How to Feel Accomplished at 5 PM
If you’re being pulled in a million directions during the 9 to 5 daily grind, you’re not alone. A study by Microsoft found that people in today’s dizzying digital world have attention spans of just 8 seconds.
Here’s the good news: You can stay on track in spite of the distractions around you. Here are 5 simple time management and productivity hacks that can help you produce better quality work, faster.
1. Take time to map your course
Get into the habit of planning the week ahead on the Friday before. Even a 20-minute investment here will pay off as you hit the ground running with a sense of clarity on Monday. Start by consolidating all your tasks and ranking them based on urgency, value and effort required. Try to limit your priority task list to a maximum of 3.
Uncertain of how high the stakes are for a particular job? This makes for a good conversation piece with your teammates or managers — demonstrating that you are proactive and committed to focusing your efforts where they are truly needed.
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Completing even the tiny tasks can be incredibly satisfying, so leave those for the shorter blocks of time when you need a mental break or when energy levels are waning. A once-a-day block for writing or replying to emails is sufficient, with experts suggesting a late afternoon time slot works best.
Leaving a buffer time in between tasks will help to create flexibility and room for responding to uncertainty. Also, remember to schedule pockets of time for career enriching activities like networking, catching up on the latest market trends or brushing up on a particular skill.
2. Unplug & knuckle down
According to University of California research, it takes an average of 25 minutes to refocus after an interruption. Visualize your current workspace and you likely see multiple screens, e-mail notification pop-ups and teammates coming by with a “quick question”. Couple the down time triggered by each distraction with your 8 second attention span and you have a recipe for disaster.
The key is to design your physical and digital space to help you get in (and stay in) the zone.
Create focus blocks between 30 minutes to an hour and experiment with moving your workspace to an optimal environment — perhaps a cafe with headphones on, or a private meeting room. Also,try to keep Gmail and Slack notifications at bay during this time and set your mobile devices to airplane mode. With a calmer, goal-driven approach, you’ll find innovative ideas and quality work flowing in a fraction of the time.
3. Design, develop & share your plan
As your time management action plan kicks into action, get suggestions, buy-in and support from those around you. Using visual tools can also be helpful for others to identify and respect your quiet time. For example, hanging a sign on your chair to “Please come back in 30 minutes — I’m concentrating!” reassures others that their needs will be met while maximizing your attention reserves.
With so many unique, customized time management systems among work groups, starting a conversation about productivity will provide you with inspiration for creating your ideal workday plan. Take the next step of visualizing it on shared calendars which will create transparency for others to know what the best time to get your attention is. Digital calendars are also a great resource for keeping your tasks, appointments and reminders running like clockwork.
It’s important to create a personalized schedule configuration that works for you. Be mindful of what your energy levels are like throughout the day and play around with work hours, making sure you’ve scheduled high priority tasks for when you feel in your prime.
4. Block out time to do nothing
Being constantly busy creates the illusion of productivity, but also means sacrificing self-awareness and strategic thinking. The best a-ha moments typically happen when you are doing “nothing” — taking a shower or walking the dog. Astronauts in space, for example, reported a cognitive shift of heightened awareness and a life-altering perspective that psychologists termed the overview effect.
“Be a bum. Do nothing. Enjoy yourself. It’s okay.” — Marty Rubin
Healthy 15-minute openings in your daily calendar to recharge and think about the big picture will create a calmer headspace and room for fresh insights. Use this time to embrace your overview effect — thinking long term, attaching meaning and significance to your work and coming back with a reinvigorated sense of purpose.
5. Productivity over perfectionism
Highly competitive work spaces, anxiety over failure and imposter syndrome can leave you feeling drained and defeated. Socially prescribed ideas of excellence being a prerequisite to success can start to creep into our daily activities with detrimental effects on productivity.
For instance, take this familiar scenario: a difficult project lands on your desk with a tight deadline and a big budget on the line. Your manager needs a project plan in the next 24 hours. The clock is ticking as you feel increasingly paralyzed, not knowing where to start. The obvious solution? Reply to emails and scroll through Twitter until the final moments, frantically producing something far from your best work.
To avoid this cycle of procrastination and disappointment, Organizational Psychologist, Laura Hamill, suggests the following pro tips. Break up complicated projects into a series of smaller, achievable tasks. Practice creating something within a set timeframe, trying not to get overly caught up in details and accuracy.
The Pomodoro technique can help with this: choose a task and set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus on the goal of completing the task before the timer goes off and repeat with the rest of your task load, making sure to take breaks in between.
In a typical work day, time flies whether or not you’re having fun. Regain control by creating a balanced time management plan that’s tailored to your goals and work habits. Be conscious that less is actually more when it comes to fostering creativity and innovation. With an open mind, you’ll establish an energizing routine where you’re no longer spinning wheels, but zooming ahead.