The lines are blurring between work and home life, everybody is expected to do more with less - yes, there are just not enough hours in the day!
But for many people just simply adhering to some basic daily rules and structure can pay dividends.
We look at some practical tips for not only gaining control - but making major improvements in your productivity as well as reducing your stress levels.
1/ Don’t be a busy fool - Set and define goals
It is so easy to get ‘down into the weeds’ where your time will disappear with potentially little return. Learn to frequently ‘helicopter up’ to look at the bigger picture and consider how and what you are doing will contribute to your overall goals.
Prioritization is also important here, you need to learn to work on the high-priority tasks that flow into your goals. If particular a task doesn’t support one of your goals – why are you thinking of doing it?
2/ Become a ‘list’ person - Create a “to-do” list
A great way to manage your work is to create a to-do list. This not only gives you focus on what you need to do, but is also a great stress reliever and a good way to declutter your mind. Each morning, create a list of the key tasks you need to focus on.
At the end of the day (or the following morning), review and update to keep a rolling log of activity. Keeping track of tasks to do and those completed by way of a simple list (yes - on paper is fine!) helps focus both what is to do and also gives a good sense of satisfaction of what has been achieved, which also helps personal motivation.
3/ The Pareto rule - Work out what’s important
You will know the Pareto or ‘80/20’ rule, where 80% of what you do only contributes to 20% of your success, whereas 20% influences 80% of your success. Bear this in mind when planning your work.
Yes, you cannot ignore some of the smaller ‘hygiene tasks but they may not move you towards your goals so maintain a balance and don’t let them suck up your time disproportionately.
4/ Break it down - Schedule the big tasks into baby steps
The larger items in your to-do list and plan can sometimes appear overwhelming. To avoid this, simply break down each larger task into smaller ‘baby’ ones. These tasks can make Project Managers procrastinate and waste their time.
To tackle this, successful Project Managers schedule set time into their calendar to work on specific tasks. This could be, for example, building a business case, creating a plan or writing an update paper. Whatever the task, by allocating specific time into your diary, you will become more productive.
You can take this a step further by scheduling the work into the times when you’re most focused and most on your game. This habit will help you because you will then tackle the hardest work when you’re at your most energized and most active.
5/ Don’t let perfect get in the way of good - learn to know what’s good enough
Nobody is perfect, you are not perfect and you probably don’t have the budget, skills and resources to make it perfect all the time. ‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of good’ and ‘better done than perfect’ are great phrases to keep in mind.
You should learn to realize when your work is good enough. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be a perfectionist but you do still need to deliver great work, but obsessing on delivering excessive-quality could be classified as wasted effort. You need to get the balance right by always aiming to deliver good enough.
6/ Stay focused - don’t be a butterfly
Email, messenger, What’s app, the notifications on your devices are a ‘symphony of distraction’, which need to be ignored. Don’t be like a butterfly and flit between each one, constantly checking and being distracted by the latest ‘ping’.
Many people start the day by checking and actioning emails but don’t get drawn in. Get into a routine of checking at specific times of the day, say first thing, lunchtime, mid-afternoon and end of the day. Sticking rigorously to this will mean that when you’re doing emails – you can give them your full attention. When you’re not doing emails, you won’t be distracted every two minutes.
7/ You can’t please everyone - Just say ‘NO’
You have limited bandwidth right? A lot of us want to please others, (especially our bosses) but you will just have to learn not to say yes to every request. It is unreasonable for others just to add more and more tasks, jobs and favours to your to-do list. Don’t forget they will not have a view of your full work schedule and will not know the existing demands on you. Saying no should not make you feel guilty and you should learn that others will not be offended, and yes, you just might have to get a little more thick-skinned.
8/ Don’t accept every meeting
It is easy to let each day be filled from start to finish with meetings. But before you click ‘accept’ just pause a moment. Why are you being invited? Do you really need to attend? Could somebody else attend on your behalf? Do both of you from the same department need to attend? If it’s knowledge transfer, could it be videoed and you watch it later?
If you ask these questions before you accept - you might be surprised how much of your precious time is freed up!
9/ Don’t procrastinate - Don’t fear failure
Procrastination delays things and can contribute to stress. Don’t rush into decisions and actions, but also be mindful not to procrastinate for too long before making a decision and getting on with it. As mentioned elsewhere in this article - you will never get perfect information and learning to judge the correct call will quickly come with practice. What’s the worst that can happen?
Every great business person and leader has made plenty of mistakes (including your boss!) and mistakes are part of learning. Try, fail and learn is part of anyone’s experience that makes them better.
10/ Pick your moment
Schedule the time for any certain tasks when you think you are at your best to do it. If it is a tricky task you are nervous about, perhaps schedule it in for first thing in the morning - when you are at your best.
This might make you feel it is out of the way and you can focus more clearly for the rest of the day. Or perhaps you might be better at 10 am, where you are less distracted as you have cleared your in-tray. Thinking about when you are at your best to handle certain tasks is a good technique to master for better performance.
11/ Schedule time for yourself
Learn to book meetings with yourself (and only yourself!). This not only blocks out your calendar so you can’t be invited to other meetings but allows you to determine which tasks are a priority and schedules some ‘quality’ uninterrupted time for you to focus to address the task.
12/ Improve productivity - Take breaks
The macho days of bragging how busy you are and working right through with no breaks for coffee or lunch are gone. Many studies have shown that taking breaks is good for both physical and mental health and is a positive influence on productivity and well-being.
How to keep your workload management hacks alive
Once you have decided how you will keep on top of your workload, you need to cement these working practices into your routine.
One of the common challenges people experience is how to maintain their personal productivity over time. Often, the good principles can be forgotten or can deteriorate, particularly when they are faced with high-pressure situations or moments.
Why don’t you use this checklist and diarize a review with yourself in a month’s time? This is a good reminder and you can also see if you have been abiding by the principles and if they have helped.
If not, it is a good reminder to try again!
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