Get balance and work smarter.
Get balance and work smarter
Nov 30, 2022 | Articles
You know how it is. You start your day early because your diary is full, and you need to answer some emails before you begin. Your meetings run over, so you work through lunch - making a mental note to leave the office promptly at the end of the day. When it comes to clocking off you get distracted replying to emails that were delivered during your meetings. Before you know it, your daily eight hours have turned into ten. That’s an easy two hours extra a day, not accounting for skipping your breaks. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that you’re working the equivalent of a six day week (or more).
Now, with more and more businesses adopting flexible or remote working options, it is easy for the additional minutes, hours and days to accumulate. It’s getting so much harder to switch off. The problem is that being an eager beaver doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more productive. In fact, it can have a detrimental effect on your health, well-being and ability to function.
Here are our top tips for working smarter, not harder.
Learning how to prioritise your commitments and tasks is a terrific way to increase efficiency. By prioritising you may find you stay more focused, without working excessive hours.
As we try to do it all - particularly during busy periods like the run up to Christmas - we might try to cut back on sleep, forget to eat or stop taking time for ourselves. Being ‘busy’ doesn’t always mean progress. That’s why prioritisation is helpful.
Try to take a holistic view of what you need/must do by listing your personal and work tasks. That could mean school pick up/drop off, sending out a proposal, invoicing or even picking up your dry cleaning. Then you can prioritise those tasks by importance, length, reward and urgency.
One way of doing this is by documenting three things that must be completed in one day. Choose these tasks by importance rather than by urgency. Then, decide which of those will have the biggest impact on your desired goal or result. Ask yourself what you can realistically do today to achieve your goal. This is called the MIT (Most Important Tasks) methodology.
Many experts suggest that tasks should be categorised and prioritised according to importance and urgency. In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, these are listed as:
- Urgent and important: Do these first
- Important but not urgent: Set aside time to do these without interruption
- Urgent but unimportant: Delegate!
- Neither urgent nor important: Take these off your list
Do you ever get to the end of the day and feel like you haven’t done anything on your to-do list? You’re not alone! If you don’t control your schedule, it will control you. Time blocking is a simple but effective way to take control of your tasks and create a solid plan for your day and the week ahead.
This method suggests that you divide your day into blocks of time. Each block of time is allocated to a specific task or action to tackle your responsibilities. Once you have created your schedule into time blocks your goal is to adhere (where possible) to your schedule so that you can complete your tasks in their designated time.
As with most things, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Planning and then prioritising your tasks is essential to make this work effectively. A weekly review ensures that time blocking is efficient, with daily adjustments for those unforeseen urgent actions. Make sure you block out half an hour at the end of each workday to review all the tasks you haven’t been able to complete and adjust the next day and/or the remainder of the week to accommodate them. Then, make time at the end of the working week to plan the next week. That way you can start Monday feeling prepared and organised.
Scheduling your tasks in this way ensures that you’re getting control of your schedule, makes you more aware of how you spend your time and helps you follow through on goals, tasks and actions.
Diarise your breaks and stick to them
Looking after yourself is a necessity, not a nicety. Plan and schedule your commitments. Whether it’s a yoga class, a walk around the block or getting lost in the pages of your latest book, block it out in your diary. Step away from the glare of your screen, even if only for a few minutes. It’s so easy to forget to take breaks, so personal care can take second place to your professional commitments. Think of this ‘you’ time as a fixed item. Even on your busiest days try and get away from your desk. Stretch. Step outside. Take your breaks. Take your lunch. Take your holidays.
Don’t over-stretch yourself
If you’re asked to help your instinct may be to jump right in, roll your sleeves up and attempt to add to your already burgeoning workload. It’s human nature to want to say, “yes.” But if we say yes, all the time, we run the risk of taking on too much. It may be better to take a realistic assessment of what you can and can’t do, and that could mean saying no to things. Failing to turn down additional tasks when you’re already stretched wastes time, energy and resources. “No” can be a particularly uncomfortable word to utter if you’re not used to it, but – if you do it properly – you can turn the negative into a positive.
Being open and honest about what is feasible from the outset is preferable to over-promising and under-delivering – especially at the expense of your health.
Give your brain a break
If you have been working on the same task for a while the chances are that stepping away and returning to it later, after a walk or a cuppa - with fresh energy, will yield better results.
This is based on science and is due to how our brains work.
It turns out that the prefrontal cortex (found in the front of our brains, behind the forehead) is responsible for helping us concentrate on whatever task we have at hand, as well as searching for existing information we have stored in our memory. It allows us to solve problems and produce innovative ideas, based on using the information we present to it and then categorising by information stored in our memory bank.
Having too much on the go spreads you thinly and strains your prefrontal cortex, as it tries to focus energy and attention on too many things. So, when we take a small break – like deep breathing with our eyes closed – our prefrontal cortex is free to search for information we have stored in our memory and combine it with the new data.
A break really does mean a break. Absently scrolling through social media or watching TV doesn’t count. Anything involving attention, logical thinking, decision-making, and impulses is out. Channel your inner zen to help this important part of your brain work better for you, solve problems and create innovative ideas.
We’ve all heard it; ‘if you want to do something right then you should do it yourself.’ But you can’t do everything. If you want to reduce costs, boost productivity or simply create a better work/life balance, consider outsourcing.
There is a great deal to be said about having in-house expertise but putting your trust in an external organisation - with demonstrated experience in their field - will ensure that your project or campaign is overseen professionally. Sometimes the best way to stop yourself from getting bogged down is by choosing a team to manage it for you. You can then focus on what’s important to you, which could be running your business or taking a well-deserved and much-needed break.