Working Smarter

Working Smarter

The discussions about Life Hacking and Productivity are everywhere! Sometimes I feel I talk more about it than I do about it. This is not going to be the ultimate guide to living or working smarter, it’s just a recollection of the advice that has helped me make better decisions and use my time more wisely. I hope it can be of use to you, too.

1. Create a To Do List

Sometimes I wake up at night because I have remembered something I forgot to do during the day or something I absolutely must do on the next day. Sometimes I find myself walking into a room and forgetting what I actually wanted to do and sometimes I feel like I am being at the same place twice (physically or mentally). It stressed me out not to be in control and I agree with Allen who says that most of our “stress stems from the fear of forgetting something” rather than from the fear of not being able to accomplish it. Therefore I try to write everything done and create lists I can cross out. Once everything is written down, I can empty my head and sleep more calmly.

I first learnt this from a friend in High School. She was the master of To Do lists and would have one ready for each exam, she was methodically and always prepared. She did forget things but knew where to find them. Other than staying in control, she showed me the extreme pleasure you get from ticking things off your list and from looking at a crossed out list at night and thinking proudly “Yup, I got all this done today!”.

2. Make time for thinking and reading

I am oftentimes running from one task to the next, from one meeting to another or from one problem to the next and I hardly make time to reflect and read. I noticed that I needed time to think all the problems through because if not I was just solving them one at a time as they popped out. I can be more efficient if I take the time to reflect upon what is going on and then act.

I take inspiration for problem solving not only from my own thoughts, but mostly through reading from others. Whenever I stumble upon an interesting article or an inspiring TED Talk that I don’t want to miss, I send it to myself and make sure to include it in my Reflection Time.

3. Reserve slots for emails

Like you, I receive tons of emails a day and I could just spend the day answering one and waiting for the next to come in. That would leave me frustrated though, feeling my time was dictated by those around me sending out emails. This is why I reserve time for emails and do not check them during other times.

4. Separate your work in small fragments

Just like kids in school, I like to divide my work up in small bits. I divide by time instead of subject because I know that my attention span last about half an hour. After half an hour, I love to just walk a bit (even if it is only to the bathroom) or drink a glass of water. 30 minutes is a reasonable time: I can ask for nobody to interrupt me and I can motivate myself even to do the most tedious task.

5. Listen to your inner procrastinator 

I read a great article by Perry Marshal about the help our inner procrastinator can be. He tells us to listen to him! When there’s something you really don’t want to do, most of the time it is really important. My inner procrastinator kicks in when I have to check grammar or write summaries to other people, he tells me to do the laundry, to cook something or to clean up the house. There is always an excuse for not spell checking these thousands of words. Now I take this protest as a signal, that the task I am about to ask myself to do, will be really important! Perry recognises the “inner procrastinator as a signal that he was precisely on the right track and resolves to finish the project” and advices us to

  • Look at your daily to do list and figure out what will really make a difference
  • Use your time wisely and delegate (make use of cleaning service for example)
  • Stop trying to be perfect (“Most of us soothe our anxieties and stay mediocre by perfecting things that don’t need to be perfect at all. Most procrastination isn’t doing nothing, it’s doing what’s comfortable and mediocre.”)
  • Make time for doing nothing.

 6. Find a rhythm or a habit

I like to get up early in the morning, do some exercice and then set to work. I work best before the sun goes up and when it is still very calm outside. I like to work with soft guitar music in the background or with noisli, an app that transports you to a forest or a sea whatever your preference.

I still have to try out the app ‘Write or Die’ that keeps you from having a writer’s block through punishment and encouragement and the music app ‘focus @ will’. I will tell you how those work out for me.

Coming back to thinking about rhtyhm: it’s not all about music, it’s about finding a schedule and sticking to it. Especially if working as a free lance or remotely, it can be extremely important to having some kind of structure in your work life. This way you serve energy that you would have to spend on planning your day.

7. Be radical

Maybe the most fun of all productivity hacks I heard, happens at PayPal, where like in most other offices people struggle with their inboxes. Important memos from the boss, summaries after long meeting hours and your own notes-to-self are mixed with invites to a cookout on the weekend, the recent Hasselhoff from the coworker who left his computer open and logged in and youtube videos of cute little cats – The inbox never goes down to Zero and He who achieves it becomes a hero (pun intended).

So, most Sunday evenings are spent sorting through the inbox to find the important stuff to prioritise the work for the week and to chuckle about the latest gif. Most of the emails we receive are sent to group and are just not all that relevant for you – why not be radical and hit ‘Delete All‘. In case, you did miss something important your team or co-worker asking for help, will kindly remind you. “Hej, have you read my mail yet?” – “Oh sorry, I must have missed it. Why don’t you send it again?” Problem solved! Inbox 0 and if the tasks you were asked to do were really necessary, you will be informed. Does this sound good to you? Inbox 0 in one click!

What do you do to be more productive or to feel more productive? Some days are just spent in meetings and it can be frustrating to summarise those days. You should give yourself some credits for the hours spent talking, thinking ideas through, listening or giving advice. They are a crucial part of advancing!

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