This year one of my goals is to re-establish a healthy balance between work and ‘down time’. In my efforts to do this I’m having to be hyper-aware of how I use my time. I want to make sure I’m as productive as possible during my working hours and avoid work creeping into time when I want to be doing other things.
I’m guessing that anyone who works from home will recognise this challenge, but whether you work from home or not, here are some techniques you can use to make sure your time is as productive as possible:
Get it out of your head and onto paper
It’s impossible to be focused when you’re overwhelmed with all the things you’ve got to do, and it’s even worse when everything is swimming around in your head. One way to combat this is to sit down at the beginning of each working day and make a list of all the things you need to do. If there are jobs that are urgent and have to be done today, highlight them and make sure they’re done first. If you don’t take control of your to-do list you’ll spend all your time being reactive rather than proactive and this is not a productive use of your time.
Set your priorities – daily
Once you’ve written your list try to categorise your tasks into no more than three key priorities. For example, one priority might be making phone calls, another might be writing reports, while a third could be preparing for an important meeting. Being clear about your priorities helps to focus the mind, keeps you on track and stops you from getting distracted. Of course there are bound to be interruptions: when these pop up, check in with yourself to see whether a) they have to be dealt with urgently and b) they will be supportive of one of your three key priorities. If yes, deal with them, if not postpone them.
Follow the 80 / 20 Rule
In his book The Four-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss outlines how he managed to radically boost his income while working for a fraction of the time. One of the ways he did this was to use the 80/20 Rule which states that 80% of results typically come from 20% of our effort and time. Ferriss scrutinised all aspects of his business, asking himself the following questions:
- Which 20% of sources are causing 80% of my problems and unhappiness?
- Which 20% of sources are resulting in 80% of my desired outcomes and happiness?
From this analysis he figured out that almost all his income was generated from a small proportion of his clients. Not only that, but there were a handful of clients who consistently caused problems and wasted his time and energy. As a result, he stopped focusing on the majority of clients who rarely placed orders, dropped the clients who were causing him problems and spent almost all his time and effort developing the clients who generated the most income. As a result his income doubled in the first month and his weekly hours dropped from 80 down to 15.
It sounds so simple doesn’t it? And it makes a lot of sense. Take a look at the things on your to-do list. Are you focusing on the 20% of activities that will reap rewards and bring you increased income and happiness or are they just time wasters? Are you using your time effectively or are you just ‘being busy’?
Keep a lid on time wasters
We all have certain activities which, if we’re not careful, can consume vast chunks of our valuable time. For me one of the chief culprits is checking email. It’s quite frightening how this seemingly simple task can end up taking so much longer than expected. To prevent this, give yourself a strict time limit for Time Wasting Tasks like email and phone calls. We work much more effectively when we know we have a deadline, so setting a timer on your phone or computer for, say 20 minutes (and knowing you only have 20 minutes to work on the task) will mean that you attack the task with considerably more focus and concentration. I guarantee that doing this one thing will stop you wasting time and will significantly increase your productivity.
And finally …
While it may seem counter-intuitive, don’t forget to schedule time for breaks as well. Taking regular, short breaks will significantly enhance your effectiveness.
It’s easy to be busy. It takes a lot more time, thought and planning to make sure you’re using your time effectively and productively.
Here’s to an extraordinarily productive week!