Making the most of your day (with tools you’re already using)
I don’t have to tell you we’re living packed lives. We have jobs to nail, friends to think about, families to take care of. On top of that, we’d also like to have some time for ourselves, please. Oh, and it would be great if we could get cracking on that bucket list.
There are two basic approaches to overflowing to-do lists. One is the better decisions route, which often revolves around spending more time figuring out what’s truly important. If you know that, you also know what not to do. That means answering the tough questions. While I do believe we need to stop to think about those on occasion, there’s also the productivity angle: How can we do more in the time we have?
This approach is sometimes frowned upon. Practices that help us do more in the same amount of time can be harmful. But the reality is that many of us don’t always have the option to prioritize or say no. Sometimes we just need to get a ton of work done.
And here’s the good news: there are things you can start doing today that will have a huge impact on how much you can get done. Here are three of my favorites.
Learn to love the clock
The sense that we’ll never be able to fit everything into our schedule can be daunting. But we can make time work for us.
Instead of thinking: “How can I possibly fit everything in this week?” shift your focus to the next 60 minutes and decide what you want to get done before the hour is over. With a self-imposed deadline looming, the pressure’s on to dive in and stay on task.
I’m a big fan of using my calendar to help me map out what I should be focusing on. That means putting my own work on my calendar, something that pairs perfectly with the 60-minute-block strategy. Share your calendar, and your colleagues can also see what you’re working on.
And bonus: they’ll know you won’t be available for meetings.
Prep like a chef
What’s the difference between an amateur cook and a pro?
The prep work.
Chefs don’t need to start from zero when an order comes in. Beforehand, they’ve already prepared anything that can possibly be done ahead of time. With everything all laid out, it’s much easier to get cooking.
Want to make it easier to get started on a task you’ve been putting off? Start with the prep work. That could mean cleaning off your desk, closing applications you don’t need, putting your phone away. Some people even go as far as dressing up to get into a work mindset.
Next, collect the materials you’ll need to do the job. Gather all the documents you’ll use. List your “ingredients.” Let’s say you need to write a tough email that you’ve been putting off. I might prep by jotting down a few bullets—quick notes of what I think I should say in my draft.
Clearly, this leads to doing the actual work. By prepping and doing the easy things first, you get into the right zone for taking on the hard stuff.
Don’t let anyone steal your focus
When we’re trying to get something complicated done, our brains are wired to save energy. So basically anything that requires less energy will pull us away from what we’re trying to do. (I’m feeling the desperate urge to check my inbox and Twitter right now, as I’m trying to draft this piece.)
I believe fighting this urge is a skill we can get better at, over time. But that won’t help you this week. What you can do right now is cut out all the distractions that hijack your focus. Not the triggers in your own head, but external things, like your phone.
If you do just one thing for yourself today, make it this: Disable the notifications on your phone. And then on all your other devices. Really.
If you tend to think you can stay focused on the task at hand while your phone is lighting up next to you, then this tip is meant for you. Try it out. What have you got to lose? Ditch all the bells and whistles, the buzzes and the red dots. You’ll still end up reaching for your phone from time to time out of habit, but less and less often.
I have all notifications disabled on my phone and laptop except for two things: 1. My calendar can send me reminders, and 2. Old-school phone calls can get through.
You can go a step further and hide your taskbar, or if you have a Mac, your dock and menu bar. Every visual cue you can get rid of means less chance that something pulls you away from what you want to get done.
We have the tendency to introduce new things when trying to improve how we work. But I hope these three suggestions—using the tools at hand—can get you to a simpler and more effective way of working. Today.
Have a good week!