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Power-up: how to become more productive

Updated: Jan 9

Do you routinely find yourself feeling overwhelmed? Do you procrastinate and never get everything done? Do you struggle to fit everything into your day? Do you jump from one task to another before you have finished the first one? Then read on! Although I can’t reduce an unrealistic workload, I can offer some tips for how to plan your day to become more productive at work.

1. Prioritise

When the going gets tough, the tough get organised! The first step to prioritising is to write down all of the things you need to do for work – not just today, but in general. Chances are it will be a pretty long list. Now take a look at all of the items and categorise them as: essential and urgent; essential and important; desirable but non-urgent; repetitive/rote tasks (e.g. emails). Once you have categorised all of your items, you can start to add them to your diary, planner, or calendar accordingly. Obviously you want to prioritise the essential (urgent; important) items but try to spread these out over a few days and add in some desirable and repetitive tasks to take the pressure off. You want to be realistic about what you can achieve.

2. Use a task-based rather than time-based approach

Now look at how you spend your day. I suggest you tackle your essential tasks first thing in the morning. This is when you are likely to have the most energy, focus and motivation. Put your phone on silent and switch off email notifications. Work on that task and only that task. After lunch, you are likely to have a bit of a slump as your body digests your food. Work with this rather than against it and do some of your repetitive/rote tasks now that you can do fairly mindlessly, such as emails or undemanding administrative tasks. Then, towards the end of the day try one of your desirable but non-urgent tasks to capitalise on the increase in focus and motivation after you’ve had your lunch. Or look through the remaining items on your list and plan what you’re going to do tomorrow. Don’t restrict yourself to strict time limits when planning as this can end up creating more stress and pressure. Think tasks rather than time.

Please note, this point is best applied if you work fairly standard hours. I appreciate that working in dance may mean that many of you work non-standard hours. In this case, the same principles apply, you might just have to work out when your most energetic versus tired times are, and plan around that accordingly.

3. Set boundaries

If your workload is unreasonable then you need to figure out how to deal with this. Can you talk to your manager, delegate, say no to more things? Can you ask to skip a meeting if it doesn’t directly relate to your job? Also, set boundaries around your own time: for example don’t work after 5pm, or at the weekends, unless it’s in your contract. People will only expect you to be available out of hours if you make yourself. Furthermore, I highly recommend ignoring emails completely until after lunch. We often start the day by checking emails but is this the most productive way to spend your time? Will it distract you from your essential tasks? Don’t conflate visibility with productivity. Will anything really happen if you don’t read any emails until 2pm? Try it and see! If it’s that urgent, the person will find another way to contact you.

4. Don’t force it

Are you waiting for a light-bulb moment? Perhaps you have a problem that you need to solve, or you need to come up with a big idea, but as much as you stare at your laptop or pace the studio floor, the solution isn’t coming. You know it’s there, just out of reach, it’s just not quite forthcoming yet. The best thing to do in this instance? Leave it for now. Trying to force a big ‘aha’ moment is almost impossible and you may just end up wasting time trying to making it happen. Move on to a desirable but non-urgent task instead. There’s a reason we often come up with our best ideas when we’re doing something mundane like brushing our teeth, driving, or taking a shower: our brains keep working on the problem even when we’re not consciously focusing on it. Clever, huh? So move on, do something else, and trust that it will happen.

5. Take a break

This does relate to point 4, but is important in its own right. When we’re really busy and have so much to do and not enough time to cram it into, one of the best things we can give ourselves is – somewhat counterintuitively – a break. Just 10 minutes or so to refresh or rest. We are unlikely to produce our best work when we’re exhausted so go for a walk around the block, watch a funny video, have a quick chat with a colleague. These things can help put the work pressure into perspective and actually make it easier to crack on and crack it.

If it feels like work is taking over your life, check out my Re-thinking Work-life Balance course.

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