It sounds too good to be true, but the old routine of slogging away at a screen for 8+ hours without a break as you ride caffeine spiked waves of exhaustion is making room for new and more intelligent working practices.
Here’s a whistle-stop primer on how to work smarter, not harder:
1) Seize the moment
According to scientific study, the optimal work to rest period is 52 minutes to 17. There are numerous other takes on it such as the Pomodoro Technique, named after a little tomato shaped timer, which I would highly recommend but ultimately you need to find what suits you. If you’re really feeling adventurous you can try the 30/30 minute method.
Such a hard and fast regime may not work for you, but you can be flexible. The basic premise is this: we all feel that slump after a period of activity and the tendency is to try and ‘push through it’, our work slows down and the day seems to stretch into oblivion. By working in shorter specific timed intense bursts and taking regular breaks, we not only utilise our work time more effectively, we can increase our energy, creative thinking, and productivity.
In your breaks make sure you really switch off and find wonder in other things and allow that to feed your creativity and use that energy to attack your next working slot with a vengeance, you’ll be surprised how quickly the time slots pass, especially when you no longer have to watch the office clock.
Marina Timer [pictured above] offers a free, simple and flexible web based timer, displays a timer in your browser tab, and has a pretty cool “Echoing in space” sound notification.
2) Focus and be mindful
You have multiple tabs and windows open, alert icons lined up in rank along your task bar ready to ping you into submission, email open in the background, and alerts on your phone buzzing on your desk, sound familiar? Its actually a wonder we get anything done given how little we allow our concentration to work without interruption.
Focus on a specific task in a short stint and shelve all the things that you won’t achieve in your next time slot to stop the ‘monkey chatter’. By finding your flow and concentrating on the task it becomes ultimately more achievable and of higher quality. Use a timer [see above] and use your lists [see below] and… close your emails, there, I said it; you can go without checking them while you focus on a task and the world will not fall apart.
3) Make lists
Once you lay your priorities out in a visual list you’ll already feel things are more achievable and you can sack that little unicycle-riding juggler who has to keep all those thoughts spinning at the back of your brain.
There are some excellent free digital tools for making and breaking lists such as Trello and Wunderlist. Lists are quick, easy to make, and rewarding. Make sure they are bite size, i.e. tasks are broken down into small chunks that you can move across lists to monitor progress, try a simple set of ’To Do’, ‘In Progress’, ‘Done’ lists in Trello and move your tasks accordingly.
Lists don’t have to be just tasks either, make lists of achievements, lists of potential rewards, make music playlists too and give whatever you’re aiming to achieve a fitting soundtrack.
4) Unsubscribe and filter
It doesn’t take nearly as long as you might think to hack through your inbox and get rid of whole swathes of unnecessary emails for ever; along the way unsubscribe furiously to anything you no longer desperately need. Break the cycle. Less emails means less alerts, which means you are more alert and have more time for enjoying the moment you’re in and concentrating on what is actually important.
Make an exception for the Developing Dreams mailing list ;o) You can subscribe to it at the end of this blog and you will receive emails only once a month!
If you like updates from a mailing list, but don’t want to read every single daily or weekly email, you could just set up filters in your inbox so that they get archived in a folder for you to review as and when you have the time.
5) Switch off
Companies use to pay good money to have people ‘on call’ but now many people respond to those ‘urgent’ out of office hours on their phones. Does it help you switch off and recharge if you’re always checking your email out of office for work notifications, and is it a productive way to tackle problems? I don’t think so.
We all use our devices enough during the day, so set a shut off time for your screen viewing, looking at your screen in bed or on the sofa until you fall asleep may feel calming, but it really isn’t. The blue light from your screen confuses your brain and stops it producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Instead why not load up an audiobook or guided meditation session, stick some headphones in and tune out and relax your body and mind to prepare for blissful slumber, or pick up a good old fashioned notebook and pen and scribble your thoughts down so you can sleep with a clear head.
As most of us already know, if you’re happy you’re more productive. These quick tips can also have the added benefit of preventing burnout, inspiring new ideas in the workplace, reducing stress, introducing balance, increasing productivity, and help look after our greatest working asset, ourselves.