Everyone occasionally experiences the sinking feeling that comes from having too much to do. There is too much to do, after all. The proliferation of content in the webiverse and the 24/7 work access model have conspired to keep us all moving at a break-neck pace. It is the time of the Quicker and the Deader. So instead of adding even more to the day, why not take something away?
The iPass Q4 2011 Workforce Summary (“The Summary”) investigated how the perpetually expanding workday is affecting the foundational blocks of our health. 33% of all workers reported they get less sleep because of work, and 60% said they didn’t get as much exercise as they should, or wanted to, because of work. Let’s stop doing more at work, and stop doing it so often. Controlling frequency is the key.
1. Be Mindful of Your First Hour
The first hour of the day sets your priorities. Whatever is most important to you should be done first – that way nothing can get in the way of accomplishing the most important task.
According to The Summary, just over 33% of people check their email before they do anything else in the morning and 38% admit to checking it at various times during the night. During the night. They wake up¸ and instead of rolling over and going back to sleep they grab their device, turn it on and make sure they didn’t miss anything. Or maybe they woke up to a little “ping”?
If that many people are waking up to stay in the loop, I can only imagine that most people (myself included) check again as soon as they get to their desk in the morning. Email, voicemail, social media – all of these prompt reactive activity. Whatever you encounter sets your priorities for the day, rather than the other way around. By the time you pull out of reactive mode, hours may have passed. Too many of us spend the first hour of the workday responding to email, voicemail, or reading newsletters (gotcha).
The first thing to stop doing, then, is checking your messages in the first hour of your work day.
2. Create Space
Now pick something else to do less often. Your to-do list can be endless, but where is the Don’t-Do list? Everyone has things in their day that they do because they always have, or because they think they should. There are so many ways to create space in your day. Here are a few that may be on your list:
- Eliminate/shorten some meetings.
- Stop reviewing every report. Using a weekly dashboard or executive summary report will highlight areas that need your attention and allow you to ignore much of the status quo detail.
- Choose “no go”. Opportunities abound but limit which ones you choose to capitalize on.
- Plan for no structure. Schedule an hour or two of open time every day.
- Avoid interruptions by closing your door for part of the day.
3. Don’t Work When You’re at Work
If it feels like you are working “all the time” and getting “nothing done,” explore the possibility that you may not be working that much at all. Humans need breaks, but most people don’t take enough of them and their productivity suffers greatly as a result. The Pomodoro Technique recommends you focus your attention for 25-minute intervals and then stop whatever you are doing and do something else for five minutes. Stretch. Grab a glass of water. Day dream. Stand up. Then get back to it for another 25 minutes, and repeat. You will accomplish far more by “not doing” for five minutes than you will by doing all the time.
This strategy is about flexing your discipline muscle, and it extends into the traditional “after work” hours as well. Only do work-related tasks when you are in work mode. Similarly, you need to stop the urge to do “work” when you are outside of your self-prescribed work hours. If you’re out of practice, it will be tougher, but the more often you do it, the more effective and productive you will be.
Get to Work
You want this to be a breakthrough year. Begin by reclaiming your first hour to begin the work day on your terms instead of someone else’s. Create space in your day to let your creativity flow. Only work when you are productive and “at work.” Take hold of your limited time and feel the freedom that comes with control.