I recently worked with a senior manager at a large company who reckoned he spent at most half his day being productive. I told him 50% was pretty good – for most the ‘corporate overhead’ could take up a massive 60% – 70% of the day. That’s just a third left for the thing that makes you excited – and for which you draw a salary.
Here’s the list I provided him with, of how to boost your own productivity and concentrate on the things you want or need to. The list is constantly changing asa result of my own experience. My advice – try each one once, but utterly and completely, and you’ll see if it’s worth the effort to change your working style to implement it:
1. Use a task list – personally I use Wunderlist – to note what you have to do. Without one, you burn energy just remembering, or worse still not remembering. With one you can prioritise what you need to get done each day.
2. Then make sure each task is manageable at one sitting – ideally an hour or two, but never more than half a day. You wouldn’t expect a writer to have ‘write book’ on top of his to do list, so why do you think it’s acceptable to have ‘build website’ on yours? Chunk longer tasks so you can make progress in reasonable steps.
3. Refuse any meetings before 10am. Ever. Then start work at 8am. But don’t start with your inbox. Start with that document you have to write, or the thing that will really benefit from concentrated thought. If you have a truly unavoidable meeting at 9am, then block out two hours later that day.
4. Schedule meetings for 30 minutes. Most meetings seem to be scheduled for an hour, but that’s because people’s attention is flitting in and out. At the start of the half-hour meeting demand that no one looks at their smartphones, or pops out to take a call. Explain that the reason you’ve scheduled this for 30 minutes is to allow time for e-mails, time to consider the agenda etc, outside your 30 minutes.
5. Go to your inbox at pre-determined times each day. You know when those should be and how often. I am trying to do mine now in three stints each day – 11am; 1pm; 5pm. Then when you address your inbox, concentrate on it wholeheartedly. Don’t look through it once to see what’s urgent, then a second time to delete some spam, then a third time to start sifting for priority.
6. Use Twitter the same way. You cannot stay attached to the firehose all the time. So go in and ‘sample’ Twitter at certain times of day and then leave it alone for the rest.
7. Stop multi-tasking. Switching from one task to another kills productivity more than smoking a joint would.
8. Eliminate distractions. Particularly from the phone. I am always amazed at how easily people are prepared to allow their valuable concentration to be disrupted because someone calls / texts them.
9. Work in bursts of not more than two hours. Your brain uses up more energy than any other bodily activity. So after two hours take a break, have a snack or a cup of tea, go for a walk for five minutes.
10. Plan for leisure and family time too. If you have to work at weekends, make sure you get away from the family to concentrate on getting it done and then back to the people/things you love.