Avoid creating a “data dump”, and find out why 17 minutes could be a godsend.
It feels like it should be easy to be more productive – and many of us are constantly looking for ways to be so. A recent survey by Salary.com found that 69 per cent of people say they think they waste at least half an hour at work every day.
Of course there are drastic changes that make a real difference – a recent study published in Harvard Business Review reiterated that most people work more efficiently if they’re doing so from home. Participants who did completed 13.5 per cent more tasks than staff in the office – and, predictably, reported far higher job satisfaction. But there are plenty of smaller changes you can make. They’ll take just a few minutes, and make you far more productive.
THE RIGHT FOCUS
First and foremost, ensure you set yourself up for success. Make a conscious decision to stop checking emails as soon as you wake up, says ignite80 founder Ron Friedman. It can quickly shift your attention from what you need to achieve and onto someone else’s agenda.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Friedman recommends starting your day with a short mental planning session: an intellectual “mise en place” – “everything in its place”. Ask yourself a question to get going. “The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?” If it helps, write those things down.
Lists are, of course, often denigrated as time wasting, but many prominent business people swear by them as quick and simple ways to order their day. Richard Branson, for example, has said: “I have always lived my life by making lists: lists of people to call, lists of ideas, lists of companies to set up, lists of people who can make things happen.” As he intimates, much of a list’s efficacy lies in how it’s executed.
Entrepreneur and productivity expert Vanessa Loder, writing for Forbes, says the key is to ensure you can draw a line between quality and quantity. Don’t let your list be a “data dump”, where you scribble down everything you want to get done at some point, but haven’t done yet. Take five minutes to note down everything you want to achieve, then pick three items you’re going to focus on that day, says Loder. Even better, do this the night before, so you psychologically push yourself towards the tasks you’ve chosen.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Once you know what you’re aiming to achieve in a day, using a formula to structure those tasks could help. A recent experiment by social networking company the Draugiem Group used the time-tracking app DeskTime to see what set its most efficient members of staff apart from others. The firm found that the most productive 10 per cent didn’t put in longer hours – they didn’t even work full eight-hour days. Instead, they took regular breaks – specifically, 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work. “Turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer — but working smarter with frequent breaks,” wrote Julia Gifford of Draugeim, when she revealed the results in The Muse. The 52 minutes were spent working in a focused and intense way, with the 17 a rejuvenation period.
And what the top 10 per cent chose to do with their 17 minute breaks is interesting. Rather than skim through email accounts or watch videos on YouTube, they chatted to co-workers, picked up a book, or went for a walk.
In fact, even a 10 minute walk can have an effect on your efficiency. Research by Indiana State University has shown that taking four 10 minute walks each working day has significantly more impact on health and concentration than a straight 40 minute walk. Moreover, the benefits last for 11 hours, outpacing the seven hours a single longer walk brings.
If you travel a lot for work, TripIt can make life a lot more pleasant. Just forward your travel confirmation emails and let the app do the rest. It automatically creates a detailed daily itinerary for each trip, giving you directions, maps, and weather forecasts too. TripIt Pro costs $49 (£32) a year, and gives you real-time flight alerts, a seat tracker, refund notifications and more.