Whether you’re a business owner, or an ambitious leader flying high on the career ladder, the demands being made on your time will be huge. And when you’re being pulled in a million different directions – with ultimate responsibility for the success of the company and the livelihood of employees on your shoulders – making sure you’re using your time effectively will be high on the agenda.
You may feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But it’s not about time management, it’s about priority management.
Finding a system that works for you is going to be vital to ensuring you’re using every minute in the most productive way possible, which includes getting some downtime so you can give your brain time to recharge and start generating the next big idea.
To fully nail it, the trick is to begin by looking closely at what you’re doing now, for example by using timekeeping software such as Toggl, then when you have that data, to analyse it and find ways to improve or enhance what you’re doing.
To help you get started we’ve pulled together the top 10 work hacks – from the clever to the innovative, these are ideas for how to approach things in a different way that may help you better streamline your time. From advice on focusing your mind, to ways to give your workspace an efficiency makeover…. it’s time to up your productivity.
1: Get single-tasking not multi-tasking
You may have become an expert at switching quickly between tasks, but stopping and starting, and jumping your thoughts from one issue to another – even if only briefly – will waste time and decrease your productivity. Try single tasking instead. Give each task your full attention with no distractions. If your mind jumps to something else, stop it and get back on task. Make sure you are locked away, with emails closed and the phone on silent. You are likely to fly through your tasks far quicker if you give yourself the chance to fully concentrate, and using time efficiently is what we’re all about.
2: Use a mentor
It can be lonely at the top, especially when you’re facing tough decisions. But no matter how far up in an organisation you may have risen, talking to someone you respect, who’s ‘been there and done that’ can be hugely beneficial. Having a mentor you can talk to and bounce ideas off, who isn’t part of your organisation so is a step away, can prove invaluable for many reasons. They can help point you in the right direction; help you see the ‘big picture’ more clearly on things; share their insights and experiences; throw out questions you haven’t considered and prompt when more research where it may be needed. Overall they’ll keep you grounded. Family members and your personal network have their place too, but the support of a mentor is unique.
3: Learn to say NO
For many leaders this is one of the key lessons they had to learn. As a company grows, your responsibilities will grow, and more opportunities may also start coming your way. While it can be hard to say no, without recognising when to you need to you can quickly end up having way too much on your plate. That will have a knock-on effect on every aspect of your working life and potentially your personal life too. There will be tasks that have to done and that will really matter to you – that is where your priority must lie. Before taking on anything else, make sure those core elements are fully covered and that you won’t be stretching yourself too thinly. The last thing you want is for things to start slipping, or to begin drowning under the extra pressure.
4: Do tasks in batches
Batch processing tasks is an approach to working that has been shown to increase efficiency. As an example of how you might use it, one of the key places it can be helpful is when dealing with emails. Stop working on emails as and when they come through. Just stop it! Instead, batch them and deal with them at set time slots during the day – perhaps two or three slots. If the people around you are used to you answering right away and may get worried if you don’t answer immediately then turn on an autoresponder. You can even tell teams of the new process and try to encourage them to think more about their emails and prioritising exactly what’s in them.
5: Hit Monday morning at a run
Sunday evening is a special time of the week. It is used by many busy CEOs to plan and map out the week to come. Use this time to focus in on what the most important and meaningful tasks and projects for the coming week are going to be. Organise your calendar and get your head clear on what needs to be achieved. Then on Monday morning you can get straight into the zone and on it, feeling focused and knowing exactly what needs to done.
6: Find your own rhythm
If you spend time thinking about and fully understanding how you work best then you can maximise what works for you and reduce what doesn’t. How often do you need a break? And for how long? Do you work better with longer stretches at a time or do you prefer to knuckle down and have smaller increments with small breaks? If you don’t know do some trial and error to see what gets you the best results. One popular time management system that is based around maximise productivity is the Pomodoro technique which is particularly useful if you’re struggling to balance breaks but often feel like you’re running on fumes.
7: Handling the emailing time vacuum
Email can quickly become the biggest time vacuum of them all, so you need systems in place that will help you manage them. Automate as much as you can by setting up rules and use a proper task management tool to prioritise. Keep this simple rule from David Allen, author of Get Things Done, in mind: when you can sort the email within two minutes do it right away, if you can’t then either pass it on to your task management system or delegate. Do not fall into the trap of immediately going into to-do mode. Put tasks into your system and when you’re done going through all your emails look at your new list of to-dos. Then organise those appropriately and get going on with the tasks that are a priority.
8: Keep you workspace for work only
Do not use your workspace for anything else other than work – that includes resisting from having a quick bite at your desk. A recent survey of office workers by Plantronics revealed that three out of four only leave their desk to go to the toilet or make a cup of tea. But stepping away for even a short while to eat and give your brain a break from the computer screen can work wonders for productivity. Read on a sofa and eat in the dining area. Also keep the workspace uncluttered. You need to be calm and focused to get things done and your working environment needs to reflect that.
9: Add a monitor or two
An easy time saver here. Get yourself extra monitors so you can have different screens for different things you need to look at. Having one or two extra monitors set up on your desk will immediately decrease the time and effort you’re spending switching between windows. As a CEO you will often study various sources at one and may be taking notes somewhere else, this way you can see everything at once without having to use your mouse. Simple but effective.
10: Downtime without distractions
It’s a sign of the busy lives we all now lead that often we have to schedule in downtime to make sure it actually happens. But however you do it, and whatever you do, make sure it is something you do and do regularly. Heading home and reading emails on the sofa or in bed is not giving your brain the chance to switch off. And we all need to switch off to be able to think clearly, to be creative and to maintain a sense of wellbeing. Take care of yourself, as if you’re in bad health mentally or physically then you’ll quickly crash and burn.
Ultimately, reaching the highest level of productivity possible is going to be about organising and prioritising every aspect of your working week. You need to be spending your time where it is most needed; to be cutting away all the non-important clutter; to know when to say no and when to delegate; and to ensure you are giving your brain the time and space it needs to think and reboot. Ensuring you have the right digitals tools and systems in place to achieve this is a great place to start.