I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Time is the ultimate leveler of the playing field, and no matter who you are, what you do, or how you go about it, we’re all gifted the same 24-hours in a day… and it’s what we do with that allotted time that makes all the difference. Maximising the effectiveness of your day doesn’t necessarily mean you need to transform the way you operate.
Small, incremental changes to your planning – and perhaps, your wake-up time – can have a profound impact on your output per day, if you structure your day with the right tools, and eliminate the time-consuming activities that in reality contribute very little to your day.
Make an Action Plan
First and foremost, planning is the key to structuring your day effectively. Let’s imagine it’s a Sunday evening, and there’s two major items you need to address for Monday. Plot out your top-ticket item, the burning issue that needs to be prioritised above all else. Then, run your mind through what needs to be done, what you can do immediately to help push that item forward, and calculate how much time this might take.
This action plan doesn’t need to be a plan for the day, that’s not the intention here at all. The action plan is a way for you to
Wake Up Early
Even if you’re not a ‘morning person’, the early hours of a day can prove the most productive, particularly when it comes to high-level tasks. This doesn’t mean you should wind back your alarm by a few hours, but start with small 15-minute changes to your wake up time and aim to be out of bed anywhere between 5-6am. Giving yourself a head-start over the competition is an essential part of the game, and if you start to wake up just a little bit earlier – not to work, just for a form of exercise or to practice mindfulness – you’ll find your actions at work become more effective in the morning.
Do NOT Check Emails First Thing
The idea of ‘easing into the morning’ with reading and replying to emails is one of the most destructive things you could do to your energy and focus first thing in the morning. While yes, emails are undoubtedly important, you’re squandering some of your more important minutes and hours by browsing your inbox. Checking and replying to emails should be pushed back, so it remains a morning item, but it’s not the first thing you do.
Tackle the Top Priority On Your Action Plan
Instead, you should look to the action plan you set out the previous evening, and begin taking steps to tackle it head-on in the morning. You don’t need to start hacking away first thing. I’d encourage you to do some form of exercise in the morning to get your blood pumping and your brain topped up with positive endorphins. When do you start tackling a key issue on your action list helps you prioritise your issues, and it’s likely you’ll perform to a higher standard if you’re starting early, rather than pushing it back for the afternoon.
Cut Your Day into 15-20 Minute Slots
Traditionally, we split a day into either 30-minute or 1-hour slots of time. This might have been applicable when the speed of business was slower, however, in the 21st century this has been turned up dramatically, and the need for one-hour meetings is becoming less and less. I encourage organisations to shorten their meetings, and start practicing brief catch-ups, rather than lengthy formal meetings. Once you begin organising your time into smaller allotments, you’ll be able to cover more subject matter in the same amount of time, and perhaps more significantly for your brain, you’ll be able to refresh your grey matter with a new activity.
A key to staying focused throughout a long work day is to work in smaller segments, rather than devote three-hours to a single action item. If it’s inescapable, try breaking that project up into smaller segments.
Take Regular Breaks
If you’re working from home still, I’d encourage you to take a walk around the block to refresh your brain at least twice, preferably three times a day. If you’ve got a fairly casual call scheduled, why not take it with you while you top up on those positive brain hormones? While in the office, try taking a walk around the office just to get your blood pumping again. If you’ve found yourself stuck on a particular item, ask a team member that knows or is involved in the project if they want to grab a coffee or stretch the legs. It seems like a small detail, but removing yourself from a desk is an essential part of maintaining focus and fighting off procrastination while looking at a screen for long periods of time.
Adjust Your Schedule & Set a ‘Switch-Off’ Time
You know better than anyone how well you work at a particular time, or in a particular setting, so adjust your schedule accordingly. If you truly work better in the afternoons, you can schedule your major projects for then. Vice versa if you’re a sharper weapon in the morning. On a similar note, make sure you’ve set yourself a time to rid yourself of work distractions or stress. Maintaining your social or family time is an essential part of the work-life balance that keeps us motivated. Too many people focus the majority of their time on work, and find themselves burning out after a short period of time.
Don’t be afraid to be selfish. Take time for yourself, or with your friends and family.
The 10-3-2-1-0 Formula
A report from Inc cites fitness coach Craig Ballantyne, who explains his formula for ensuring your mind is razor-sharp for the next day. “The single most important factor in winning your mornings and owning your days is to get up 15 minutes earlier and work on your No.1 priority before anyone else is awake. It’s that simple,” he says. His 10-3-2-1-0 formula is said to improve memory and brain functions by allowing the brain to fully rest during a sleep cycle. Ballantyne says you should:
–Have no caffeine 10 hours before bed
–No food or alcohol 3 hours before bed
–No work activities 2 hours before bed
–No phone, tv or laptop screens 1 hour before bed
–Zero hits of the snooze button in the morning
Thanks for your time, I’ll see you in the next piece.
Kobi Simmat, Director & CEO of the Best Practice Group.