As we enter the tenth month of lockdown, we are facing an unprecedented social experiment. With school closures and most outside activities curtailed, it has been harder to focus more now than ever.
Let's face it. No one is great at multitasking. But we can get more efficient with a bit of organization and planning. These are some of the ways I’ve found to increase my efficiency at work.
Set aside time to think and plan. Pick a time that is good for you. For me, it is late at night after my kids are in bed, and I have worked out. I sit down with a mug of hot jasmine green tea and work uninterrupted for an hour or two. It's uninterrupted time for me to reflect on the day, to plan out the next few days, and to think deeply about what is to come in the weeks ahead.
Multitask selectively. I almost always work out on the elliptical around 9 pm. Between intervals is a good time for me to respond to work messages, take short calls, and go through my work groups and skim my emails. During the pandemic, I’ve also been taking more 1:1 meetings via phone calls rather than a video conference, so I can take a break from my desk and walk around the block.
Take care of the “just a few minutes” tasks before they turn into hours of work. There are a dozen little things a day that we have to do that each takes one or two minutes. It may be an email here or a chat response there. If I wait to tackle them by the end of the day I end up with over an hour of tedious work without realizing it. Throughout the day when I have a minute or two, I stop to take care of those things before they build up. One way to make space to do this is to set your meetings to be 25 minutes instead of the full half-hour so that you have a brief breather in between to take care of short tasks.
Focus on impact and not what is urgent. Oftentimes it’s the nagging thing right in front of me that gets all of the attention, and the longer investment things take a backseat. The most important tasks often take time and don't scream for attention. Decide what those things are, write them down, and focus on them.
Write what you repeat. My colleague Andrew Bosworth told me to “write what you repeat.” Figure out what conversations you are having multiple times and write it down. Then point people to it. That way you can take time to go more in-depth in your conversation rather than sharing more general information that someone can read in their own time.
Curate and cultivate. Reduce cognitive load by removing distractions. Maximize the time you spend for efficiency. Actively choose what you are engaging in. Interruptions are time thieves.
Hide irrelevant conversations in chat, email, Slack, or Workplace
Curate phone notifications aggressively
Archive and delete inactive email or chat threads
Auto-organize unimportant emails to alternative folders
Delete unused apps
Evaluate every standing meeting for two weeks and see if it is a good use of time
Unsubscribe to catalogs, remove yourself from mailing lists, and turn on online delivery for statements
Turn off your ringer and let it go to voicemail except for important numbers
Batch process. When I sit down to do something I focus on that one thing and then move to associated tasks. It is better to batch process in one sitting than it is to switch back and forth. I review all of my emails from the day just in case I missed one. I go through all of my work group posts in sessions. Then I check all key notifications. It’s a way to ensure I don't miss anything.
Just do it. Don’t procrastinate. You end up spending more time thinking about doing something that it would take to do the thing itself. When you know something needs to get done, don’t put it off. This reduces mindshare and time invested in any task.
Find social accountability. I was chatting with my coworker Ami Vora one day, and she said she wanted to write more. So we decided to become writing buddies and created a private Facebook writing group to push each other to write and get feedback on our drafts. Even though we are not super hard on each other, just knowing she’s there reminds me that I don't want to embarrass myself in front of her by not fulfilling my personal writing goals.
When you are off, be off. I’m terrible at taking a break, but when I am off, I really try to disconnect. I move my work apps to the second screen of my phone and turn off notifications for work. A couple of years ago during a really stressful period, my husband planned an impromptu family trip to go whitewater rafting. It was hours of forced outdoor fun, and it was nice to not worry about being offline. Even during this pandemic, I make time to cook and sit down and eat lunch with my family every day. It’s become a positive ritual in our day to take a midday break where we turn off all our devices, enjoy a meal together, and check-in with each other.
With just a few tweaks, you can make your work more productive and effective so you can make more time for the rest of your life.