Given the pressures that the pandemic brought to many people’s working lives, and the simple fact that there are more demands on our time than ever before, there are those among us that have never found it harder to be productive.
I’ve broken down my top five strategies for improving productivity:
- Incorporate your to-do list in to your work schedule
Whether you favour a paper list or an electronic one, it’s all too easy to skip the jobs we don’t like the look of. Not only is this bad for productivity, but leaving tasks undone can increase our stress levels thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect – we are more likely to remember incomplete tasks than complete ones.
Keep your traditional list if that works well for you, but input the detail in to your calendar too. Determine the priority of each item, time to complete and any other factors like the availability of collaborators, and schedule accordingly.
- Plan in minutes
Make sure you allow a realistic but specific amount of time to complete the task. Don’t block out an hour if you think 25 minutes will do, because you’ll probably just end up making that 25 minute task take the whole hour.
As accountants, we typically work in 6-minute units; I think about how many units I’ll need, rather than how many hours, and time-block accordingly.
- Work on the most important tasks first
Consider when you are at your most productive, and schedule your workload accordingly. For me, this means tackling the most important jobs in the morning, when I’m feeling fresh and have the most energy.
I allow myself the first half hour or so of the day to organise and schedule anything that came in while I was out of the office, then start on the biggest, most important or least fun task of the day.
- Manage incoming tasks
Once you are focused on your important task, you need to minimise distractions that will keep you from completing it. Incoming emails are a big source of disruption, so it’s key to implement a system for dealing with them before they take over.
If you can schedule the time you interact with your inbox to once or twice a day it’s a strongly recommended tactic, but if you can’t then set a de-minimis time threshold (I use my 6-minute unit) and only act on an email if it will take less time than that to resolve.
Use the RAFT model for sorting incoming mail:
Refer the task to someone else if appropriate, or schedule if it will take longer than your de-minimis threshold
Act only if the task falls below your de-minimis level
File if no action is required
Toss if you don’t need it
- Check-in regularly
Finally, allocate time to check in and keep your schedule up-to-date. I take around 15 minutes at the end of each week to make sure I’ve included everything that needs to be done.
A useful system for this is ROAR:
Review – reschedule any unfinished tasks, and schedule in tasks from your inbox, action points from meetings, and items on your to-do list
Organise – schedule any meetings and priorities
Anticipate – review the next month to identify any deadlines that need attention, review and schedule travel as appropriate and start to book pro-active actions
Realign – review key objectives and larger projects, particularly relating to your overall strategy, and schedule relevant actions and meetings
If your business as a whole is finding productivity an issue, take a look at some of our diagnostic tools here or get in touch with our Business Advisory team to discuss realigning your wider business strategy.