Get more out of the hours in your day
The more efficient you can be at work, the easier it will be to get the important things done and leave work on time in the evenings. Technology in many ways has made us more efficient but it really can get in the way of us getting meaningful work done, so we need to change the way we use it if we’re going to work more productively.
There are some key points here to think about.
Planning our days is going to be very important if we’re going to get the critical things done.
Try and tackle the most important tasks first. They’ll always be work that we don’t get to, but make sure it’s not the tasks that are important or challenging. We have much less energy at the end of the day to tackle these things and this will usually lead to us having to work longer hours to finish these tasks.
We use this expression of doing the worst first. That really translates to getting the most difficult or challenging tasks done first. Those are the tasks we put off and procrastinate over. We answer our emails, finish other bits and pieces and we avoid doing these tasks because we know they’ll be challenging.
Create a plan at the end of each day for the following day, so you know what you need to do first thing. This will mean that you don’t automatically fall into the habit of answering emails or taking on the easy tasks, at the time when you are likely to feel the most energised or mentally alert. You can also then plan to leave the office on time, knowing you’ve completed the most important tasks in your day.
In order to strike a better balance we also need to change our relationship to emails. Both in how we deal with emails in our working day but also how we check our emails outside of work. If your day is dominated by emails, this is something we need to change (unless it is specifically part of your job description).
The first one is to remind you not to work ‘out of your inbox’ all day. At times when you’re doing other work, shut your inbox down completely. It can be extremely inefficient to be switching our attention between our emails and another task every few minutes. This creates a mental fatigue which means we’ll be working less productively throughout the day.
We also need to try and create some discipline in checking our emails outside of work. The reason why it’s so hard to create a sense of balance in our lives is because for many of us, we feel like we’re constantly connected to our work. We may think there’s no harm in reading an email at say 9pm, but it gets our minds tuned into work again and this interrupts our leisure time. We’re likely to feel less rested when we go back to work the next day. There’s also very little we can do about any emails that do come in at that time. On your smartphone you may have the option to disable these emails, so when you stop work for the day you can effectively switch these emails ‘off’. If you can’t do this, consider deleting the app from your smartphone or if you really need it, at the least move it off your home screen so you’re not checking email on autopilot without even thinking about it.
The last thing I want to cover in this section is just a reminder that your to-do list and your inbox will probably never be empty. We have to leave the office comfortable with the fact that we haven’t finished everything but that is generally the nature of work in our modern world. There is always too much to do, we will probably always feel that we will never quite catch up, but we don’t want to spend endless hours at the office on that hamster wheel. Give yourself permission to leave work, even when everything isn’t finished – it will still be there the next day for you. This will help you prioritise and invest in your life outside of work too.