There always seems to be some people who always finish what they start and boast about how they can keep up with life and work balance.
“What kind of sorcery is this?” one might ask. Despite the obvious differences across industries and personal habits, there seems to be a common denominator under all productive achievements, and it’s called “working smart“.
But what does “working smart” really mean?
Why multitasking simply won’t cut it anymore
The workplace has changed dramatically in the last few years. As result, many traditional workplace settings and habits seems so outdated.
Multitasking, which has been praised for a long time as a skill to learn in order to be productive, has proven to be completely ineffective, if not damaging to our work.
Think about how workers are bombarded every day with email, notifications, phone calls, meetings. Keeping track of all things at once is not humanly possible. I mean, really: only 2% of people can effectively multitask. Our brains are not built for it and suffer when we do many things at a time.
Instead, it seems the secret to more productivity resides in doing less, but better.
Why you should single task instead
It does sound counterintuitive: how can slowing down work by doing one thing at a time bring more productivity? Well, doing many things at once isn’t a synonym of doing them well, to begin with. In fact, workers that try to work on too many tasks simultaneously are more prone to make mistakes, get sidetracked and distracted.
So isn’t it a better way of using time doing one thing at a time, but doing it well?
- You’ll be spared from a lot of stress due to feeling overwhelmed by many tasks at once;
- You’ll be able to dedicate your full focus to the task at hand.
As a result, you’re likely to get more things done, be more productive, and hopefully less stressed.
Singletasking, the right way
Don’t celebrate just yet: although single-tasking is the way to go for more productivity, you still have to do it right.
By giving your task the right priorities, avoiding distractions and committing yourself to the task at hand, you’ll make sure to focus and get it done more quickly and effectively.
Pick the right tasks: assigning priorities
Where do you start from when you have to pick from an endless list of tasks?
Here comes the Eisenhauer Matrix to the rescue:
This well-known method helps to sort out the tasks that really need your attention. By knowing what is important, what is urgent and what is both (or neither!) you’ll know exactly what priority give to your tasks.
Definitely easier than hopping from task to task with no direction on what to do.
You should always pick a task and make it a “priority of the day”.
Avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand
In the age of distractions, our attention is grabbed from everywhere and it’s not easy to avoid distractions and just focus. If you want to do one task, and do it well, you have to dedicate your full focus to it. A few ways to achieve that:
- Turn off all notifications (phone, email alerts, social media and so on)
- Place a “Do not disturb” sign on your door /desk
- Use noise-canceling headphones, or listen to music
- Clear your desk to make sure you don’t have papers flying around you, things falling over you or pens to fiddle around with;
- If you’re really desperate, change office or desk, or go to work somewhere else.
Commit to the task at hand…
Once you’ve picked the task and set up your environment to keep focused on that task only, how do you actually keep it up until the end? Well, cutting off interruptions and distractions definitely works. After all, the human brain needs more than 20 minutes after is been distracted to refocus.
To force yourself to stay on the task at hand, you can try tracking time while you work. I start a timer using Timeneye, and the idea of having an active timer while I work creates a commitment in my head to stay on task:
Since I don’t want the distraction of opening the Timeneye web app every time, I start timers using the Browser widget.
…But know when to stop
You don’t have to tie yourself to the chair. On the contrary, strategically placed breaks while you work will help keep your mind fresh and alert. Some productivity experts suggest taking a break every 52 minutes of work. Other suggests a break every 75 or even 90 minutes. But in the end, it depends on your work habits and routines.
The break should also be a real break: get a coffee, eat a snack, take a walk around the block, do a coffee run for the office (your colleagues will thank you for that).
What do you do to work smart? If you’re interested in a time tracking tool to keep you focused and productive, start here.