How To Get More From Your Working Day

clock
OK, so here is a $64,000 dollar question: how do you get more from your working day? Here are our WorkGuru Top Tips:

Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise
And when you have prioritised: delegate! The ‘trick’ to prioritising is learning to distinguish between your important and your urgent tasks. Important tasks contribute directly to your work goal, and usually have a long-term perspective. Urgent tasks usually demand urgent attention and tend to be dictated by someone else. They have a short-term perspective. Learn to delegate your urgent but not important tasks, and begin to focus on your important not urgent tasks. These are the tasks that will really help you to achieve your goals.

Learn To Say ‘No’
The bottom line is, that you can’t keep squeezing more and more into your day. Something has to give – and usually that something is you. Learn to say ‘no’, even to the things that you would really really love to do but you know that you just wouldn’t be able to do justice to. Saying ‘no’ to new stuff will help you focus and deliver on the things that you are already committed to.

Create Routines
Creating routines helps you to converse energy. Decision making depletes your energy, leaving you less able to focus on the things that are important. Creating routines enables you to cut back on the decisions that you make every day and provides you with the foundation from which to build your working day. Routines help you to be more consistent and effective.

Don’t Multi Task
We have said this before (and I am sure we will say it again) don’t multi task. We all have a finite capacity for paying attention. The amount of attention we have is limited, so we can not effectively focus on more than one thing at a time. Learn to focus on one thing at a time and to batch similar tasks together, saving on energy and keeping yourself focused.

Match Your Task To Your Energy
Another WorkGuru classic – learn to match your tasks to your energy levels. Our energy levels fluctuate during the day – and often during the week. Learn when you are at your most alert and use that time for complex or creative tasks. Learn when you are most depleted and use that time for routine tasks: answering emails or telephone calls. By routinising (I think we might have made that word up!) your tasks to your energy levels you can make the most out of your working day.

Self-Motivating – the art of getting things done

Many of us are lucky enough to be self-employed, in a creative role, or in a job that is self-determined. For us, the trick to being productive is self-motivation. Finding the enthusiasm, confidence, energy and creativity everyday to not only get our work done but to excel at what we do.

Here is our 10 Top Tips on self-motivation. All based on the WorkGuru team’s experience:

1. Create a great space to work in.
Wherever you work make sure it is a great space. Both practical and conducive to fabness. Research has shown the importance of views, windows and plants in the working environment. Natural light, views of nature and the presence of indoor plants are all shown to increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce stress.

Do you have the tools you need to do your job? Is your technology right? What about your physical space, does that work for you? Make sure that your workspace is ergonomic; that your chair supports you and that your computer screen is at the right height. If you use a laptop have you thought about plugging in a different keyboard and placing your laptop on a raised platform? Nothing can demotivate you faster then an uncomfortable working environment.

2. Create routines to allow the space to be productive.
We mentioned these next two in our last blog – they are so great we couldn’t miss them out. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you, create a routine to help it happen. If you have a self-determined role and your daily hours and routine is not set for you, set it for yourself. Set the times for when you are going to be at your desk, or in your workshop etc., let people know you are available at those times. Work does not get done unless you create the space for it to happen.

3. Align your tasks to your energy.
Our energy changes during the day and the week. Learn to align your work tasks with your energy levels. So for me my energy is more focused and creative in the morning. This is the time I set aside for writing or tackling complex problems. It is also the time I use for tasks I have been putting off – I am more determined and focused in the morning. My energy begins to wane after lunch so I might switch to more routine tasks at this time, answering email, completing paperwork, engaging with social media. I know that my energy picks up again in the early evening so I might take some timeout in the late afternoon to walk the dogs or take some exercise, knowing that early evening is always a good time for me to get some more work done and begin to plan for the next day.

4. Create a to-do lists
Create a to-do list. I tend to have 2, one for the week and one for the day. At the end of each working week or at the beginning of a new one write down the things you want/need to achieve for the week ahead. Prioritise them (either in order of importance or underline the ones that are most important/urgent). At the end of each day use your weekly to-do list to help you to create your to-do list for the next day. Write your daily list on a post-it note to stop it being too long. Make sure it is realistic, there is nothing more deflating then setting yourself up to fail, and give yourself the pleasure of crossing off the tasks you have completed.

5. Just start
Sometimes you have to stop thinking and just start doing. Faced with an impossible report or a new project you are struggling with? Just begin – start somewhere, anywhere, just start. By making a start you will begin to build up momentum and become more focused. In the words of American Novelist Barbara Kingsolver “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.”

6. Keep positive
Lots and lots of research shows the links between positive thinking and people who have higher mental wellbeing, less negative stress, better immune systems and achieve better outcomes. In his book Authentic Happiness, one of the founders of positive psychology Dr Martin Seligman even argues the positive thinking can provide you with an intellectual boost.

Positive thinking begins with understanding your thought processes. In WorkGuru we talk about automatic thoughts; how thoughts can stream into your mind one after the other, often in a negative spiral, and often involving habitual unhelpful thinking styles that we are unaware of, such as a tendency to over generalise, jump to conclusions or catastrophise. Being aware of these thought processes helps us to form more realistic, positive thinking patterns.

7. Visualise success
There are good reasons for doing this one. The first one is that we can learn new skills through the power of imagination alone! Research by Alvaro Pascual-Leone has shown that mental practice (imagining a new skill or behaviour) creates the same physical changes to the brain as physical practice. So never underestimate the power of your imagination.

The other reasons are possibly more mundane but still important. Visualising success keeps you focused and motivated and it also helps you to know when you have got there.

Here is a bit of a sad example, but boringly it is true. I am trying to lose weight at the moment, the way I keep myself motivated it to visualise myself being able to comfortably fit into my jeans, and I hold onto that image. It does 2 things for me it reminds me of why I am trying to achieve the change (I hate not being able to fit into my clothes) and it tells me when I am going to be successful (when the jeans fit). You can easily change this example to a work focused one. Maybe success for you is going to be when you get 10 orders through for your product a day. Close your eyes and think about what that would look like, how it would feel and what it would mean for you. Hold on to that vision. What are the things that you need to be doing to get closer to that success? When you begin to feel despairing or lose your focus use this vision to remember what it is all about.

8. Minimise distractions
We can all find lots of reasons to not start work. I remember when I was studying. My house was always at its cleanest when deadlines were approaching. Now the distractions for me tend to be linked to technology. Becoming distracted when using the Internet – commonly known as cyberloafing. Did you know recent research has shown that 60 – 80% of our time on the Internet at work is not work related. Other distractions include checking email (listening out for the sound as emails come in and then checking them just in case it is urgent), checking facebook and twitter, and responding to text messages.

Technology can be both the distractor and the rescuer. “contemplative computing” is a move towards turning our information technology into agents of serenity. “Zenware” is designed to block distractions. Examples include www.ommwriter.com, www.justgetflux.com, www.macfreedom.com (works on Mac and PC) or for 2 minutes of total relaxation try www.donothingfor2minutes.com.

The simplest solution of all though is to turn things of, and limit your access to them. Try checking your email just 2 or 3 times a day. Limit your social networking and encourage friends to contact you when you aren’t working (whoops sorry, got distracted by an email coming in – it’s all easier said then done).

9. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Some days and weeks you will be flying. You will feel energised, motivated and enthusiastic; but other days and weeks you wont. Keep the faith; believe in yourself. Your mojo will return.

10. Do other things: learn to switch off
Have you noticed how solutions can often come to you when you are thinking about something else? I have some of my best ideas when I am walking the dog, driving my car or cooking. You might not always be able to think of a solution during work hours, but by just letting it, unconsciously tick over in your mind, a solution can appear when you least expect it. I once woke up with the whole outline of an essay in my head – I even remembered it. Take the time to do things that you enjoy, take your mind off your work and most importantly learn to SWITCH OFF. Keep yourself motivated by keeping your work and life in balance.

Save energy, work more effectively and find time for things you love: Create routines

In my last blog I talked about the importance of prioritising where you focus your mental energy and the idea that mental energy is a finite resource. I think this is particularly true when you are making creative choices or complex decisions.

One way of preserving your mental energy is to create routines for everyday tasks.
Untitled

In 2012 author and journalist Michael Lewis spent six months with Barack Obama. In one interview he asks Obama: “Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me to be president.” Obama replies:

“You’ll […] need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia”.

Obama’s focus on creating routines for as much of his day as possible is reflected in research. Research by Baumeister et al (1998) looked at whether decision making does draw on a limited resource, akin to strength or energy and would therefore impact on the resources remaining for future decisions. They concluded:

“Acts of self-control, responsible decision making, and active choice seem to interfere with other such acts that follow soon after”(pp1263-4).

We can preserve our energy by creating routines. Begin by thinking about the things that you do everyday, eat, get dressed, walk the dog etc. where possible see if you can create a routine around these activities. Can you decide your weekly menu at the beginning of the week? Can you lay your clothes out the night before? Prepare your lunch in advance? Walk your dog on the same route at the same time as you do every working day?

Creating routines is not only a good way of preserving energy it can also help you to be more consistent and effective. In a book edited by Jocelyn K Glei the author writes “Don’t wait for inspiration; create a framework for it”. By creating routines in our working day we “set expectations about availability, align our workflow with out energy levels, and get our minds into a regular rhythm of creating”.

I know that my energy is stronger in the mornings. So my routine is to be at my desk by 8 am. The night before I would have created my to-do list for the day, in the morning I focus on creative of complex tasks. I try very hard not to answer emails first thing as this routine task takes away my focus from more important work. Later in the afternoon when I know my energy isn’t so good I focus on the more routine tasks such as, responding to emails, checking twitter, making telephone calls and clearing paperwork.

Authors often talk about the importance of routine. E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web) wrote: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper”. We can use a routine to create space for us to work (especially important for those of us that work from home or are in the creative industries). By sitting at our desk, or in our workshop etc. we give ourselves the time and discipline to be productive.

As well as using routines to preserve my energy, align my energy with my tasks, and create the space to be productive I also use routines to create time for the things that are important to me. If I know that ‘every Tuesday evening I go to yoga’ then I am more likely to prioritise the time. Decide on an activity you want to do and create a routine around it making it more likely that you will achieve it.