“How do you get so much done each day?” was the question my teammate asked me at a recent 1-to-1. I requested some time to think about my answer because – at that moment – I realised I had never thought about it in that way before.
I do have a comfortable work flow. I believe this has slowly fallen into place over the years of me trying various tactics and the ones that have worked for me, stuck, even without my full awareness. I think that’s something interesting to explore within that itself which I’ll save that for a future post.
I’ve spent the last 4 weeks assessing how I optimise my efficiency at work. Here are the 5 themes I’ve observed.
- I aspire to touch everything only once e.g. when I open an email or message – I either reply to it or file it immediately. If it’s something I can’t do instantly – I’ll plan it in my schedule by blocking the time needed to work on it. I then try to forget about it.
- I strive to keep my emails extremely succinct.
- I schedule meetings for the minimum time needed to achieve the purpose, instead of the conventional 30 minute denominations. In general I aim to wrap up meetings as quickly as possible unless they are 1-to-1s with my teammates.
- I use the remaining time (typically 5 – 15 minutes) before the next meeting to focus on completing the quick actions from the last meeting and planning time for the larger ones. If possible I’ll also use the time to get ahead by working on other tasks that are due that day.
- I complete the quick, urgent actions during the meeting itself e.g. messaging a teammate to ask for some support or scheduling the follow up meeting.
- I use my Outlook calendar to assign time to complete actions and then I concentrate on using that time to execute.
- I have many placeholders already scheduled in my calendar, on a weekly basis, to complete actions. I update these with the details of the actions as they come up. These placeholders often get taken up by meetings but I then quickly replan my schedule to ensure I don’t lose the time for working on the actions.
- I find that time blocking works for me when I have commitments in my schedule that are unmoveable e.g. a gym class, walking the dog, catching a train. These commitments help to focus my mind to complete the task in the allocated time.
- If I embark on a task and then find I’m not sure how to execute it – I don’t use the allocated time to think about it. Instead I reschedule the time and allow my subconscious to come up with the answer. It indeed feels like magic when the answer then comes to me out of blue but this tactic consistently gives me great results. I then resume work on the task in action mode.
- I try to group things together, e.g. if I realise I need to talk to my teammate or client to complete an action I’ll add that item to the agenda for my next scheduled call instead of spending time to write an email to them. This approach has multiple benefits for me:
- It gives those 1-to-1s a clear agenda.
- It reduces email traffic.
- It sets a sustainable expectation with my clients around communication.
When I reflect on the above list, I realise this work style is not completely serendipitous for me. In the past I have felt overwhelmed by my task list and allowed it to dictate my life. This was not enjoyable despite the fact I love my work. I have always tried to adjust this and – while I occasionally work long hours – the difference now is that I consistently work with a focussed sense of purpose.
I conclude by distilling the objective of my current work style to “keeping a clear mind”. I only think about one thing at once, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. This approach works for me and I hope it works for you too.