How To Get More From Your Working Day

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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.

Are We Working Harder?

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One of the questions that we ask ourselves at WorkGuru is whether as a nation we are working harder than ever before. Our very first blog asked the questions “Has Work Become Harder or Have We Become Softer?” We argued that changes to the way we are working; flatter more agile organisations and a greater use of technology, meant that the workplace had become more fluid and that we were having to take more responsibility for our own training and professional development. The pressure of work had intensified.

A report published last week by CIPD asks the same question: “Are We Working Harder Than Ever?” They conclude that whilst we have a sense that work is becoming more intense with greater workloads and pressures to meet deadlines, customer demands and performance targets, our working hours are not becoming longer.

The average number of hours that we work has been falling for decades. In 1997 26% of us worked over a 45-hour week, in 2013 this was under 20%.

Whilst on average we may not be working longer hours, this doesn’t detract from the fact that our working lives have become more intense. In 2012 45% of us agreed with the statement “my job requires that I work very hard”. That is an increase from 32% in 1992. 41% of us feel under excessive pressure at work at least once or twice a week, with 13% saying that they were under excessive pressure every single working day.

One explanation for this put forward by the CIPD is the impact of the recession. Employees that feel under pressure on a regular basis are more likely to be concerned about their job security and more likely to be working in a workplace where the recession has led to cuts in jobs, pay or other benefits.

Another explanation might be the context in which we are now living. Our lives in general have become more complex, with greater demands made upon us leaving us with a depleted energy to tackle a demanding job.

Whatever the explanation, clearly more of us are experiencing work as being more demanding with excessive pressure and increased intensity which is definitely not good for our mental and physical health.

Victims of Exploitative Employers or Masters of Our Own Destiny?

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One of the puzzles of the technological age is why technology has not allowed us to work less. Instead it has allowed work to encroach on our “home” time, reinforcing a culture where it is expected that we are contactable 24 hours a day.

France and Sweden are just two countries using employment law and public sector policy to try and police our working week.

New labour laws in France, now make it illegal for workers in the digital and consultancy sectors – including the French offices of Google, Facebook, Deloitte, and PwC – to respond to work emails after 6pm. In Sweden, Gothenburg city council is trialling a 30 hour week for their municipal workers, whilst keeping them on full pay.

I am torn by this. On the one hand I absolutely recognise the oppressive and demanding cultures that some organisations have allowed to ferment, which mean that employees that want to survive and progress are required to put in exceptionally long hours, regularly working through the evenings and weekends.

But on the other hand, do we really need the strong arm of the law to dictate to us the length of our working day? Do we need to be protected from ruthless, exploitative employers?

One of the dangers of using the law is that it implies that we are victims; that we are incapable of negotiating a working week that works for us. It also implies that there should be a strict demarcation between work and the rest of our life – a polarity that I am not comfortable with.

I am fortunate enough to love my job and I have full control over the hours that I work. I don’t have a young family, and I directly benefit from the result of my labour. I have the control to meld my work and my home life. Ring my mobile during working hours, and I could be walking my dogs, or in the supermarket. Saturday morning? I am in my office writing my blog. This is how I chose to manage my life; I don’t feel the need to separate out work from life.

More and more of us are making informed decisions about how we chose to manage our working lives. We can chose to put lifestyle ahead of economic gain or career advancement. We are making decisions about our careers based on where we are in our life: are we young, full of energy and ambitious, do we have a young family or dependent parents, are we hankering for less responsibility and a shorter commute?

We are making decisions to downsize our lives and embrace a more frugal existence so that we can get a better balance, or we are choosing to work for organisations that pay less but reflect the values that we think are important.

Do we really need the law to dictate to us how we manage our working lives or should we be supporting people to make more informed decisions about how they manage their work and life and recognising that they do have choices, they are not powerless victims of nasty exploitative employers?

Yes, we do need to make sure that we put in place protections so that organisations don’t chew up and spit out their workforce, but we also need to recognise that we are only ‘victims’ if we allow ourselves to be.

How To Make Better Use of Your Time

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As someone who failed to get her blog out last week, it seems appropriate that I write about making better use of your time. A reminder to me to stop procrastinating and to get on with it!!

We all have the same amount of time in our day; the difference between us is how much activity we cram into that time, and how we prioritise and manage what we do.

Here are my 8 top-tips for making better use of your time (I was planning on 10 top-tips but typically, I ran out of time).

1. Take control
Be conscious of the decisions that you make about how you use your time. You are not a victim of the vicissitudes of the 24-hour clock. Begin to take control. Learn about how you spend your time (try keeping a diary for 2 or 3 weeks detailing how every one of the 24 hours is spent). Look at each element of your life: love, work, leisure, health, family, friends, spirituality etc. Is the balance right for you (ignore other people’s ideas of work/life balance, what is important is that the balance is right for you)? If not, is that a temporary blip (an urgent project at work or short-term caring responsibility), or is it something more sustained? What can you stop doing, or start doing less of?

Mapping and understanding how you spend your time is the start of feeling that you have more control over it.

2. Create routines
Follow the example of Barack Obama and begin to pare down the number of decisions you make everyday. Create routines; put in your diary in advance when you are going to go to the gym, or when you are meeting friends or going to the cinema; get rid of the clothes that you never wear from your wardrobe, the less to choose from the easier it is to decide what to wear; plan your lunch and dinner menus in advance; create fixed times for housework; get up at the same time every morning. Creating routines helps to minimise procrastination and saves valuable mental energy.

3. Plan
Incorporate planning into your daily and weekly routines. Keep and up-date your to-do lists. Write a longer weekly (or fortnightly) list with priorities and timescales and then at the end of each day write on a post-it-note the actions you need to complete the next day. As each action is completed, cross them off your list.

4. Use your commute
If you commute to work use your time wisely. If you are driving maybe you can use it to catch up with the news, listen to some music you love, or listen to an audio book or podcast. If you are on public transport use the opportunity to catch up on some reading, or respond to emails.

If you work from home or have a very short commute, use the time you have saved to exercise, or do something you enjoy. Whatever you decide to do with your commuting time, plan it in advance and do something that you feel is worthwhile (remember, it doesn’t always have to be about work).

5. Make the most of your downtime
We all have a different sense of what a work/life balance is. It can depend on where we are in our career, or what life demands are being made of us. There is no right balance, just one that works for you. What is important however is that you make the most out of the time that you are not working. Turn-off your electronic work devices and focus on having some fun. Plan what you are going to do with your evenings and weekends – sitting in front of the TV can be great but make sure you are giving yourself time to do other things – and most importantly of all, make sure you are getting enough sleep.

6. Prioritise
Keeping a diary of how you are spending your time is an excellent way of identifying how much of your time is being taken up with urgent but not important tasks. Urgent tasks tend to be the tasks that we focus on because they demand our immediate attention, but they are not always the tasks that are most important. Ask yourself whether they really are urgent, and what would happen if you didn’t do them? Is it really a task that you have to do, or could someone else do it? Could the urgency of the task have been foreseen and would it have been possible to complete the task in a more routine way before it became urgent?

7. Learn to let go
For many of us, learning to let go is an important step to using our time more effectively. Letting go in the sense of learning to delegate; stopping ourselves from ruminating (“if only I had spent more time on that report it would have been so much better”); knowing when good enough is good enough; stopping doing some of the things in our over-crowded schedule and learning to say ‘no’.

All things within our control, but easier said than done.

8. Don’t multi task
Despite popular belief, it is not OK to multi-task. We all have a finite capacity for paying attention. The amount of attention we have is limited, so we cannot effectively focus on more than one thing at a time. Switching one from task to another causes us to expand extra effort, especially if we are under time pressure. Learn to focus on one thing at a time and to batch similar tasks together, saving on energy and keeping yourself focused.

Home Working or The Art Of Teleworking

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Home working can for some people be a means to balancing work and life commitments, a way for an employer to cut back on office costs, a preferred way of working, or a necessity born from self-employment. People work from home full time, part time, or on occasional days as a way of focusing on a particularly pressing pile of work.

Love it or loath it home working is growing. A survey by CBI/Harvey Nash found that in 2011 59% of employers offered teleworking as an option (up from 14% in 2006). But it is something that divides opinion. Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer in an internal memo sent in February 2013 ruled that staff could no longer work from home. She stated that:

“Some of the best decision and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

A study at a Chinese call centre concluded that home working lead to a 13% performance increase, increased job satisfaction and decreased turnover. After the study the participants were given the option of either continuing to work from home or returning to the office. 50% chose to return to the office.

Whatever your opinion is on teleworking the truth is that not every job, or every person is suitable for working from home. Here are some of our tips to make sure that homeworking works for you:

Create a great working space
If you are going to be working from home you need the space in which to do it. The space needs to be practical. This includes having a space that you can use which is away from your family, or the people that you share your home with. Home working doesn’t only impact on you, it impacts on the people that you share your life with. Is that space ergonomic – does it enable you to work comfortably and safely? Is there somewhere you can lock away expensive equipment or sensitive material?

If you are going to be working from home on a regular basis, carve out a space that works for you.

Get the technology
Working from home requires an adequate broadband and the technology to help you to do the job. This might not only include a computer and mobile phone (supplied by your employer and preferably for work use only), but the software to help you access shared networks and internal systems.

If your employer does not supply them, explore collaborative working tools such as Dropbox, Huddle, or Google Drive.

You might want to check that your employer’s insurance covers your work technology for home working.

Set your hours and keep to them
If your employer sets your hours then ensure you are available during those times. If your hours of work are more flexible set the hours that you are going to be working and let other people know when you will be available. Working more hours than you need to do does not make you more effective (just less focused), and working less hours than you are contracted for will be noticed by your employer.

Communicate
If you work from home several days a week or more then communicate, communicate, communicate. To counteract the argument that home working leads to a fragmented workforce make sure that you communicate with your colleagues and your clients. Use opportunities to meet and interact with them. Not just virtually, but in the flesh. Don’t allow yourself to become an invisible cog in the corporate wheel.

Learn to self-motivate
Read our blog on the art of self-motivation. In the blog we talk about creating routines and to-do lists, the need to keep positive and to minimise distractions.

Put your commute to good use
On the days that you are working from home your commute is likely to consist at its furthest you falling out of bed and staggering down the stairs. Calculate how much time you are saving by not having to travel to the office and put that time to good use. Think about a daily meditation practice, taking the time to exercise, or to make homemade dinners. Anything that appeals to you and that contributes to your health and wellbeing.

Keep home life and working life separate
And finally, separate your home life from your working life. Just because you are working from home does not mean that you need to be spending 24 hours a day 7 days a week thinking about work. Make sure that the paraphernalia of working life can be hidden away when you are not working, ensure that your work email and telephone are different to your personal ones. If you get work posted to you arrange for it to be kept at work when you are on leave so that you don’t have a constant reminder of work dropping through you front door.

It is equally important to ensure that you home life does not impact on your work. Let your friends know that just because you are at home it does not mean that you are available for impromptu coffee and a chat. Make sure that you don’t try and complete house hold chores during working hours, they really will distract you. And if you have conference calls or telephone calls booked in hang up a sign on your front door telling people that you will not be available to answer the door and politely requesting that they don’t ring the bell.

Home working can result in a more productive, engaged workforce. But it isn’t for everyone. Spend time thinking through the consequences of home working before you start, and ensure that you have a physical and mental space carved out to help you to be as effective and focused as possible.