Reading Length: 9 minutes
We all have 24 hours in a day. But how do some people get more work done? Sometimes we put in more hours but we don’t seem to be making the progress we want. The key is to start working smarter by being more intentional with your time and designing a system.
1. Gain control of your free time.
We often tell ourselves that we don’t have time for something but in reality, this is just an excuse. “I don’t have time” actually means “It’s not a priority.” We need to recognize that time itself is a choice. From Laura Vanderkam, writer, speaker and author of “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done,” here are some time management tips:
- Write a next year’s performance review. What 3-5 things would make it a great year for you professionally? What 3-5 things would make it a great year for your family?
- Make a three category priority list on Friday afternoons. Career, relationships and self.
- Break down the goals into smaller steps. Place the priorities first on your schedule!
2. Focus on systems instead of goals.
From the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, instead of focusing on the habits or goals, you should focus on the systems. He suggests to design your habits in four ways:
- Make it obvious.
We need to become more aware of our habits in order to create the right plan. We can start by creating a habit scorecard to see which ones are negative and positive for the long run. Afterwards, we can design a specific plan with implementation intentions. The sentence is:
- Sentence: “I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].”
- Example: “I will start my project at 9am in my office room.”
- Make it attractive.
Our environment plays a major role in our habits. We are more likely to engage in a habit when there is a cue in our vision to trigger it. The sentence is structured:
- Sentence: “[Habit I Need] +[Habit I Want]”
- Example: “After I exercise, I will watch one Netflix episode.”
- Make it easy.
Make the habit so easy to the point you can keep repeating it with ease. Follow the 2 minute rule. Instead of saying, “I’ll exercise today.” You can say, “I’ll do 2 minutes of push ups.” And then increase from there!
- Make it satisfying.
Add immediate rewards after engaging in a desired habit. Try to live by the mantra “Never miss twice” by maintaining consistency in your habits.
3. Avoid distractions.
From Maxim Dsouza, blogger of Productive Club, some rules to eliminate distractions are:
- Don’t allow smartphone usage.
- Keep your phone away from your direct line of sight.
- Turn off notifications.
- Only keep required task related windows/browsers open.
- Go the extra mile by eliminating distractions around you.
4. Use Parkinson’s Law.
The Parkinson’s Law state that the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This means that if we set an early deadline for ourselves, we will be more likely to tackle the task with more focus and intensity to complete it. We can tackle the time consuming things such as email and social media by cutting the amount of time on it. For example, instead of spending 30 minutes on it, we can cut it to 5 minutes. From Joel Falconer, editor, content marketer, product manager and writer:
5. Design your defaults.
90% of our daily habits are automatic and most are shaped by the environment. You can start being more intentional by reflecting on our default actions in our life. Reflect on your defaults to see if it is positive or negative. From Dan Silvestre, a personal development blogger, some ways to set defaults are by:
- Cleaning your desk at the end of the day.
- Choosing your outfits for the week on a Sunday night.
- Planning your entire week on Sunday.
- Listening to the same song on repeat.
- Using the 2 minute rule to stop procrastination.
- Using only a handful of productivity apps. Less is more.
I personally made a list of every single decision I was making in my entire week. This includes my breakfast, clothes, exercise videos, songs, groceries, blog posts and YouTube videos. But I’ve established a system to make those tasks automatic so that I don’t have to suffer through decision making fatigue. Every Sunday afternoon, I plan out all these minor decisions. It may take up a certain amount of time but it’s worth it.
6. Work according to personal energy levels.
Our motivation levels can seem like a rollercoaster. At certain times, it’s high and at other times, it’s low. In most people, energy levels are high around 10am. But it starts to dip around 1-3pm. From Jory MacKay, author at RescueTime,
Studies have also shown that we work best in 90-120 minute sessions and then we’ll need a break. The problem is that most of us ignore our energy dip after hitting more than 90 minutes which leads to high levels of fatigue and stress. So we need to listen to our body when it’s time to take a break. We also need to observe which times of the day are we most energetic and motivated in order to take full advantage for peak productivity.
7. Delegate the work.
Our time is still limited so we need to manage it wisely. We can do this by leveraging other means for more productivity. From Nat Eliason, a writer and creator, four personal leverage loops are:
- Define: Create a system and database to clarify exactly how to do everything.
- Refine: Make changes as you go through the process.
- Automate: See which software can assist you in automation.
- Delegate: See who’s the best person to delegate this work to.
In my last semester of college, I wanted to experiment the power of delegation so I hired a few virtual assistants from Fiverr to help out with my college assignments. Prior to hiring them, I had already established a system with detailed instructions on their responsibilities. After some refinements, I was truly amazed to see how much more time and energy I had to focus on more important matters. I don’t recommend this to college students unless you have established a system to ensure that everything stays ethical and to avoid plagiarism at all costs. I always still made sure to double check the work and made sure I was not violating any code of ethics.
8. Reflect on your calendar.
It’s okay to engage in non-productive activities as long as you have defined success for yourself by doing what you had planned. From Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, ask yourself the following two questions:
- “When in my schedule did I do what I said I would do and when did I get distracted?”
- “Are there changes I can make to my calendar that will give me the time I need to better live out my values?”
Identify any external or internal distractions that may be hindering your progress. Reflect on your schedule to see if it aligns with who you want to become. For example, my long-term goal is to become a better blogger and YouTuber. Activities that fill up my calendar are researching, writing content, filming, and video editing. If I had completed those activities which I had set on my calendar, then I would call it a successful day.
9. Change your surroundings.
Our surroundings have the ability to impact our mood, productivity, performance and creativity. We are drawn to certain styles due to our differences in cultural background, job, social status, personality, educational background, and more. With some simple changes in our surroundings, we can increase our productivity. From Melanie Falvey, creator of “Backdrops That Sells Systems,” reflect on the following:
- 1) How do you feel in that space?
- 2) How do you want to feel in that space?
- 3) What colors do I associate to those feelings?
- 4) Is there a common thread? Did you choose similar colors? Contrasting?
- 5) How do they look together?
- 6) Think about the functionality of that space: do you need to file, hide, store…things?
- 7) Choose a few elements that may or may not be functional but that make you happy.
- 8) Sketch a floor plan where you will be able to place the different elements you will be using, play around with them.
- 9) Once you are happy with your design, start making it a reality!
10. Make use of your commute time.
A Commuting in America study showed that people are willing to give up social media, their paycheck, pornography, TV, and a free dream vacation in order eliminate their daily commute. This shows that people seriously despise their daily commute. But we can turn the daily commute into a more productive ride in a few ways. From Scott Mautz, author of Find The Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again,
- Use commute time for role transition. Instead of listening to music, review your goals, plans, important tasks and visualize it.
- Turn the commute into a learning zone. Make use of podcasts or audiobooks to turn your transportation into a classroom.
- Work on your case for working from home. Ask for a trial run and then “replicate” the findings. Share the benefits to your boss for working at home.
- 1. Gain control of your free time. Write a next year’s performance review. Make a three category priority list on Friday afternoons. Break down the goals into small steps.
- 2. Focus on systems instead of goals. Make the habit obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying.
- 3. Avoid distractions. Limit and distance from smartphone. Turn off notifications. Only keep certain browsers and tabs open. Eliminate other distractions.
- 4. Use Parkinson’s Law. Set an early deadline for your tasks so that you tackle it with more focus and intensity.
- 5. Design your defaults. Reflect on your default actions to see if it is negative or positive. Change it if needed.
- 6. Work according to personal energy levels. Most people work best around 10am but energy dips around 1-3pm. Work in 90-120 minute sessions with a break afterwards.
- 7. Delegate the work. Leverage a machine or person to free up your time. Remember the four personal leverage loops: define, refine, automate and delegate.
- 8. Reflect on your calendar. Reflect if you had completed what you had planned out to do for the day. Refer back to the two questions.
- 9. Change your surroundings. Changes to our surroundings can impact our creativity, performance, productivity and mood. Refer back to the reflection questions.
- 10. Make use of your commute time. Instead of listening to music, use commute time for role transition, a learning zone or time to plan out your case for working from home.
- How to gain control of your free time | Laura Vanderkam
- How to Avoid Distractions and Increase Focus by Maxim Dsouza
- How to Use Parkinson’s Law to Get More Done in Less Time by Joel Falconer
- How to Make Smarter Decisions by Designing Your Defaults by Dan Silvestre
- When to work: How to optimize your daily schedule for energy, motivation, and focus by Jory MacKay
- Personal Leverage: How to Truly 10x Your Productivity by Nat Eliason
- How to Get the Most Out of Your Calendar by Nir Eyal
- Can your surroundings affect your mood and productivity? by Melanie Falvey
- 3 Science-Backed Ways to Make Your Dreaded Commute Remarkably Productive by Scott Mautz