Deep down inside i’m a procrastinator. A phaffer. A delay artist. I like to take my time so much so that I usually take far too long. However as I’ve found out over the last couple of years, once you have a child you suddenly find yourself running out of time altogether.
A friend once described kids as being ‘time sponges’. If you’re aiming to do a good job at his parenting thing then that’s a pretty accurate description.
Trying to be a truly excellent parent and devoting as much non work time as possible to the task means I’ve had to make changes elsewhere in order to get the most out of my time. Without making changes standards would slip and things get neglected.
This isn’t just the case at home. At work I’m trying to advance my career (aka earning potential) without sacrificing my work life balance. This roughly translates as getting more shit done in less time.
Over the last year or so I’ve been trying to improve my productivity to help me achieve these goals. In no particular order below are some of the things I’ve found have helped me get more shit done in less time.
Define pockets of ‘GSD time’.
This is basically time set aside where I’ll focus purely on a predefined task or tasks and will not succumb to any distractions. It is time to dominate tasks in a ruthless way.
At work this means I set aside 2 hours after I’ve had my morning coffee to specifically focus on getting shit done. I’ll turn the ringer down on my phone, close my email client, cancel meetings and focus on destroying items on my to do list. If people come to my desk I’ll snarl and send them away1.
When I’m at home this might be an hour in the evening after the little one has gone to bed where I’ll put down the mobile phone and nail some paper work or diy jobs round the house.
A great example was the night before last after everyone was in bed I decided to clear the patio. The cracks between the slabs had become seriously overrun with various plants/weeds to the point that walking on the patio was hazardous. An hour and a half with a head torch, broom and trowel and this is what it looks like now:
Trying to clear that with UTMT Jnr running around would have been impossible.
Find your sweet spot.
For mental tasks I find I work much more efficiently in the morning so I always try to structure my GSD time in the office first thing in the day. To do this I block out my Outlook calendar for 2 hours every day.
You might be a night owl in which case move you GSD time to late at night when your brain is more inclined to work effectively. For more manual tasks I tend to enjoy ‘getting on a mission’ in the dead of the night when all are sleeping which tends to work with with my current work/family life.
For some people shorter more regular bursts of focus might be a better approach. This works for me in the afternoon however for that first 2 hour block of GSD in the office I find i can power through 2 hours often without a break.
Focus on the right things.
Be laser targeted when it comes to prioritising what is the first task on your to do list. Focus on the activities that give you the biggest bang for your buck. Apply the 80/20 rule mercilessly.
Do the nasty tasks that you really don’t want to do first. Those ones that make the pit of your stomach turn when you think about them. The stuff that you’ve been putting off for far too long is usually the stuff you should be focussing on first.
Forget multi tasking.
Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t look at anything else until you’re finished. If your email drafts folder is overflowing then you need to have a word with yourself.
Many time management systems like GTD recommend only ‘touching’ tasks once if possible, particularly for task that will only take a few minutes. This works for me. Spending time re-reading work emails because you didn’t reply the first time around can soak up vast quantities of time if left unchecked.
If the environment around me is a mess, my ability to concentrate suffers. I always keep my desk free from clutter. A clear workspace gives me a clear mind. There’s not a lot I can’t do without a laptop, phone, notepad and mechanical pencil so I try to have just those things on my desk.
Cut your hair.
This one might sound a bit odd.
When my hair is long I feel like a mess. When I feel a mess my concentration falters and my productivity drops. Alternatively when my bonnet is freshly shaved I feel mentally sharp, on point and ready for action.
I don’t now why I just know I’m more productive when I’ve got a short back and sides. To keep the productivity spring coiled I tend to shave my hair once per week.
Capturing to do items.
Search ‘how to improve productivity’ and you’ll come up with thousands of apps, tools and techniques to capture to do items. Hugely complex methods to capture, categorise, organise and prioritise tasks. Much of this advise is a waste of time.
The key here is to not over complicate things. Find a simple system that works for you and stick to it.
I use a combination of the Reminders app on my phone and a basic pocket notebook to capture things that need doing. The phone gets used when I’m on the move, stuck in a meeting while I resort to paper mostly when I’m desk bound at work or on the train.
I don’t waste time trying to sync or transfer items from one format to the other, I just quickly review the lists and start actioning items instead. At any given time I’ll have about 10-30 items logged which gives me a nice level of granularity.
Automate where possible.
If you’re doing the same task regularly then you should look to automate it if at all possible. Of course there is the obvious stuff like funding your savings/investment accounts via standing orders but try to apply the principle of automation as often as possible. Below are a few more ideas
- Creating email templates for commonly sent content
- Remove yourself from distribution lists that just send you content that wastes your time having to sort/delete
- Use rules in your email client to auto file regular reports to folders in your inbox
- Build exercise into your commute (walk/cycle the long way)
- Pay all bills by direct debit (unless it’s cheaper to do annually)
- Do you grocery shopping online and get it delivered (this is a no brainer)
- Use dictation apps to enable you to write while out walking or doing the house work
- Write macros to create automations of reusable actions in commonly used software
Maximise dead time.
I subject myself to 2 hours of rail commuting each day I attend the office. While this isn’t ideal it provides me with a fantastic opportunity to get things done in a distraction free environment.
I could spend this commuting time playing angry birds or watching The Walking Dead Season 46. Instead I’ll make up for leaving work early by processing emails or reading documents. Alternatively I might work on personal projects such a writing, planning diy projects, sending admin emails etc.
As soon as I get home the phone gets put down and I give my family my undivided attention. No work emails, no social media, no tv. Likewise during the working day I try to get out for a walk or go for a short run to clear my head and regain some energy part way through the day.
Work hard and play hard. Try and blur the lines between these two things and productivity is most likely to fall.
Get the right mentality.
As MMM would put it you can get all ‘complainypants’ about how little time you have. You can resort to plonking your kids in front of Peppa Pig for hours at a time. You can submit to a stress filled life of what feels like walking through treacle or you can get in the mindest of this fine man…
Don’t be the pig, be the wolf. Oh and drink more coffee!
1A good technique is to wear your headset (if you have one) so people think you are on a call