and productivity.
This is what time blocking looks like in practice.
Image source: lifehack.org
Sounds simple, but you will be surprised how much you initially underestimate the time needed to get something done (all those “10-minute jobs” suddenly take much longer). But, if you stick with it, you will get so much more done in less time.
5. Make what you do away from your desk count
We all know this, but it’s easy to forget the basics when things get busy at work.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep (if you’re not convinced, then Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep is a must-read).
Build in time for physical activity. If running or lifting weights isn’t for you, walking is great for body and mind (and extra thinking time), while meditation could help increase concentration.
Stay hydrated – your brain will work better.
6. Ask if you are the best person for the job
If you have tried it all and are still constantly busy but not hitting your goals, can you delegate or outsource any work to allow you to focus on the stuff where you add the most value?
Can you hire a virtual assistant to screen your calls and deal with your inbox? Could a good copywriter help with client communications and content creation? If managing people is not your thing or your current team is already at full capacity, could an outsourced administration or paraplanning service alleviate some of the pressure?
Help is out there. Apart from being mad about productivity, we’re also really good at paraplanning. If you want to find out whether outsourcing is the right solution for your business, drop us an email at email@example.com or book an online meeting with us here.
And now for a little bonus…
I could talk and write about productivity all day, but it wouldn’t be a very efficient use of your time or mine. Instead, here’s a handy reading list to help you explore this topic in more depth. If you find anything particularly helpful or have other recommendations, I’d love to hear from you.
1. Deep Work by Cal Newport
2. Getting Things Done by David Allen
3. The One Thing by Gary Keller
4. Indistractable by Nir Eyal
5. A World Without Email by Cal Newport
6. Atomic Habits by James Clear
7. Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
8. The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
9. How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott
10. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
11. Essentialism - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
12. Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey