We were all expecting to work from home to have more time for personal matters, and here we are, busier than ever. A new report by Atlassian shows that people worldwide are working for longer, on average, than they did before the pandemic. The average workday has expanded by a full 30 minutes globally. Before, you could attend one event per month; now, you can participate in 10 events because they are free and there is no commuting, but your calendar suffers.
If companies think of sticking to remote work or having a hybrid work model, workers must find a way out: improve your focus to achieve more with less.
1) Eliminate what you don’t need
Most people waste their time on tasks that are not important (for them), but seem to be urgent (for others). From tasks that are due at a later date, to paperwork that needs to be archived, undesired calls or spam emails, distractors are always ready to reduce your efficiency. They only keep your brain busy and increase your stress. It’s hard to know what’s done, pending, or what is more important.
To help your mind focus on what is essential and requires your attention, you need to remove from your sight the rest of the items that you don’t need. Sorting what you don’t need is also the first step of the Japanese 5S methodology that Toyota applies to organize their workspace. Cancel the meetings that can be replaced with emails; send to spam the emails you don’t want; clean your desk and leave only the documents you need to work today. Review your to-do list and eliminate the tasks that are not aligned to your purpose, delegate if your are not the expert or simply assign the remaining tasks to a parking lot or backlog to prioritize them.
2) Divide projects into smaller parts
It is easier to focus on small 1-hr tasks than on big projects that take days or even months. That’s why we usually tend to cross out of our to-do list small items and procrastinate on more complex tasks. Many people find it challenging to finish a book or a thesis because of this. Instead, break out your project into smaller parts, such as the chapters of a book. Smaller items look more achievable, easier to focus and to estimate the time to finish them. This way, checking out of your to-do list is more often and, therefore, more satisfying.
Time-box or post the task you need to do into your calendar. By adding them to the calendar, you are merging your synchronous work (tasks that you perform with other people at the same time that they do, like meetings, phone calls) with your asynchronous work (tasks that you perform on your own and not in real-time with others). As per an HBR article, by getting a complete view of the commitments you’ve made, you can see your real capacity before you agree to take on more. It is key here to be realistic about what needs to be done, and the time required to finish it. By analyzing how accurate your estimate was at the end of the day, you will get better at planning over time.
4) Avoid multitasking
Be focused all in when you start with a task, like it is the only thing that needs to be accomplished. Switching tasks costs around 30 minutes of extra adjusting time. Decide your to-do list the day before and commit to it one task a time, avoiding overlapping that will only stress you more. You may define a day for admin tasks or a day free of meetings, mornings for writing or whatever works for you so that it is easier to make decisions on what needs to be done and when.
We tend to multitask because we have various systems that pull for our attention: calendars, emails, a paper to-do list, Asana, Trello, Monday, Tasks, you name it. I found that the app Sunsama helps me focus, as it pulls a calendar based on all the other apps you have, organizing everything you need to do every day in one place. It even allows you to have a daily planning ritual, measure the actual time you devote to each task and compare against the plan.
5) Plan your entire workday
When working from home, you can be flexible about when to start or finish your day, but that can hurt your free time. Plan your starting time, lunch break, gym break and end time in advance to make sure your full work time is still OK, and you are not going over. Of course, you can spend more time working if you need to, but it is also a good practice to stick to a routine while you only miss it occasionally, than to respect it occasionally and work extra hours too often. This is one of the causes of burnout. As per a Microsoft report, “Digital overload is real and climbing”. Share your agenda with others to help them know what to expect.
For every minute you spent sorting your tasks, you earn an hour. Make sure to start and end every day with a clean desk and a to-do list of the things to accomplish in priority order. Sort what you don’t need, divide projects into smaller tasks, time-box the tasks, avoid multitasking and plan your day to improve your focus. Working from home doesn’t have to make you feel guilty when you don’t work. On the contrary, it has to provide you the flexibility to work and feel better.
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