For a lot of people 2016 was a year of ‘doing more with less’ in their work role, resulting in extra accountability, longer hours, and the frustration of having their ‘work-life blend’ out of sync. This was certainly the case for me!
So, in order to re-claim my ‘work-life blend’, I’ve re-focused on a few proven strategies to give me the best chance of 2017 being a year of being productive, not just being busy.
I test a lot of strategies in the area of personal efficiency, and am fortunate to work alongside a number of productivity specialists. So whilst these four tips won’t work for everyone, they are worth trying for a few weeks to observe the results:
1. Allow time for ‘deep thinking’ instead of ‘default thinking’
It is important that we don’t become too busy to reflect on whether we are making meaningful progress or whether we are spending our time on the most effective projects/tasks. Why not schedule 2 hrs with yourself this week to reflect before things ramp up? Think about:
- what went well in 2016 and what didn’t
- underlying assumptions you’ve had that could be challenged
- areas of focus that will generate the most benefit to your organisation in 2017
- whether you are advancing your career/business/society
I believe that we all have the answers when we set aside the time to think. It takes discipline to ‘make an appointment with yourself’ and do it, but the rewards can be huge.
Image source: DrJasonFox.com. To get motivated about changing from ‘default thinking’ to ‘deep thinking’, then I’d recommend Dr Jason Fox’s material.
2. Get focused on your ‘Big 5’ every 90 days
Most of us have spent copious hours contributing to business plans, strategy slide-decks and 6 or 12 monthly performance review goal setting. In my experience these documents tend to be shelved for extended periods of time whilst the ‘day-to-day’ activity happens. I’ve found that 90 days is a more realistic time frame for people at all levels to focus on the ‘big chunks’ that will create the most impact in their role. This is long enough to get tasks/projects done that will have a substantial impact, but short enough that we can make those tasks/projects clear and targeted. No matter how much I convince myself otherwise, I seldom get more than 5 of these ‘big chunks’ done in a 90-day period. Use your ‘deep thinking’ time to identify the ‘important but not urgent’ tasks, write them down somewhere where they are visible daily, and ensure that your monthly/weekly/daily activity is aligned with moving these ‘Big 5’ forward.
Image source: myfiveminuteyoga.com. Challenge yourself on what the ‘important but not urgent’ tasks are that will have the biggest impact. Stephen Covey identified this 27 years ago in his self-help book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effect People”. You can find the 4 quadrants explained here with a useful template you can fill out.
3. Set your routine and schedule in your ‘blocks’
Once your ‘Big 5’ are in place, you can schedule time into your calendar and progress them. For me, I find first thing in the morning best: before emails, meetings and phone calls take over. If I spend 1-2 hrs per day on my ‘Big 5’, then I know that everything else will fall into place. This also aligns with the Pareto principle, meaning it is feasible that we could achieve great results from spending 1-2 hours per day (~20% of our work day) on the tasks that generate 80% of the impact.
Research shows that the average person is productive for just 2 hours and 53 minutes per day. So why not ensure those productive hours happen on your most important tasks at the time of day when you’re most focused? And what would our lives look like if we could cut 10-12hr days down to a modest 8?
I know a business owner (previously working like a maniac 6 days a week) who decided to cut back to 5 days a week, with every Friday consisting of personal development, reflection and doing ‘deep thinking’. His business is now going better than before and he has more time at home with the family, proving that we can spend less time to achieve more.
This article lists some of the most common unproductive activities and why our workday is ripe for disruption.
4. Remove distractions
This is a big one. The impact of the above habits is significantly reduced if we allow ourselves to be easily distracted. I hear people talk of ‘multi-tasking’ in a positive light, however it has been proven to be an absolute productivity killer.
Start your day reviewing your calendar (with your important tasks already scheduled in) rather than checking overnight emails or social media feeds. This will start your day working to your priorities (and being proactive), rather than working to other peoples’ priorities (and being reactive). In my opinion there is no such thing as an ‘urgent email’ (that is why we have phones) and if I check my email two to three times per day, then I find I don’t miss anything important.
I encourage you to take up the challenge of turning off as many notifications as possible on your phone (except for calendar invites).
I didn’t realise how distracting my LinkedIn and Facebook notifications were until I turned them off recently. I no longer have the overwhelming feeling of being compelled to check updates in ‘real time’, when I know I get emailed all the updates anyway.
If you want to know how to disable automatic alerts from Social Media and Email then this article explains how.
I encourage you to try these four tips that might just help you claim a bit of your life back. I believe that the winners in 2017 will be the ones who are productively achieving meaningful progress, not the people who were so busy that they end up wondering where the year went.
The prize is huge, so why not give these a shot?
PS- I’m not trying to sell any products/services relating to personal efficiency, I just wanted to share with others some tips that have helped me over the years. Hope they prove useful.