Yet again, you’re working until midnight. You check your to-do list and feel defeated. In spite of your Herculean efforts, you’ve made virtually no progress. It’s enough to make you want to eat you cry.
Productivity tips are two a penny. Some even contradict each other. The thing to do is to look at those people who are highly productive, and try to find out how they manage their time. Looking into studies about increasing productivity helps, too.
And so here are seven extremely effective suggestions: accumulated insights from highly successful people and studies on productivity which will help you get more done in the day - and have you sleeping like a baby by 9pm.
#1 Plan your day backwards
What time do you want to finish work? 5.30pm? 6pm? Whichever it is, start there and work backwards. This may mean you have to suddenly become hard to reach; you may have to cull obligations; you’ll need to eliminate non-important tasks and probably turn people down. Being so ruthlessly structured about your day forces you to be strategic about how you use your time. This approach will also give you a feeling of being in control, which has been confirmed in scientific studies as the key to alleviating to stress.
#2 Diarise everything
To-do lists are … to- do lists. Until you assign an item on that list to your calendar and allocate a time period to it, it will remain an item on your to-do list. By scheduling the item you’ll have no choice but to confront the reality of how long various tasks will take.
#3 Be strategic with email
Email is the villain of this piece. A 2012 McKinsey Global Institute study reports that knowledge workers spend 28 percent of their time trawling through their inboxes. Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek recommends avoiding email in the morning. Ferris also suggests setting up a “strategic autoresponder” and checking your email no more than three times a day.
#4 Have a ‘zero-tolerance’ of distractions
As Jason Fried asserts in his TED talk, work is a constant stream of interruptions. Rarely do people regard the office as the place where their ‘real work’ gets done. So find a place where you can get long stretches of interrupted time to do your work. In her LinkedIn post, Professor Sune Carlsson recommends “working from home an hour and a half each morning before coming to work.”
#5 Do your most important work early in the morning
Studies have found that between 9am and 11am, the brain still has moderate levels of cortisol which will help your mind to focus. Another good time to tackle tough tasks is between 11am and 2pm. This is because levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone, have fallen by this time, so you’re more mentally alert and ready to take on challenges (Source: CBS local)
#6 Apply the Pareto principle to your work
Everything is not equally important, so do fewer things and do them well. According to the Pareto principle, 80% of our results comes from 20% of the work we do. To apply this principle, it’s worth asking yourself the following questions:
- Which handful of activities are critical to my success?
- Which activities hinder my productivity?
Then rearrange your schedule so you do more of the first point and less of the second.
#7 Plan your entire week
Live for today but plan for the week. This needn’t take long: all you need is an hour on a Monday morning to map out the rest of your week. Innumerable studies have shown that productivity is enhanced by planning. Reflect on which tasks are best done on each day of the week and diarise them. This doesn’t have to be an exact science, of course, but at least it’s a plan.
Most of us feel that we’re working constantly with little time for anything else. But how much of that is due to our difficulty in managing the time that we have effectively? If you follow all of the above tips, my guess is that you’ll ‘discover’ more time, so you’ll be less stressed and able to get more done.
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