Being productive can be a huge challenge at the best of times. In the current climate, when most of us are working from home, it’s even tougher.
Not only are we trying to juggle our day job, but we are also worried about the future of the business, and keeping healthy. Add to that the strain of being in only one environment, and it can be very hard to stay motivated.
The productivity gurus tell you to prioritise all of your tasks with A, B and C. And, I’ll admit, I have done that, and, to an extent, it has worked. But what about all the things you have to do that haven’t made it into the A category?
You know – the deadline you agreed because somebody else needs something, the tasks you need to do to maintain the well-being of your team, or even personal matters.
If you are one of those people constantly chasing the latest app or tool to help you be productive, be reassured – you’re not alone. But, the truth is, it doesn’t actually change the end result, does it?
And, here’s why: It’s a mindset challenge, not the tool you use.
Let’s look at how this works in practice…
You’re in the middle of completing a project report, when you realise you haven’t tackled your email since yesterday afternoon. You immediately open your inbox and start wading through. There is far more than you realised, and before you know it time has whizzed by. But that project report still needs to be completed by 3pm. Then you get a calendar reminder for a meeting you need to attend in 15 minutes. The meeting is due to last for one hour, and you haven’t prepared for it, but neither have you completed your emails, or your project report, and it is now 12 noon.
Aggh! Sound familiar?
The problem is you are operating on auto pilot. Try recognising the decision point for each task – in other words why did you choose to drop one task and start another? Did you feel guilty because you didn’t want your team to think you were ignoring their emails?
Guilt or anxiety can easily persuade us to complete a task, rather than the one that has more strategic value to the business. We push those critical tasks down the list, for things that seem “important but not urgent.”
So, don’t start a new task without making a conscious decision that it is the right one – that’s the decision point. Doing that will cause you to pause, giving you time to reflect and decide if that task is worth your time. Try walking away from your desk, maybe make a drink etc.
This approach takes time to embed, but you will train yourself over time to recognise that decision point.
And talking about decisions… decision making leads to mental fatigue, which can reduce our ability to perform at our best.
You can help this by identifying when you are at your best. We all work differently – some of us are better first thing in the morning, whilst others are at their most productive later in the day.
The trick is to harness your most productive time for the more challenging work, and leave the less onerous ones for a time when you are not at your peak.
And that goes for decision making too. This is about managing your mental energy.
Learn to recognise what saps your energy and avoid doing those things before you tackle important projects that must have your full focus.
Things that may lead to mental fatigue include:
• Switching frequently from one task to another
• Making cold calls
• Networking and small talk
• Proofreading, identifying errors and correcting them
• Planning and scheduling projects, and tracking deadlines
• Sitting still for hours
Obviously, we can’t avoid these tasks, but be strategic about when you choose to do them.
So, as a recap, I recommend:
• Tackle your most important work before you have chance to be bogged down with lots of smaller decisions. This is likely to be first thing, before you start checking emails or get distracted on social media.
• Work your to do list into “Important”, “Creative” and ‘Other”. Use the time when you are least productive for the “other” tasks.
• Try handling emails in a one hour slot in the afternoon. Reflect on whether that has had an effect on your focus and ability to problem solve or be creative.
• If you have a big day, make some of the decisions the night before. Make sure you organise your action list around those key decisions.
I know this blog post has been a bit longer this time, but I really wanted to help you to stay focused, and be as productive as possible at the moment. I will be looking at it further in the next post.
Written for us by our Associate Director Laura Davis. If you would like any support please call her on 07880 518720.