How many of us tagged “be more productive” on the end of our New Year’s resolutions list? “I’ll start exercising three times a week, find a new job, oh, and try to work more efficiently.”
The reality is, according to statistics from the University of Scranton, that a meagre 8 per cent of us keep resolutions for a whole year, while most are shelved by Valentine’s Day. Sadly, if making a concerted effort to be more productive is on the end of your list, it may have fallen off already.
But even though we’re well into January, it’s never too late to get going. So what manageable methods can you use to transform your working life?
THE GREAT TOMATO
If you want something old-fashioned, the low-tech and frequently lauded Pomodoro Technique could be for you. It’s so called because its Italian creator, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a kitchen timer (presumably his was tomato-shaped), which is pivotal to the method. Rather than make an enemy of time, Cirillo advocates planning what you need to get done in advance, creating a prioritised list. Then, the timer comes in. Apportion 25 minute slots to each item and work until it goes off. The idea is that the physical act of timer-winding will reinforce concentration.
After 25 minutes, there’s an obligatory five minute break. This gets you into the habit of working then rewarding yourself. You’ll also find it can speed up smaller, repetitive tasks: if you can cluster them together, you’ll get faster, and it’ll stop them interrupting the rest of your day.
A similar technique is the 50/10 Rule. By setting the time apportioned to work (50 minutes) at the upper end of the average attention span, it’s meant to help build up stamina and attention.
A MANAGEABLE CHUNK
But if overhauling your whole life (or taking a timer into work) feels like biting off more than you can chew, why not concentrate on one key area? For most of us, emails will come pretty high up the list. A University of Toronto study has suggested that 12 per cent of the average firm’s payroll is taken up by unproductive use of email.
Harvard Business School professor and author of Extreme Productivity Robert Pozen advocates the “only handle it once” (OHIO) principle. When an email lands in your inbox, deal with it straightaway.
Pozen estimates that up to 80 per cent of the emails he receives require no response at all. Shelving them to come back to later just wastes time and energy, he says. Pozen himself has juggled chairing mutual fund MFS Investment Management with running several lecture series, so he should know.
Some rebut Pozen’s extremism, saying some messages are just going to require longer. But he maintains that it’s important not to let perfectionism trump action. If something requires more time, perhaps a phone call or meeting would be more appropriate.
And if you’d rather have a more measured start to the year, why not sign up for Unroll.me or similar software? The service helpfully bundles all of your subscription emails into a single convenient, daily email, clearing some space. And it’s completely free.
Get an app to help
Don’t leave productivity to chance – get an app to help you out. Like other time management apps, Timeful schedules events and tasks. But unlike some slightly bewildering rivals, it divides your day simply into three categories: events, to-dos and habits. Input your schedule – when you work, sleep and when you feel most productive – then let its algorithm do the rest. It’ll feed you a stream of what you’ve got going on, suggest times to press on with work, and say when you should focus on to-dos.