Updated: Feb 15
Do you ever get to the end of a day and wonder where it went? I've certainly had times were I felt unproductive. Having read around Im now convinced there are two important parts to productivity. 1) Planning and tracking your time 2) Working with your natural energy using working practises that harness it.
After reading I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam last year, I had a bit of a break through in understanding this topic. Laura talks in depth about logging your time use in small increments, and that triggered off more of an interest in really getting the most from my minutes. Laura is a busy professional with several books out, two podcasts & is also a mother of four so I was very interested to read how she does everything to such a high level.
I also started listening to Lauras new podcast Before Breakfast and was hooked, each day its a 5 minute talk on a different aspect of getting the most from your time. I've taken on board some excellent suggestions from planning your week ahead on Fridays, pairing jobs, time logging, & the importance of routine.
Routine is key
I also love Tim Ferris author of The 4 hour work week, for productivity tips, I havent read that book but I loved his Tribe of Mentors. Tim along with others recommends a strong morning routine to help you hit peak productivity early in the day and thus conserve your time for real work rather than frittering it away on email etc.
When to do it
Daniel Pink adds another element to this with his fantastic book When Daniel writes about when not how to be more productive. Its fascinating reading about the human energy cycle, clue- it doesnt stay the same all day long and we need to work with that for peak performance.
Along with Cal Newports Deep Work Pink acknowledges the benefit of mapping your focused work cycles onto your peak energy times. For me I have noticed I run peak, dip, peak with my best times for focused work 8-12 3-6pm or thereabouts. I also have to work around a family so I dont always get to work exactly as I would like but having a plan of attack, knowing your diary and knowing what the absolute top priorities are for you are so important to me.
Batch your work
MakeLight is a creative community run by Emily who is a photographer, writer & teacher. Emily is also a mother of four, so again work has to be tightly organised to give her and her family the best life possible.
Emily had the attention of everyone in the room talking about her practise of batch working. For example one of Emilys tips was to spend one day writing so you have lots of content for your blog. Get everything written up and into your drafts. Then on publication day simply press go and you have a blog out that day when you were actually teaching a class or spending time with your family.
Emily batches everything, from cooking food for her family to producing video content, as she rightly says it makes more sense to set up once, spend that time filming 3 or 5 videos & then use them over time. Along with other experts she also recommends only checking email at set times of the day & not having access on your phone at all.
This builds on another key point from DeepWork by Cal Newport. Don't try to do more than one job at once. Science has shown us that the residual attention affect means you may think you are now 100% focused on whatever you have moved onto but your brain wont, it will still be processing in the background. So don't switch between jobs, do one, finish it and move on.
The whole point of this blog was to talk about time and to understand that its more complex than simply assigning a value to it i.e write a report from 8-10, its important to understand your own energy too.
5 Tips to help you
1) Don't make checking your phone the first thing you do in the morning. It can interfere with your energy, set you off at a tangent for the day, and all of the experts seem to agree its a bad move.
2) Dont reach for the coffee first thing. Research has shown that our bodies have rising cortisol levels from first waking to around 90 minutes afterwards. This is sited in When by Daniel Pink. If you have your coffee then, you will be working against your body which is still booting up, wait till that 90 minute mark and it has the best effect on you and your work.
3) Do your most important work first thing. Research has shown that whatever you put down as your first job of the day tends to get done so thats a bonus anyway, but also for many tasks this is the best period for energy , brain power & focus. During this time work undisturbed, dont multi task & gradually extend the period of focus. The top minds can apparently cope with around 4 hours of deep concentrated work before they need to rest. Start with an hour and see how you get on.
4) Map your diary around your energy. If you know that between 12-2 you are less able to do focused work plan your easier tasks for this period, such as admin, social media, email, meetings. Don't let other people set your agenda, if you know your peak hours, block them off if possible so preempting any issues with this.
5) Take breaks. Breaks are not unproductive, they are key to understanding what we have learnt that day, our brain needs them. Get outside if you can, go for a walk, spend some time in a park, all of this is still allowing our brains time to work on whatever it is they need to. Even a 5 minute break away from a task can be massively beneficial.
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What to Read Next
If you enjoyed reading this article you may like this one on The Creative Brain a Netflix documentary on being more creative. Read it here
Shona Chambers Marketing is a Marketing Agency based in South East London.
Specialising in helping Small Business Owners and Freelancers with their Marketing.