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Person on the Lake District

How much time do you waste in a working week?


You know you’re busy.  You say you’re busy a lot.  And there’s nothing like a few post-midnight emails to convince everyone else that you’re really very busy.  But how much of the time that you spend being busy is actually productive time?

If you read my thoughts on carving out time for fun here you will know that I don’t think downtime in any form is wasted time.

But it is becoming ever clearer to me that by allowing distractions to take over, I become less productive and reduce my own leisure time.  Which, for me at least, is not an acceptable trade-off for being or looking busy and successful.

In this blog, I provide ten tips for increasing your productivity (or for reducing your time-wasting) and I recommend that you read it in conjunction with 2 other important factors here – learning how to say no, and preserving time for yourself.

As you will see from Tip 10 – I don’t recommend using this list as yet another stick with which to beat yourself.  Have a quick read and see what might work for you.  Try implementing just 1 or 2 changes at a time.

Tips for increasing your productivity

  1. Take breaks. You won’t be productive if you’re exhausted.  Set a timer (See Tip 2) and, when the timer goes off, get up and move around.
  2. Work in focused blocks. The Pomodoro technique, for example, would suggest that you set a timer and work for a 25 minute block, then have a 5 minute break.  After every 4 x 25 minute blocks, you should have a longer break.  Find the timings that work for you.
  3.  Bring back the genius of the revision timetable and allocate tasks to those focused blocks of time. Then stick to it.  I seem to recall having rewards built into my revision timetable so maybe revive that also.  (Try the Forest App for the virtual or real reward of growing a tree).
  4. Have a system for emails – almost any system is better than none. If you mindlessly check emails at whatever frequency you like then you will be radically reducing the time you spend on focused, productive work.  Maybe set a specific time when you check emails or make better use of automatic replies to buy yourself some time.
  5. Eat the frog (from the book by Brian Tracy) – do your worst task of the day first so it doesn’t hang over you all day. This should fill you with positive vibes for the rest of the more pleasant tasks you have to tackle.
  6. Or, the flip side to eating the frog: design your day so that you can reverse Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that a task will expand to fill the time available.  So if you give the task less time, you can get it done more quickly.  Set yourself a deadline, or leave only say 2 hours before you need to go out and you will find yourself ploughing through that task in the allotted time.  Because you have no choice.
  7. Adopt the motto: Done is better than perfect. If it does need to be perfect then at least let go of perfection so you can get started and do the first draft, or equivalent.  You can tidy it up later.
  8. Work out what your own particular vice is and then take targeted action against it. Do you scroll around from Twitter to Whatsapp to your favourite news site? Or constantly check your phone?  There are apps that will help you do this but I would suggest that probably all you need is a little bit of self-awareness.  There are also apps for the cure – that will remove the ability to check Twitter, for example.  But you might find it just as easy to put your phone onto airplane mode.  Or leave it in a different room.
  9. Think about the environment you are in, and how you can make it work better for you. I know people who swear by their standing desk, or their ear defenders, the power of plants, or daylight or alpha waves (link to).  Even a “Keep Out” sign on the door.  Think back to a time and place when you have worked really well and then do what you can to re-create it.
  10. Pick one or two of these techniques and make a small start on becoming more focused. Don’t put it off until you can achieve perfection.  Start now.

Good luck with it and feel free to share your own tips, or your successes by commenting or emailing cathbrown@skilfulconversation.com

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