I recently carried out a short, free Udemy course on productivity and getting 10 times more done in half the time
The course highlights the top time killers, with an indication that following these tips could gain you 8 hours each week. I decided to implement one strategy each week, and see how more productive I felt by the end of the ‘experiment’.
Only check email 2-3 times per day – This was a big game changer for me. I was guilty of checking my inboxes for clients when I was off duty. As the reading of emails within my clients’ businesses is chargeable, I was actually missing out on income by reading the emails on my phone in my own time. Also, this meant that once I had read the email I was thinking about responding and was tempted to quickly reply from my phone or actually log onto the laptop to deal with it – even if the emails were not urgent. Because I knew they were there, they were on my mind and I wanted to deal with them. Firstly, I took notifications off my phone but left the widget there. Then I decided that the widget needed to go. Now I check my own business emails first each day, and then each of my client inboxes 2-3 times throughout the day. I have noticed that this has not only cut down on my time reading emails (and saved my clients money!) but has also reduced my own anxiety levels and I have still been able to deal with all emails in a timely manner – if anyone needs me urgently they can always get hold of me by WhatsApp or Skype.
Only do it once – Do you read emails more than once? The distraction of emails and messages used to easily draw me from one task to another. By ensuring that I stuck with one task for at least 30 minutes, and not getting distracted and tempted to jump to other tasks, I found that tasks were finished and more tasks were completed each day. Blocking out segments of time for each task on my calendar also helped greatly.
Take action immediately – this links into #2 for me. If I am not in a position to deal with emails, I don’t open them (ie I don’t open them on my phone whilst eating dinner). Once they are open, I deal with them and then file them away and forget them (within reason). I also use an inbox filing system, so on the odd occasion that there are emails that can’t be dealt with easily, they can be easily retrieved and dealt with when the time arises. Reading messages twice is really just wasting time.
Reduce Travelling – As a virtual/online worker, all my meetings are via Skype or Zoom as my clients are not based locally to me. No time savings could be made for me in this respect. However, if you travel often for meetings with colleagues, ask yourself whether any could these be carried out via Skype or Zoom.
Stop Multitasking – It’s great to think that you can multi-task, but do you really want to? Jumping between tasks loses you time as you have to refocus. By concentrating on one task, you ignore those other tasks but you actually do get that one task done within the allocated time. Then, and only then, move on to the next task. Try blocking out your time using the Pomodoro Technique – 25 minutes of intense work followed by a 5-minute break. Every day I block out segments of time on my calendar for each batch of work I need to complete and then get a reminder on my phone and laptop. Hunkering down on one piece of work really does get it finished so much quicker. And as my job revolves around chargeable time blocks, I use a time tracker Toggl to track my time each day. If you need an organised way of concentrating, try using a Pomodoro timer app such as Clockwork Tomato.
Remove disruptions – Facebook, emails, internet, phone, children, chores. All these things distract from the job in hand and even if the tasks /distractions are important, they reduce the time spent on billable tasks. For me, putting my phone into my drawer whilst working reduced a lot of my distractions. I also re-ordered my working day so that I don’t need to work when there are likely to be others in the house. It’s just easier that way.
Set a limit on social media – it is easy to become lost in the black hole of the internet and social media. While some articles can be of use and can be shared with your own audience on social media, set a time limit and read work-related content first. If you can’t trust yourself not to log on to social media, use Cold Turkey to restrict distractions for you.
Time boundaries – if you set a start and end time, you work will expand/contract to fit the time available. If you only have one afternoon to complete a report, you WILL complete it in that afternoon (honest!). By putting time aside for the task, you can implement the other strategies to ensure that you are as productive in that time as possible – and get the job done. Blocking out time in your calendar to complete certain tasks will keep your available time clearly visible (and you can set reminders). Again, that Pomodoro app will work wonders, timing you 25 minutes of intense work followed by a 5-minute break.
Set limits on internet surfing – why not add research on the internet to your diary/calendar and use something like Rescue Time to give you an insight into how you spend your online time each day. There is a free version which enables you to track where you spend your time online, and also a paid plan which allows you to track time away from your computer, get alerts and block certain websites.
15 mins evening review and set up of a to-do list – always look at what needs to be done the following day and put together a to-do list. Review what wasn’t completed and why each day. That way each day starts with a clear plan of what needs to be done and some of the earlier strategies (such as blocking out time for each task) can be implemented to maximum effect. I love to tick off each task every day.
Set home working boundaries – This could include family members not coming into your office when the door is shut, or finishing work at a certain time each day. These boundaries will ensure that you and your family are clear on what is work ….and what isn’t. For me, stress levels are much lower when I close that office door – whichever side of it I happen to be on!
During this ‘experiment’ I had decided to set myself a goal of achieving a set number of billable hours per day to guarantee a certain amount of income each day/week. By ensuring that I followed these strategies, I was easily achieving (and often exceeding) my daily goal. I was also getting many other tasks completed, things that had been on the to-do list for a long time but I never quite had enough time to do. The end of week 5 of this experiment saw my most productive month ever. I had become focused and clear every day on what I wanted and needed to do (and not do).
The majority of these strategies are simple things that can be implemented on their own to make some progress in productivity, but I would certainly recommend trying a new one each week to see how much time you can save. I’m not convinced that I’ve found an extra 8 hours per week, but I am certainly feeling less stressed and am getting more done during my working day.
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