This is a post for all hard workers. Those with packed schedules, who always try and refine their organization process in order to squeeze more execution time into their week.
If you decided to read this post based on the subject, you are probably one of us. Welcome!
Since I started working from home four years ago, I've had the opportunity to experiment a lot with my schedule and the way I work. I've tried a lot of methodologies with temporary or no results. I also created my own organization and iterated several times on it. But, I never really took the time before to share what I've learned and what stuck. This article aims to fix that.
The biggest time killer is hesitation. Every time you wonder what you should be working on next, you're wasting time and energy. That's the reason why your very first task on Monday morning, before starting to execute, should be planning: you need to decide what needs to be done and when.
To do so, I use a low-tech tool I designed called Non-app Calendar, the main purpose of which is to help you chop big goals into smaller, actionable chunks. Here's what the week view looks like:
Write your big goal for the week.
Then, for every day, indicate the one goal you want to achieve.
Lastly, schedule work to be done in the empty squares.
You can achieve a similar result by drawing it in your notebook. But, putting your goals and schedule into something that looks good makes it even better.
Pin this sheet somewhere in sight.
Now that you have this taken care of, you can focus on execution!
Dealing with interruptions
This is an important one.
The ratio simplicity / benefit is tremendous.
Imagine yourself working on a difficult task; the kind that requires all your attention. Maybe you're coding a new feature for your application, writing a report, or creating a complex spreadsheet.
The phone rings. It's an important call from a client and you can't postpone, so you pick up. Now your attention has drifted from your previous task and you'll spend a lot of your energy and time refocusing on it once you hang up the phone.
Can you relate?
So, here's my hack: whenever I get distracted while working, I always take 10 seconds to write down what I'm working on and where I stopped.
I use the Evernote helper in the menu bar (on Mac) to quickly jot this information down, but any note application will do.
When you come back from whatever distraction, reading this small note left to yourself will ease you back into focus mode.
Declutter your mind
Creativity and independence in work comes at a price: new ideas or things to do constantly crossing your mind.
It can be tempting to start dealing with these when they arise and wasting time by losing focus on your current task at hand.
So, instead, I've taken the habit of throwing random thoughts and ideas into a to-do list. This allows me to deal with them later.
Again, that's a rather simple solution, but the trick is in building the habit. This can be achieved by keeping the to-do list always open on your laptop, and setting a reminder (every hour in the beginning) to remind you to fill the list.
I use Clear for this purpose. I like that it's simple and playful. Plus, it has an iPhone app.
Two hacks for emails
Dealing with email accounts is so vicious. It takes up a lot of time without us really noticing.
I read more and more people recommending to deal with emails within specifically allocated time periods during the day, let's face the truth: when an email arrives, we often deal with it right away. This implies two time consuming tasks: reading the email and replying to it.
Here's what I've been trying to push in the last few months.
First, I clearly tell people to write me short emails (especially if they need a quick answer). I usually even tell them to make them shorter than 5 sentences.
And while I know that not everything can be summed-up in 5 sentences or less, I have to tell you that it works pretty well. People understand why you request it and, most of the time, they can relate as they share the same issue.
Second, I've stopped proofreading most of my emails.
I don't know if it has something to do with the education received in French schools but I've always been very careful with my writing. Trying to write things that make sense and without grammar mistakes. And while I still think it's important and a mark of respect sent to the recipient, I've decided to privilege speed over perfect.
That means that I only reread emails sent to clients.
And now that I've forged this habit, I'm even more conscious of the time I was wasting before.
Maybe this one should have come first.
If you've read until here, you're probably noticing how "making time" is about removing the wasted ones. So, you need to go big on auditing yourself!
I use a little application called Timing. It runs in the background and checks how much time I'm spending on each software.
Install it and (almost) forget about it!
The only thing you need to remember is to check reports from time to time in order to optimize the way you spend your time.
I don't schedule a time to do this review anymore. I do it when I think about it. But I still love digging into the statistics and evaluate if I'm being efficient or if I need to improve.
A physical hack
I've been working on a standing desk for several years now. I love it. It's more comfortable and it also helps you be more productive (once I've gotten used to it).
But, that's not what I want to describe in this paragraph.
No, what I want to tell you is this: tweaking your position or the way you take your break can help you be more productive.
Let me give you an example to illustrate this.
I used to start the day sitting (between 6h30 AM and 9h AM). Then at 9h, I would raise my desk and start working standing.
In the spirit of experimenting, I tried to raise the desk first thing in the morning. The rest of my routine remained untouched (checking emails, drinking my coffee) but I found out that I was much faster executing it, therefore, starting to work on real tasks.
The explanation is, I think, that for me sitting is now associated with "slow" time. Enjoying the coffee, allowing myself to get distracted, etc. I had probably conditioned myself into seeing the time before nine as "extra time".
Now that I raise the desk right away, this 3-hour period feels like work time, which leads to more efficiency.
What physical habit is slowing you down?
Try to identify and fix it.
I hope you'll find some hacks you can adapt and make yours. And if you have your own, feel free to write a reply to this post and share it with me on twitter! @gregoiregilbert