Monday, 6 July 2015

How To Get More Done

A lot of time management advice treats people as if they were machines, ignoring the reality that human beings have temperaments, moods and biorhythms. 

Here are three tips on how to squeeze more productivity out of your busy day.

1. Stop Pretending to Multi-Task

We can't truly multi-task when two activities require conscious attention.  What we actually do is constantly switch attention, and part of our brain (Brodmann Area 10) creates the illusion that we are doing two things at once.  The result is that we pay poor quality attention to both tasks and, over the long term, we find it difficult to focus properly.
Brodmann Area 10

Constantly refocusing attention like this is hugely inefficient.

But many of us enjoy multi-tasking and find it hard to stop.  Like many of life's temptations the trick to overcoming it is to remove the temptation itself.  This means using Switch Busters.  A Switch Buster is something that stops you switching your attention.  Here are some examples:
  • turn off your computer monitor when you are making a phone call.
  • switch off your mobile phone and put it in your bag during meetings.
  • change your email settings so that automatic retrieval is disabled (or pull out your network cable if you can't stop yourself manually checking - some of us are addicted to the dopamine hit stimulated by the arrival of a new message).

2. Make Fewer Decisions

Making decisions, even small ones such as how to respond to an email, can be mentally tiring.  View your mental energy as a precious resource that needs to be preserved and used judiciously during the day.  One way of reducing the time you spend taking decisions is to only check your email at particular times during the day.

3. Manage Your Elephant

Think of yourself as a rider on an elephant.  Your rider is full of good intentions and wants to maximise his or her productivity.  Your elephant, however....
  • is alert at some times of day (typically the morning) and sluggish at others (mid-afternoon)
  • likes sugary snacks and coffee
  • is inclined to spend time cyberloafing (browsing the internet) if it didn't get enough sleep last night
The elephant is powerful and won't be pushed around by the rider.  The trick is to work with your elephant rather than fighting it.  In practice this means:

Using your Prime Time (the part of the day when you have most mental energy) to maximum advantage.  If you are at your best first thing in the morning, hit the ground running as soon as you arrive: tackle a mentally demanding task rather than chatting to colleagues, putting the kettle on and looking at your emails.

Making sugar and caffeine work for you.  They are stimulants, which can give you a short-lived boost when you need it.  Get into the habit of using them in a way that helps you to be productive (eg, when you hit your mid-afternoon slump).

Going to bed earlier.  Getting an early night has improved my productivity more than any other strategy. Flogging a tired elephant is no fun.