I used to be an unapologetic multitasker; juggling several plates at once, fairly good at keeping them all airborne. I believed I was super organised, and so did everyone else.
But the completion of every task was inevitably accompanied by the feeling that I could have done a lot better had I been more focused. Being an organised juggler or working long hours doesn’t mean you’re productive. Nor does it mean you’re happy with the outcomes. Over time I realised I wasn’t doing myself, my personal life or work product any good by staying the multitasker course.
For a while now I’ve been trying to apply minimalist principles to my work and personal life. Minimalism, in a nutshell, is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the chaotic whirl of our lives.
Minimalism has helped me immensely in my work. It has helped me rid myself of the clutter of endless tasks and reorient myself towards productivity, with an emphasis on outcomes. By focusing on the outcomes, I can give myself a clear roadmap to work towards. It helps me decide which projects I want to take on and where I want to direct my creative energy.
It’s been two years since I started out on this journey, enough time I think to share the lessons I’ve learned with the world. I’m very interested to know your thoughts on my list, so do tell me what you think.
Break up your day
Breaking up my time into easily manageable portions helps me focus and not get overwhelmed. I split my workday into four distinct parts – Read, Create, Do, Learn.
I start my day early, and since I’m my best in the mornings I spend the first hours of my morning reading up – current affairs, blogs, new developments in my industry. I’m fierce about no distractions during this part of my day; my phone is set to silent and hidden away in my desk drawer.
Create is for my personal projects, internal projects at Bee, our social media and blog.
Do, the largest chunk of my day is devoted to working on our various customer projects. I manage email at the start and end of this block. I also schedule meetings, make and return phone calls and texts.
Learn is my time to upgrade my skills or learn a new one. Udemy is an excellent place to learn something new.
Rule of 3
I borrowed this entirely from ‘Getting Results. The Agile Way‘ by J. D. Meier. Anyone who has lost an entire day to busy work will know how easy it is to be completely paralysed by a to-do list. The Rule of 3 is a productivity technique that focuses on achieving three compelling outcomes every day, week, month, and year.
The idea is to build a continuous pattern that enables you to work towards your outcomes, and also look back and reflect on them. In a nutshell:
1. You work towards outcomes, not tasks. ‘Email Jay’ is a task. ‘Get Jay to authorise social marketing spend’ is an outcome.
2. You break down your task list by applying the Rule of 3 and focus your energies on the three most critical outcomes for the day, week, month and year.
3. Your outcomes should match the timeframe; they should be ambitious but achievable.
4. You look back every day, week, every month, every year. Reflect on what you have accomplished, what you think should be improved and move forward with better understanding.
The best thing about Rule of 3 is that it is an agile system. It’s quite alright to replace existing outcomes with new more important priorities that come along. I still have a laundry list of tasks, but with the Rule of 3, I can focus my energies on the most important ones. I no longer waste time on a problem that isn’t a priority and can be delegated or ignored. And if at the end of the day, I can answer ‘Yes‘ to the question, Have I done a good day’s work?, I’m happy.
The internet and productivity
The internet is where productivity goes to cry. ‘Open new tab’ used to be a browser innovation I loathed and loved all at once. Despite incessant tab abuse (63 open tabs on one occasion), my faithful browser soldiered valiantly on. Now, if I’m on the internet, I close out tabs as soon as I’m done with them. I open my mail client twice a day. If I need to research or look into social for Bee or one of our client projects, I close the tab immediately after I’m finished.
Productivity and Evernote
A lot of the work I do involves research. I’m constantly on the internet, researching a demographic, market or industry. Google search is a fun way of falling down a labyrinth of links and more links and even more links. Bookmarks aren’t particularly effective – searching through a whole list of bookmarks is just painful. The less said, the better about the distraction of open tabs and the corresponding overwhelming feeling of having so much on your plate. Now when I research a new project, I skim through the link and use Evernote’s handy clip plugin to save the pages I want to read thoroughly later. Once I’m finished, I go into Evernote to read everything I’ve bookmarked. With Evernote, I can also make notes all in one place. I move the notes I need for a citation to the project folder in Evernote and delete everything else.
The best way is to let everyone on the team know when you are available for a chat or call. If I’m collaborating on a project that requires constant feedback, I work out with the team in advance what the interruption hours are. We also decide on a Bat Signal for things that need immediate attention outside of interruption hours.
Whether you work in an office or remotely, this isn’t an easy problem to fix. Especially if you work in an organisation that thrives on a culture of interruption – too many meetings, phone calls, emails that must be answered as they hit your inbox. You could start small, approach your team leader and suggest you test this for just your team.
There is no correlation between hours worked and productivity. You could work 60 hours a week and most of it busy work. All you’d get for your effort is stress, burn out and creative Antartica. The most productive people work fewer hours and know when to stop and when to recharge – even if it is in the middle of their workday or a crucial project. Stop to recharge whenever your brain and body signal you need a break. 15 minutes doing something completely inconsequential is all you need.
Planning my week
I take 30 minutes out on Friday evenings to reflect on the week gone past and to plan my work and personal week ahead. This way I don’t spend a single minute of my weekend worrying about anything to do with work.
Choose a system that supports your goals
All of us at Bee use Basecamp to manage our projects, to do lists, collaborate, work schedules, and along with my Calendar, it’s the only browser tab I have open at all times. When you work from different locations like we do you need a solution that puts everything in one place so nothing slips through the cracks. We apply agile principles to just about everything we do at Bee and Basecamp is a great tool for our work environment. You can take a look at some of the other some of the other apps and tools we use at Bee here.
Productivity and Remote Work
Research from a 2014 Harvard Business Review study suggests that people who work their same office schedule from home get more done per day.
I’ve worked from home for close to 5 years now, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to a traditional office setting. And it’s not just the ability to get more done or the flexibility of being able to work from wherever I feel like on a given day and the time (and money) I save commuting. Having a remote work culture has benefited my business too. Bee has seen increased productivity, better work-life balance for everyone on the team and savings from not having a traditional brick and mortar set up. Productivity in a work-from-home setting is just a matter of setting up a few ground rules.
1. Find a space that enables your productivity
Whether you prefer to work from home or cafe or co-working space, make sure it stimulates your productivity. I know people who work best when they have music blaring out of their speakers and those that prefer library quiet. Whatever your poison, if it stops working for you, be agile and change your setup.
2. Keep work out of your bedroom
If you work from home, make sure that your bedroom is sacred. Your space to switch off from work. Even if you can’t devote a whole room to your home office, you can create a work area that is an island in itself. It could be just a small desk in the corner of your living room or your dining table. You could even repurpose a closet. Do invest in a comfortable chair – you will be spending hours in it after all.
3. Manage expectations
If you work from home like I do, and have young children, like I do, it becomes imperative to have a chat with family, house help, and especially your children about what merits an interruption. My daughter knows my home office is off limits during work hours, but if she’s home and I have a Skype or telephone call scheduled, I make sure to let the other person know she’s around, just to set expectations if there are any unexpected interruptions.
4. Dress for comfort
There’s a lot written about how your productivity is enhanced if you follow a routine just as if you’re going to the office. The jury is still out on this one for me. Jammies are one of the best perks of remote work. However you decide to play this one, the emphasis should be on comfort.
5. Cabin fever is real
Don’t wait for it to become a real problem that messes with your creativity and productivity. Work from a cafe or a co-working space occasionally. When you feel it coming on, take a break. Go out for a walk or run a quick errand. Meet a friend. Unwind so you can re-focus.
That’s all folks!
Let me know if you implement any of these suggestions. I’m keen to know what worked for you or didn’t. And like all productivity geeks, I’m very interested to know how you work towards being more productive. Tell me your tips in the comments.
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