September 17th, this is it. Summer break is officially over (at least for majority of us). Are you finding it hard to get your head into gear after a relaxing break?
Working in consulting, I was coming back to overloaded email inboxes, generating endless ‘to do’ lists. This can be highly stressful! so here are three particularly obvious insights at first glance – that we tend to forget in the post holiday excitement – that can have a big impact on your stress and get your head back in business.
Prioritise Your Tasks
Going through your task list (which can be very long if you spent the last two weeks on a boat in the Mediterranean with no internet connection like I did), ask yourself decisive short questions:
- is it critical to your mission? (or something which will just waste your time and energy)
- is this task going to take you 2 hours or 2 minutes? (a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way)
- is this on the critical path? (don’t loose track of the critical project waiting your review to go to delivery)
By the way a good advice I read somewhere: sometimes a to ‘don’t do’ list is more powerful than a ‘to do’ list.
Focus on the value you deliver, not on the “being busy”. Too many great / organised / effective people do 1,000 tasks on day 1 following their holiday and realise starting day 2 that half of it were closed at lost.
While these questions to improve your prioritisation suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you’ll need other prioritisation and time management tools if you’re going to be truly effective (Paired Comparison Analysis, Decision Matrix Analysis …).
My favourite is the 80:20 rule, the Pareto Analysis. This argues that typically 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. It really doesn’t matter what numbers you apply, the important thing to remember is that in your life there are certain activities you do (your 20%) that account for the majority (your 80%) of your happiness and outputs (eventually).
Stephen Park is the Team Manager of the British Sailing Team and spoke of the importance of prioritising key tasks to cut through the overload of options.
“We always start with the basic question – is it going to help us win medals? Is it going to get us closer to winning that gold medal if we do it? If the answer is no then we definitely don’t do it. If the answer is maybe, we will consider doing it and if the answer is yes then we will do whatever possible to turn that into reality and bring that to the party.”
Manage Your Time Effectively
Do you know that some of us can lose as much as two hours a day to distractions? Think how much you could get done if you had that time back!!!
Emails, instant message, colleagues chats, or phone calls from clients are distractions preventing you from staying on track. I believe it’s more satisfying and seemingly effortless to work and delivering when 100% engaged. At New Bamboo you will often see developers to the CEO, headset and music on (or sounds proofing device). For us it means: “I’m focusing, please do not disturb except if we are short on coffee”. While on a task, turn of your email, quit your slack session, this should help avoid about 90% of disruption. Minimise distractions and manage interruptions
Now, let’s talk about some of us guilty pleasure and the pitfall of others: procrastination.
Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now. When you procrastinate, you feel guilty that you haven’t started; you come to dread doing the task; and, eventually, everything catches up with you when you fail to complete the work on time.
First I would advise you to understand why you are procrastinating, then there is a lots of strategy to beat it. For instance, one useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to start on a project for ten minutes. Often, procrastinators feel that someone have to complete a task from start to finish, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Instead, focus on devoting a small amount of time to starting. That’s all!
For the techies (and the apprentice) there is apps to help reduce your helpless procrastination, organise you desktop, social-accounts and other time traps gadgets.
Professor Vin Walsh is a leading Neuroscientist at University College London and gave some exclusive tips on productivity.
“If think about your desk; think about what is on there now, my guess is around 15 different tasks. What you’re doing when you’re facing yourself with all those things is that your brain is periodically switching between tasks, causing you to lose concentration.“Try having one piece of paper on your desk, have the job on the desk that you’re working on, put the rest to one side and get them done one job at a time.”
Self-motivation is complex. It’s linked to your level of initiative in setting challenging goals for yourself. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And even those who are highly self-motivated need some extra help every now and then.
Build your self-motivation by practicing goal-setting skills, examine your strengths to understand what you can build on, set target, achieve and deliver then … the most important: CELEBRATE.
To be helpful your goal should be clear (and measurable, otherwise how do you know you achieved and celebrate?), difficult enough to push your boundaries, committable and relevant, open to feedback (first it will help you to monitor your progress, but also be open to feedback will keep you on track) and finally take into account the complexity factor: do not commit on unpredictable timeline goals (example: to respond to the 345 mails pending in your mailbox, you can’t predict how much time each one will take you).
Don’t be hard with yourself: EVERYONE has it’s moment up and down. Rebound is the key.
Dame Sarah Storey is the most successful Paralympic athlete in the modern era and has won a staggering eleven gold medals in both swimming and cycling. Sarah gave her top tips on how to maintain your daily momentum.
“The biggest motivation for me was to be the best that I can be. When I switched sports it was an opportunity to try something new, and it wasn’t about being the first person to win gold in two different sports, or that it’s going to make me the greatest paralympian ever. It was just about- could I take on this challenge and be the best that I could be, every single day.”
With good prioritisation (and careful re-prioritisation) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you’ll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.
Why the cat picture? I knew you will click on this article … just for the cat. Welcome back in business.