Most of us are looking to get more done, it often feels like their just aren’t enough hours in the day doesn’t it? Yet we’ve all tried staying late at work, putting in some extra hours over the weekend. The reality is that the work doesn’t end. At what point in the cycle of working more and more do we admit this just isn’t working? We need another approach. I’ve been there, putting in extended hours, working evenings and weekends and yet the ‘To Do List’ just grows and grows.
In 2011 I did a training course called ‘Getting Your Inbox to Zero’. It changed my life. Not over night, but it changed my outlook and I could see that it wasn’t the job, or the people that I worked with that needed to change. It was me. And that’s hard to admit.
Someone said to be the other week they didn’t understand how the UK can have one of the lowest rates of productivity whilst having the longest working hours. They were missing the point. Working more does not mean we are more productive or better at our jobs. When it comes to being productive, it really is quality of your attention that you put in that counts, rather than quantity of hours spent doing a task. Ever get that feeling of working at speed, concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all else as a deadline gets closer and closer? Provided that you meet that deadline, it can feel good. There is a sense that what you are working on, is completely the right thing to be spending your efforts on at that point in time. You become ruthless with your attention and don’t allow others to interrupt you, and you are less likely to interrupt yourself. Being a Productivity Ninja is about having a sense of calm, a sense that you can be certain that at any given moment you are concentrating on absolutely the right thing for you to be working on. It’s about having systems in place to be sure that the time at which you remember to sign that highly important paperwork, is when you are in the ofﬁce within metres of that paper, rather than when you are getting into bed at night.
We know that when you are interrupted from what you are doing it can take an average of 15 minutes to get back to where you were. It’s why you are perhaps pretty good at starting a bit of work, I bet you’ve started loads of stuff, but ﬁnished much less. Our working lives are ﬁlled with interruptions, not just phones, other people and our wandering minds, but things that ping at us throughout the day distracting us from what it is that we are trying to achieve. In a workshop when I suggest that people turn off some of these pings, such as their email notiﬁcations, on occasion there are some delegates whose faces are ﬁlled with horror. The world doesn’t end. And I can tell you it’s perhaps one of the easiest ways to increase not just your productivity, but your sense of calm. Chances are you may not believe me, but try it for a month and I doubt you’ll go back. What else could you do to protect that attention of yours from interruptions?
I have a few thoughts for you, and challenge you to give a few of these ideas a try. They might not all work for you, but be brave and see if you can help make your life easier:
- Turn off your email notiﬁcations. Each time something pings or ﬂashes up on the screen to let you know that it has arrived it draws you attention away from what you are doing. Go into your inbox when you chose too. It’s rarely as urgent as you might think.
- Use the ‘Pomodoro Technique’. Set a timer and work on 1 task to the exclusion of all else for 25 minutes. Then you get a 5 minute break. It’s a great way to start that task you have been putting off, to do some studying, or help you meet a deadline.
- Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is to stop working. Yep, you heard me right. I’m sure you’ve had that experience where you are sat at the desk, or in a meeting. You realise that you are too tired, or your mind is on something entirely different, you just can’t focus on what you are doing. These are the times when the best thing to do, really could be to switch off. You aren’t working at your best. Doing whatever it is that you do to recharge your batteries is the best option.
- Try and get out of some of those meetings, or just go along to the bit of the meeting that is relevant to you. If we can spend more time planning our meetings, and being clear to everyone why we are meeting and what their role at the discussion is, meetings could be so less painful. Try a standing meeting, they really help to focus the mind.
- When you ﬁnd your mind wandering and are struggling to concentrate, get up, move, may be even go for a walk. If you can work from another space this can really help too. Get the blood moving and change the view.
- Know when your energy levels are at their best. And do the work you ﬁnd most difﬁcult, or the tasks that make the most impact in this time. Your energy is limited, use it wisely.
When all’s said and done, in years to come will you regret not sending those emails, or not spending time with those that you love?