Where did the entire day go? – 10+1 ways to make your day more efficient
“Ok, I got to be super efficient today: I need to finish the presentation for the meeting at 2pm by 10.30am, so that I have a chance to finalize the broad project plan for the introduction of the new XYZ Software before lunch. That gives me enough time to answer the 12 mails leftover from yesterday right after the 2pm meeting but still within the 24h window for answering mails as specified in our company policy. The two hours between 4pm and 6pm should be enough to prepare the employee workshop for tomorrow morning at 9am.”
Me, in the morning on the way to the office.
6pm: starting the workshop preparation because it is urgent. The 12 mails from yesterday are still marked as unread in my mailbox, however, now in company with the 31 from today that I didn’t even open yet, the project plan had to wait. The meeting in the afternoon had to be postponed to tomorrow due to an emergency at a customer. On the positive: if I am lucky I am done with the workshop preparation by 9pm.
Also me. 18 work/days out of 20 every month. But WHY do I seem to get nothing done between 9 and 6?
After analysing the daily routines and longer period of trial and error, it boiled down to 11 things I did or did not do, respectively, that literally railed my days off.
1. Switch off Email-alerts and make calls
It is great that Outlook, Gmail, etc all have the nice little alerts (visual and pings) that let you know when a new mail arrived. The problem is though, that our (as in most people) skills in communicating accurately deteriorated significantly in the advent of emails (did you know that around 145 billion emails are sent every day?) as we do not have to be precise anymore. The results:
- An email-chat begins –> time-killer number one
- If the answer required from you takes some time, you will mark it as unread anyways for later –> problem delayed, not solved
To avoid those situations, switch off the alerts and ready / answer your mails only once or twice a day in an allocated time-slot. If it is urgent, the sender will call you. Also: call the person back if you think the first email cannot be adequately answered with one email of yours. Talk about the issue and clarify it in five minutes rather than starting an “email-ping-pong-battle”.
2. Do not multi-task and call back
Starting to work on a new topic always takes some ramp-up time until you are 100% focused. So stop switching back and forth between tasks: you will end up doing neither of them to the best of your capabilities in double the time.
This also applies to phone calls by the way: There is no law that you have to pick up the phone when somebody is calling you. If you are focused on something and you have the feeling that answering the call will “disturb your flow”, let it ring and call back. If it is super-urgent, the person will call again and you can still pick up.
3. Allocate fixed time-slots to certain tasks and focus on them
Create (WRITE!) a prioritized list of your tasks for the day before you start or even the evening before. Make sure to be realistic, to add a slot for your emails and for emergency topic so that they don’t catch you off guard. And while you are working on ticking of tasks from your list, be aware of what you are doing.
4. Meetings: limit them to 45min; define a certain period for them and do not be shy to decline invitations
Meetings are the time-killer number two. Because people LOVE to meet – unfortunately often for no reason. So do not be shy to decline meeting invitations that do not have an agenda and/or a goal in the invite. Often they turn out to be blabla meetings as everybody will come unprepared (how and for what should the participants prepare?). The same applies to meeting invites at odd-hours: why do you have to meet at 5.30pm? Define a “corridor” for meetings everyday. For me, between 9am and 4pm works well. That leaves me with 1h to work on other stuff (emails for the day?) before the meetings start and 2h after the last one end.
5. No distractions and private chats
Proactively ban Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. from your working day? Why? See the topic on multitasking.
6. Take breaks and exercise
When you have worked very focused for 1 – 2h, take a short break and have a coffee for instance. If you can, build in some exercise (something that is fun for you and makes you sweat a little) in your daily routine? For what reason? First it resets your brain and second, your brain gets more oxygen which in turn makes it work and think better. Also, arriving after a short session in the morning gives you a totally different start into your day than dragging yourself straight from your bed through rush-hour traffic to your workplace.
7. Use the 3-min rule
If a new task comes in (call, email, co-worker who passes by) and it takes you 3min or less to solve it, do it straight away. It will take you longer later as you have to deal with the topic a second time. If it takes longer, prioritize it and put it on your to do list.
If you are facing a challenge or particular problem, that you were not be able to solve in a while (e.g. 30min), ask a co-worker whether you could pick his brain for a few minutes. Just staring at a task will not solve it. A second set of eyes and another brain may on the other hand spark some new ways of thinking for you and you will be on the right track in no time.
9. Break down big tasks in digestible parts
Big tasks can be overwhelming and paralyzing. Take the time to break them down into digestible small which you can put on your to do list. Even if it initially costs you some time to structure your challenge at hand and to break it down, it will for sure pay off at the end. It also has the benefit that you will have a constant positive reinforcement when once you finished one of the subtasks and the initial challenge is less overwhelming.
10. Know when to call it a day
Do you know the feeling when you are staring at a task and you are not making a single millimetre of progress and no co-worker is around to be your sounding board? Yeah? Then it is time to switch the task. If it is already the end of the day, call it a day and tackle the tasks again with a fresh brain tomorrow. The same applies by the way to tasks where simple thing seemingly take ages: Do it at another time in half the time.
11. Use digital aids and the Eisenhower Matrix
There are many little tools such as Slack, LastPass, Time2L, etc. that help you being more efficient over the course of your day. We even wrote a separate blog about it. The same is true for the Eisenhower Matrix. It helps you distinguishing between urgent and important tasks and what to do with them.