Everyone’s busy. Too busy to exercise. Too busy to eat well. Too busy to finish work before 9pm. I think busyness is a kind of addiction. It’s a way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings and of taking the time to think about and commit to what’s actually meaningful to you.
As the pace of communication has increased, we’ve ratcheted up the pace at which we expect ourselves to respond to people and the number of things we try to do at the same time.
The result is more stress, longer hours, emails being sent at 3am and probabl y less actually being done, to a lower standard.
Many people have a sense that they need to be stressed to get things done and that doing several things at once makes them more efficient. The reverse is true!
Here are seven ways to get more done in less time:
They say women can multi-task and men can’t. That’s rubbish. The reality is that brains can’t focus on two things simultaneously. What’s actually happening is that your attention is switching rapidly between tasks, which wastes brain power and is inherently stressful.
Here’s an experiment for you: count to ten in your head and then run through the alphabet in your head.
How long did that take you? Not long, I hope!
OK, now run through the alphabet, substituting every third letter for a number.
You can almost feel the cogs in your brain grinding together, can’t you? Well, this is what it’s like every time you switch backwards and forwards between tasks at work.
Do one thing at a time and you’ll get more done.
2. Calming down
The stress response is activated when there is a perceived threat to your survival. Back in the day, it was as sabre-tooth tiger, these days, it’s fear of being fired or simply losing face for messing up.
Fight or flight mode switches off the prefrontal cortex, which impairs creativity, memory and concentration. That is not going to help you get more done! So you need to calm yourself down through exercise, meditation or whatever works for you.
Many people go through their day in a combination of reactivity — they open their emails in the morning and respond to what’s new rather than what’s important — and avoidance of more difficult and, therefore, uncomfortable tasks.
For the last few months, I’ve tried setting myself ONE priority for the day and making sure I do it. This means I get more of the important things done.
4. Taking breaks
Since I’ve started using the Pomodoro technique, I take a five-minute break after 25 minutes’ work. When I don’t do that, I eventually start to feel the mental fatigue impinging on my ability to think clearly, which means I get less done.
5. Designated email time
You might feel like you’re being ‘on it’ by responding to emails as soon as they come in but, in fact, you’re slowing yourself down by allowing yourself to get distracted. By batching emails into specific slots during the day, you’ll be much more efficient.
6. Turn off all notifications
Most computers, phones and apps come with all their notifications turned on as default. Every notification is a distraction and is therefore slowing you down. Turn them off to get more done!
7. Tell people you can’t talk to them right now
I used to find this really difficult. I felt I would be being rude or arrogant if someone came to talk to me at work and I said I couldn’t talk to them.
Now that I’m used it, I just smile and say that I’d love to talk with them about X but I’m in the middle of something, so can we talk a bit later. They’re always fine with it and it helps me get more done.
8. Stop trying to do so many things!
Having too many different projects you’re committing yourself to leads to a sense of overwhelm, paralysis of choice (as there as so many different actions you can take) and, often, a frantic whack-a-mole approach to tasks.
Stop. Take a step back. Think about what it is that you’re actually trying to achieve, and cross off everything on your to do list that isn’t directly helping you with that.
The most common reason people don’t meditate is they say they don’t have enough time. Well, one of my clients put it very well when he said after he’s meditated, 90% of the things he thought he needed to do, he realised he doesn’t, and it becomes much clearer to him what his real priority is.
So, not meditating to save time is a false economy.
It also trains you to focus on one thing at a time, think clearly, feel calm and resist distractions. People often say that, as a result of practising meditation, they feel they have more time or that time slows down.
So counter-intuitively, one of the best ways of getting more done in less time is to spend more time doing nothing!
10. Work/life boundaries
One of the downsides of the smartphone revolution is that work has started bleeding into evenings and weekends in a way that wasn’t possible before.
However, by not mentally switching off from work, you’re not allowing your brain to recover, so you’ll get less done the next day.
A friend who works at a large bank said that when he stopped working on Saturdays, he became more productive.
Clearly communicate to your colleagues that you are not available at certain times to respond to emails.
Call to action
Try implementing just one of these things today, and see if it makes a difference!