We are creatures of habit. There is comfort in getting things done in a way that we’re familiar and comfortable with. By the same token, what if these habits lead us to repeated headaches and stress in the office?
On top of that, it’s easy for us to get swamped and overwhelmed with work – just add multiple deadlines, difficult people and impromptu meetings – suddenly you’re working into your lunch break, and you’re burning the midnight oil.
Instead of being reactive to your environment, I encourage you to “respond” by firstly evaluating your patterns of getting things done, and acknowledging that there is always room for improvement. And secondly, by committing to creating more space on your desk, peace of mind and time in your day.
This article is a focus on the latter, and is a quick intervention to interrupting unproductive habits, and to offer advice from the experts – for immediate and effective ways to free up more time and space at work.
Three big things you must do today by Robin Sharma, leadership and personal success guru
The biggest items on your to-do list are usually the hardest, most uncomfortable and usually require the most effort. Sharma suggests tackling these three big things first in your day, when your energy reserves are at their highest.
Procrastination occurs when we avoid these “big things”, and instead cherry pick the to-do items that are perhaps more fun and easier to complete. By attending to three big things every single day, you are forming an excellent habit to repeatedly create an abundance of space and time.
80/20 rule by Wilfried Pareto, 20th century economist and philosopher.
Pareto made a keen observation that 80% of Italy’s wealth belonged to only 20% of the population. The common misconception of this principle is that 80 plus 20 equals 100 – this is not true.
In terms of productivity, Pareto leads us to identify the 20% of activities or tools that produce 80% or more of results. Project managers know that 20% of work (especially the first 10% and last 10%) require 80% of your time and resources. The 80/20 rule is applicable to almost anything from productivity, learning and to management.
Work from home by Dr Rachelle Bosua, information systems expert and author
According to a study conducted by The University of Melbourne, “employees who work from home one to three days per week are more productive than workers who do not.”
Dr Bosua says work patterns and places of work are changing dramatically as a result of increased adoption of digital technologies.
Job flexibility allows employees to invest in work life balance. The effect of having healthier and happier employees translates to better work output in the short term and sustained quality of work in the long run.
The big picture effect of happier employees results in lower absenteeism, decreased staff turnover and a culture of productive and fulfilled employees.
Simplicity by Edward de Bono, physician, consultant and inventor
“You need to put a very high value on simplicity”. De Bono highlights that in our increasingly complicated lives, we need to focus on the essential parts of a task or problem, to make the complex more manageable.
In this way of thinking, “less is truly more” because we aim to get more value from less activity.
Instead of adding more components and more activities to a task, De Bono suggests that we reassess the value of our outputs and reduce our inputs. In the context of medicine, we can seek the minimum dose that provides the maximum effect.
Ferriss’s take on deconstruction firstly looks at deconstruction in the traditional sense – breaking down a task into smaller manageable pieces and rearranging based on priority.
But he takes it a step further by identifying which parts typically lead to failure, and attempts to answer the question “why do people quit”.
This becomes his focus area of task orientation, effort and learning practice. By spending more time on these difficult areas, this leads one step closer to mastery or world class level ability.
Projects by Jerry Madden, NASA project manager.
Madden, a long serving project management specialist in NASA, has intimate experience with high precision and high stakes projects. During his career, he achieved the first lunar landing, launched NASA’s first satellite and deployed the Hubble telescope.
He attributes his success to team alignment, and above all, rearranging, refining and having complete control over the sequence of activities. “Wrong decisions made early can be salvaged, but ‘right’ decisions made late cannot.”
He also commented on the long-term of office operations, “the more the paperwork increases, the less product is delivered per dollar” – suggesting that every once in a while we should reset and start from scratch.
Two-minute rule by David Allen, time management consultant and author.
David Allen’s two-minute rule is as easy as it gets. He says that if a task can be completed within two minutes, it’s probably something you should do immediately. There is time gained from not having to organise and prioritise the task in the first place.
An extension of this rule is to batch or group these types of two-minute tasks, and when a window of time presents itself, take the opportunity to attend to these tasks and clear them.
For example making space in your inbox by saving attachments, deleting messages or moving important emails into folders.
Meetings by Tony Wong, productivity expert.
According to a survey conducted by Salary.com, 47% of workers say meetings are the No. 1 time wasters in the office. People come together to discuss activities, solutions and everyone has their turn.
Wong suggests to keep the end result in mind and work backwards; to consider the essential participants who need to be there based on their contribution, to set clear directions for the agenda and what should be discussed, and finally to have clear parameters to time.
Because time is the most valued commodity, it’s important to find the sweet spot for the duration of meetings. If it’s too long then participants merely fill in the time casually, with no sense of urgency to create value in the meeting.
If the goal is to get the job done, then at least let’s get it done well and with a sense of satisfaction. Getting overwhelmed is an inevitable part of our jobs and careers. But getting overwhelmed as a result of doing a task in the same manner, and getting stressed time and time again, is a red flag to gaining some perspective on your approach.
Taking on-board these expert productivity tips will enable us to reduce time doing the mundane, create efficiencies in our work, give us breathing space and provide clarity of thought – all of which will give us more time to enjoy the things we love.