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. And on top of that, we also would like to have some time for ourselves, please. Oh, and it would also be great if we could get cracking on that bucket list.
There are two basic approaches to this. One is the better decisions route, which often revolves around spending more time figuring out what is 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 occasionally stop to think about those, there is also the productivity angle. Or: How can we do more work in the same amount of time?
This practice is sometimes frowned upon. Ideas that help us do more in the same amount of time can potentially be harmful. But the reality is that most of us do not always have the option to prioritize and say no. Sometimes we just need to get a ton of work done.
The good news is that there are things you can start doing today that will have a huge impact on the number of things you can get done. Here are three of my favorite tactics.
Use the clock to your advantage
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 fit all of this in this week?” focus on the next 60 minutes and decide what you want to get done before the hour is over. With this looming self-imposed deadline, the pressure is on to dive in and stick to the task.
I’m a huge fan of using my calendar to help me out when I map out what I should be focusing on, and it pairs perfectly with this strategy. As an added bonus, your colleagues can also see what you’re working on, and you won’t be available for meetings.
Prepare like a chef
What’s the difference between an amateur cook and a chef? The way they prepare. Chefs don’t need to start from zero the moment the order for the dish comes in. They will have prepared anything that can possibly be done before they start. And with everything already laid out, it’s so much easier to begin.
Want to make it easier to get started on a task you’re putting off? Begin with the preparation phase. That could mean cleaning 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. Get all the documents you need. Type up your “ingredients.” Let’s say you must write a tough email that you’re putting off: I prepare by jotting down a few bullets of what I think I should say in a draft.
Obviously, this leads to actually doing the work. By preparing and doing the easy things first, you get in the right zone to attack the more difficult things.
Don’t let others 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 pulls us away from focusing on what we try to do. (I feel 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 eliminate all the distractions that hijack your focus. Not the triggers in your own head, but the external things, like your phone.
If there’s one gift you can give yourself, it’s disabling the notifications on all your devices. Really. And if you think “I don’t have a problem staying focused on the task at hand while my phone is lighting up next to me,” this tip is precisely for you. What do you have to lose? Ditch all the sounds and banners. (I have all of them disabled on my phone and computer, except for my calendar and old-school phone calls).
If you have a Mac, you can go a step further by hiding your dock and menu bar. Each visual cue you can get rid of means less chance that something pulls you away from what you try to get done.
We have the tendency to introduce new things when trying to improve our way of working. Most of the time, that’s a bad idea, but I hope these three suggestions help you to a simpler and more effective way of working.
Rick Pastoor is an entrepreneur and the author of Grip: The Art of Working Smart.