Ever been some stressed about your workload that instead you find yourself complaining about your situation to a colleague, reading news articles online, or scrolling through social media instead?
Yeah, me too.
We obsess over everything that needs to be done that nothing gets done.
You know why?
Stress can be paralyzing.
When this happens, tell yourself two things.
First, admit to yourself that you aren’t going to land any “big wins” today. Instead, focus on the easier and more mundane tasks on your to-do list, that require minimal critical thinking and more repetitive actions.
Second, set yourself up for a more productive tomorrow.
Here’s how you can achieve the latter.
We all have different energy patterns. For example, I work best in the morning — also known as my “golden hours.” For others, it takes a few hours to warm up before they can produce their best work.
The time-block method allows me to work on multiple tasks during the day, but enables me to focus on one task at a time.
Here is how I time-block at the office:
8:30–10:00 AM: Schedule hardest tasks (legal research and writing)
10:00 AM — 1:00PM: Schedule all in-person meetings
1:00 PM — 2:00PM: Lunch Break
2:00 PM — 3:30PM: Schedule all phone calls
3:30 PM — 4:30PM: Draft/send correspondence and administrative tasks
Time-blocking is creating a routine that takes into consideration your golden hours. As you’ll notice, I schedule my most intellectually-demanding tasks in the morning, and leave the more mundane jobs to the afternoon.
You have to figure out your “golden hours” and then schedule your tasks in order to correlate with the amount of energy needed to achieve them.
Use the Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Method is perfect for those who have too much on their plate. As much as I can, I use it as much as possible within each time block, with the obvious exceptions of being in meetings or on a work call.
This technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo and has been widely used throughout the world.
Here are the six basic steps:
1) Determine task
2) Set the Pomodoro timer (default is 25 minutes)
3) Work on the task
4) When the timer goes off, put a checkmark beside the task
5) Take a break (I set it for 5 minutes)
6) Resume step 2
7) After you have 4 checkmarks, take a longer break (I set it for 20 minutes)
8) Do this until your task is done, and then restart process again with next task
The popular Productivity Planner incorporates the Pomodoro Technique by using bubbles you can colour in whenever you’re done an interval. This is a clever way to increase motivation and track your progress. You certainly don’t need to buy any products to use this method, though.
Personally, I use a timer, whether it’s online or on my phone. Whenever I have my short breaks, I stretch, stand up, and refill my beverage of choice.
During my longer breaks, I reward myself with a walk around the block or getting another cup of coffee.
Listen to White Noise
Some people can listen to podcasts or music with lyrics while they work.
I focus better when I listen to white noise. White noise is noise that contains different frequencies with equal intensities.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, white noise improves connectivity between brain regions associated with modulating dopamine and attention.
In other words, listening to white noise can increase one’s memory.
Here’s a website that has a free coloured noise generator, so you can experiment with different coloured noises and determine what works best for you.
Leave Your Phone Somewhere
Put your phone on silent and shove it in a drawer.
When you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, you should only be checking notifications on your structured breaks during your intervals.
Never have your phone facing up, near you. You’ll be inclined to glance over at every notification and respond to every text message immediately.
There’s nothing more distracting then working, glancing at a notification, responding to a text, going back to work, glancing over at another notification, responding to another text. Rinse. Repeat.
Do yourself a favour.
Distance yourself from the temptation. Focus on what needs to be done. Respond to your social media later.
Trust me, it can wait.
The Rest Is Up To You
As you may notice, these strategies reflect two key things: recognizing your best work hours and taking frequent and structured breaks.
Most of us actually have enough time to do everything — or at least more than we think — but we end up procrastinating by worrying. Effective time-blocking will solve this problem.
Using all of these strategies together, you’ll find yourself more focused and productive in no time at all.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this story, you should check out www.jenonmoney.com where I write about the intersection of money, work and happiness. — Jen