Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could get eight hours’ work done in six hours? There will have been days when you’ve done exactly that. Perhaps a deadline was looming, or you needed to get something important done. Maybe you were particularly motivated or maybe it was just because you knew exactly what you needed to do. Similarly, there will have been days when the opposite was true and it took you eight hours to do just six hours’ work.
So it’s not how long you sit at a desk that determines the value you generate. It’s the energy and focus you bring to those hours that is important. The thousands of books on time management offer a misplaced emphasis on the one thing you can’t really manage: time. Energy management and energy renewal are more important if you want to elevate, or even maintain, your performance. Athletes know this, but when we’re using our brains rather than our bodies, we tend to forget.
So to become more productive you need to manage your energy, and make time for renewal. To work smarter, you also need to ensure you work on the tasks or projects that generate the highest value.
- Busyness = continuous working, but getting very little done.
- Productivity = getting lots done, but not necessarily the most important things.
- Working smart = spending the right amount of energy on the right things.
Working smart, therefore involves the following five steps:
STEP 1: GOAL ORIENTATION
Too often, the link between what you want to be doing, and what you actually do is fractured. There’s no point accelerating if you’re going the wrong direction.
How to become more goal orientated:
- Always have clarity on your long term, year, and quarter goals
- Have no more than three goals for each quarter
- Turn your goals into processes (using either ‘5 main moves’ or ‘3 key habits’)
STEP 2: 80/20 PRIORITISATION
“Slow down and remember this: most things make no difference. Being busy is a form of mental laziness.” Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week.
Now you need to master your prioritisation and the best way to do this is by applying the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule is a commonly accepted principle used to explain uneven distribution, derived from the observation made by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, more than 100 years ago, that 80% of Italy’s land belonged to only 20% of the population.
Ponder this for a minute: 20% of what you do generates 80% of your results, or progress towards your goals. 80% of what you do generates only 20% of your results. You can see how this principle should influence your prioritisation:
How to master 80/20 prioritisation
- Use the 80/20 rule to establish your most and least valuable tasks and activities
- Priorities your MVTs as much as possible
- Ensure you also prioritise your psychological recovery (the things you love doing)
STEP 3: MVT CALENDARISATION
Part of the challenge to working smart is to remain self-directed despite the urge to feel responsive. This means prioritising the work that generates the greatest value, based on your goals.
How to master MVT calendarisation:
- Plan 1-3 MVTs each day
- Create a default (repeating) diary for weekly, monthly, and quarterly MVTs
- Do a quarterly review every three months
STEP 4: ENERGY MANAGEMENT
To execute your most tasks best, you need to learn how to manage your mental energy and use your best hours for your most important work!
Most people feel their mental energy is highest in the morning, between about 9am and 12pm. Some people, instead, find they are most alert in the late afternoon, after about 4pm.
- Start each day knowing your MVTs and, if your best hours are in the morning, do your single most important task first. Try to get at least two of them done before lunch.
- Stop replying to emails first thing. As soon as you start replying you’re using up your best few hours and you risk spending your highest energy on low-value tasks.
- Take more breaks. Just as your mental energy fluctuates predictably throughout the day (circadian rhythms), your energy also oscillates in 90-minutes cycles (ultradian rhythms). To stay at your best it’s important to have a break at least every 90 minutes.
STEP 5: ATTENTION MASTERY
Having energy isn’t enough to ensure you work effectively; you also need to stop trying to multitask!
Have you ever noticed that you turn down the car radio when you’re lost? Or maybe you’ve seen people stop walking in the middle of the street because their phone call suddenly required their attention? Multitasking is a myth. Your brain can’t multitask, it attention shifts, and if you engage simultaneously in two tasks that require even remotely complex thought or critical thinking, your performance suffers noticeably. It’s been estimated that multitasking causes your productivity to drop by 40% and that you make up to 50% more mistakes. So:
- Turn off your notifications, and turn off your email application when you’re not using it.
- Use your smartphone less. It’s that simple.
- Manage people distractions by setting boundaries (e.g. agreeing the best times of day for your team to ask you questions)
- Empty your mind once a week with a ‘brain sweep’. This exercise will improve your focus and help you sleep.
- Practise meditation and mindfulness (audio resources here)
If you apply the tips above you will be able to get 8 hours work done in 6 hours – the equivalent of getting 12 months work done in just 9 months. Stay focused.
Now, what’s the ONE THING you’re going to change to be even better? Small changes can make a MASSIVE difference.
Review the list above regularly and try to make small improvements continually.