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Top Tips for a more productive work day

As a knowledge worker, I am used to bouncing from one task to another, from distractions jumping in through my inbox, or a small interruption as I walk through office, to a barrage of messages on the company’s always-on Slack. Below are some of the best pieces of advice I have found, many of which are now staples of my working practice.

Eat your Frogs First

Work on your most important tasks first by identifying at the start of each day (or better yet, at the end of the previous day) one or two really important things that you want to accomplish that day. Then do those tasks first. The sense of relief and accomplishment is immense, and you will find that you are more relaxed as the day goes on.

The 80/20 rule

The Pareto Principle is a very general, but commonly observed effect: that a significant majority of the output of a system comes from a minority of the resources. Applied to business, 20% of salespeople generate 80% of sales revenue. 20% of the work completed accounts for 80% of the impact and effectiveness. Often we make the mistake of thinking that being busy means being productive. According to the research, you should focus on identifying the 20% of your tasks that will have around 80% of the impact. It goes without saying that these numbers are just for ease, and in order to generate the catchy name: the 80/20 rule. In reality, it could be a 90/10 split, or a 70/30, but the principle is common enough that it probably applies to your business.

Implement batching

Do you sit at your desk with your email open and then get sucked into reading and answering emails all day long every time they come in? This encourages multi-tasking. Instead, try batch processing your emails. Decide on certain times of the day that you are going to check and deal with emails.

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, advocates that you check email once a day or less! If you are like me, that radical idea is probably not feasible, but experiment with this idea of allocating specific blocks of time to perform necessary, recurring tasks. You can use this not only for email, but for anything that is usually a distraction for you, such as making phone calls, checking voicemail, texting, etc.

Be like Bill Gates - Go “off grid”

Deep work lets you learn complicated things, quickly. But you need time that is

without interruption for your brain to ruminate. In the article ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’ K. Anders Ericsson suggests, “We argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflects a life-long period of deliberate effort to increase performance in a specific domain.”

Some of the best philosophical thinkers and extraordinary people have proffered this advice. If you’d like to read more, I recommend ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ by Cal Newport. Often the suggestion is going to a remote location, or disconnecting yourself from the internet. No email, no mobile phones. The main emphasis is realising how often your bored mind will wander and how many daily distractions we have in our busy lives.

I’ve often said my favourite part of a holiday is when you step on the plane and turn off your phone. The sense of relief is exhilarating, as the stress all but evaporates.

In my day-to-day work, I have never managed complete isolation, however I take

some small steps that you may always want to try, this helps me manage my time and limit distractions:

  1. Keep your phone on silent, or in a drawer or a bag.
  2. Practice meditation throughout the day. I recommend the popular meditation app ‘Headspace’ to help with this, particularly if it’s a new practice for you.
  3. Close all apps on your computer unless they are required for the task at hand. Your email client, calendar, and instant messaging programs are the most common offenders..
  4. Put ‘Out of Office’ replies on emails if you are going to be in meetings or deep work for the majority of the day, this allows you to set expectations on how quickly you can respond.
  5. Always ask for an agenda for any meeting request, it may seem small but the amount of meetings for meeting sake can be one of your biggest time drainers, as a positive these agendas also help focus the conversation and speed up or concentrate the meeting making the experience more valuable.

So what’s your next step? Accept it -- the first step to change any behaviour is to fully embrace it. We are addicted to the constant buzz of activity that multitasking gives us. Just noticing when your attention starts to drift is the first step, and will allow you to start changing your behaviour.

Senshi Digital is an award winning digital tourism agency that recently implemented a 6-hours working day, with amazing results. There were winners at the 2018 Scottish Top Employers Awards in two categories, SME (Small) and Innovation. You can read more about them in our 2018 case study.

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