Do you get to the end of the day and wonder what it is you’ve actually achieved? Is your day full of interruptions? Are you struggling to step back and be the leader your care business needs you to be?

Or are you putting off key tasks because you feel daunted by them?

Whether you struggle with your time or are putting off important tasks here are some tips that will help you.

With all the interruptions and distractions of modern life, being productive is a challenge. If you read my last post you’ll know exactly why it’s so difficult to get things done and why it’s not actually our fault. We are hard wired to be easily distracted.

Having highlighted just how difficult it is to be productive and why, here are 7 things (in no particular order) that you can do straight away to get more done with your precious time.

 

     1.   Set a timer

A timer will help you focus your time and energy on the task ahead. Set a time in which you are going to stay focused on the job at hand. Around half an hour is a good time.

Once this time is up, take a 5 minute break (away from your desk) and then start another half-hour focused slot.

Research has shown that by breaking down large tasks into small, focused steps like this, you are less likely to be intimidated by the task because you only have to face the next step.

These intense, short bursts of focused attention will, over time, help us resist the temptation to check our emails or the notification our phone has just pinged us. (Put your phone on silent and in the drawer.)

In time you’ll also better estimate how much time a task will take because you’ll gain an insight as to how much you can achieve in one of these short timeslots. For example, I’ve learnt over time that writing and editing this blog post will probably take six focused timeslots.

You could decide to carry out three focused timeslots with 5 minute breaks after the first, and second and then take a 15 minute break after the third. You might want to do four focused sessions with a 20 minute break after the fourth.

Of course, take your longer lunch break.

A popular productivity time method and one that works for me is the Pomodoro technique.

There are plenty of Pomodoro apps, but I use a simple online version called Pomofocus. Which has literally just rung to say my 25 minutes of focused time has finished. See you in five.

Ok – back again. Oh, and please don’t take your break at your desk. Go and have a drink or do a little exercise. You could easily fit in say 10 squats or lunges or press ups or whatever you feel like doing. You could have carried out 50 squats by the end of the day. (Micro-exercises for the busy person – it’s the future.)

 

     2.   Plan your next day the day before

If you go to work in the morning with no clear idea of what you want to tackle first, then you are already being unproductive.

With no focused intent you will be open to being interrupted by the first person who asks you if you’ve got a minute.

You will also waste precious time thinking about the day ahead and what it is you need to do.

Instead, use the last 20 minutes or so of your day to plan the next one.

From a bigger picture perspective, you should already know what you aim to achieve that week and month as they fit into your bigger strategy. But what specifically do you need to do the next day?

What must you complete? What must you make good progress on? What must you address? Identify your “must-dos” followed by other tasks that would be good to do.

Set this “next day preparation” task in your calendar to repeat with an alert each day.

By doing this you can better switch off when you finish work, relax and enjoy your evening.

 

     3.   Do your best work in the morning

Having set your key tasks the day before, you’re ready to start that first task the next morning.

Most of us are at our most productive in the morning so if you get into the habit of thinking about this first task and on not allowing others to interrupt your time then you’re far more likely to get this intended first task done on time.

Having prioritized your tasks the day before, aim to start with the highest priority task and work down. That way, even if your day doesn’t go exactly as planned (which is highly likely considering the sector you work in) at least you’ll have completed your most important tasks and know that your day was still a good one because of that.

Use a technique and app, like the Pomodoro one I described above, to keep you focused and on track.

Having successfully completed your first task you’ll feel good (you’ll have received a deserved injection of dopamine) and energized to move on to the next task.

 

     4.   Don’t open your email program

This nicely follows on from the previous tip. When arriving at work most people launch their email program and check their emails first.

Is doing this the most important task of your day? Only if your top task needs the receipt of an email should you then open your email tool first thing in the morning.

If you open your email tool at the start to see if any ‘important’ emails need your attention and a response, you have essentially handed over your precious time to others.

No matter how trivial the email, your attention is focused on it and not on what you should be doing. If the email requires a response from you then someone else has well and truly taken your attention and time.

Even if you decide to respond later, your brain will know it’s there and keep switching you back to it. Research has shown that even knowing you have an unread email in your inbox or an unread text can cause your IQ level to drop 10 points.

So, don’t open your emails until your first task is done or until you’re taking a break from it and make sure your email program is closed, when you’re not checking or writing emails, so that you don’t receive alerts when a new one arrives.

 

     5.   Limit your time

Always give yourself a limit on how much time you’ll spend on a task.

“Parkinson’s law” says a task will fill the amount of time you have. If you want to lose a stone before your holiday in 6 months time you’ll take 6 months to lose it. If your holiday is in 6 weeks, then you’ll do it in that time.

I’m sure we all can remember cramming our homework or revision in because it had to be in the next day or we had an exam?

For example, you should set a limit on how much time you’ll spend looking at your emails.

Limit your email time to say 25 minutes – one Pomodoro session – late morning and another late afternoon.

When that time is up, close the email program.

This way, you’ll be focused on searching out the important emails and then moving on to the next thing on your list. (Which might comprise needing to write some important emails.)

If you don’t set this limit then in all likelihood you will keep working through your emails and respond to those that aren’t that important or didn’t need an immediate response.

It’s also more likely that you will open other emails out of curiosity (These are some of the shiny objects our brain loves and rewards you for actioning that I talked about in the last post.) and before you know it half your morning has gone.

 

     6.   Set clear expectations and deadlines for others

As well as limiting your own time, make sure you set a limit on the time for tasks you delegate to others. Whether your own people or outsourced to external consultants or freelancers, make sure you have an agreed deadline.

If you don’t, you’ll end up chasing for the results of the work you’ve assigned and if this happens it’s not their fault it’s yours. If you don’t set a deadline you cannot be upset if a piece of work is delivered later than you expected.

Talking of expectations – make sure you have set clear expectations. Too often expectations are not clearly communicated and a task ends up taking longer to complete because the initial deliverable wasn’t up to scratch.

Other people’s productivity and standard of work will impact your own, so make sure you are clear about what you need and when you need it.

 

     7.   Schedule your calendar

Schedule your key and regular work in your calendar. That means all you do should be entered in your calendar. This is known as Timeboxing.

Take your prioritized to-do list and enter the tasks into your calendar. By doing this, not only are you prioritizing your tasks, but you are adding a time estimate to them.

Set your regular tasks, colour-code them and set alerts if necessary. The colour coding will help you associate the colour with the task and more easily see when you have scheduled what. The alerts remind you that it’s time to start on that task.

Doing this for your regular tasks will, in time, also help make them easier to get started – just like cleaning your teeth in the morning – you will just get on and do it.

Once you have blocked out your time in this way you will be able to better manage requests for meetings and for unexpected tasks because you’ll see where they can fit into your schedule with little impact on your planned work.

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There are of course many more tips for working more efficiently and effectively, but these are a good start and can make a huge difference to your productivity.

The starting point is as always to decide that you’re going to find ways – and possibly use some of these tips – to get more of what you need to get done in your day and to have greater control over your precious time.

As I showed in my last post, being productive is extremely hard and a lack of it can have a massive impact on a business regardless of whether it’s a large corporation or a single-person micro business.

I would go as far as to say that productivity is the equivalent of your biggest competitor – only hidden. At least you can see the potential damage that your biggest rival can make.

Implement these tips and have your managers implement them too. Soon you’ll see just what a difference it can make and not just to how much you and your people get done. You’ll also notice how much control and time you’ve taken back and how much better you feel because of it.

If you think you and your people could be more productive, then get the help you need to make it happen because the underlying impact on your business can be massive. Contact me to see how I can help.

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