I should perhaps start this post by confirming I don’t work a 4-hour day. Because, no matter how much that particular way of working is regarded as being achievable for us all, I genuinely can’t fit my daily tasks into that short amount of time.
However, I average around six hours of work per day, which isn’t that far off. And it’s two hours less than what most people would consider to be a regular hard day’s grind.
But here’s the rub: I’m achieving more now than when I was regularly pulling late night sessions having spent all day working through my mammoth to-do list.
You can do just the same – I promise.
How I started
Like everyone, I’ve suffered from my fair share of procrastination and distraction. In fact, when I reviewed the most common bad productivity tips (which are often hidden), I discovered that I fell foul of most of them.
This was something of a revelation, because I thought I was busy. Too busy, in fact, to even contemplate taking on any more work or doing the multitude of things I’d promise myself and never get round to.
So, I decided to strip back everything and analyse my working day. It just so happened that at the time I’d entered a new relationship, too, which provided some much-needed grounding and structure to my day.
Combined, this new approach to life helped me create a brand new way of working.
I’m now productive – not busy
What is ‘busy’, exactly? When someone says they’re ‘too busy’ to do something you’ve sent their way, what do they mean?
People who are ‘busy’ (I was that person, once), just aren’t very good at managing the time they have available.
When you’re productive, you’re far smarter about your use of time; your to-do list doesn’t consume you and you know exactly where to invest your energy each minute of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still busy. I’m just busy doing the right things at the right time.
I don’t have colleagues to lose time with
I’m a freelancer who works at home, in coffee shops, at the gym and, basically, wherever I can rest my laptop and grab a decent internet connection.
This means I usually get to focus on one thing – the work I need to finish that day. In my old job, I had the latter, but I also had colleagues who would interrupt, procrastinate in my vicinity and grab me for last-night’s-TV chats in the kitchen.
I appreciate not everyone is in this fortunate position, but I can’t underestimate the importance of finding time for yourself at work. Engage with employees, by all means, but make sure those interactions don’t dominate your day.
For me, when I stop my time tracker at the end of the day and it tells me I’ve done seven hours of work, I know that’s seven hours of work.
I delegate and automate tasks I don’t need to undertake
I love technology, but I love it even more when it takes boring, repetitive-yet-vital tasks off my hands.
Anything you do each day that fills you with dread and which feels like it should be undertaken by a robot probably can be. Look for software that can automate accounts duties, social media posting and anything else which is repetitive.
The same goes for delegation. Even though I’m an independent worker, I’ve drafted in help from a couple of people who are more than capable of completing regular client work for me.
Freeing yourself of tasks that don’t need to be undertaken by yourself will deliver back more time than you think possible.
Micro distractions are a thing of the past
This is an easy one.
For me, micro distractions are email notifications, scattered sticky notes, yesterday’s newspaper and incoming social media messages.
All of that stuff can wait when you’re knee-deep in an important task. Turn it off, throw it away and get it out of your peripheral vision. The effect will be transformative, I promise.
And finally: I combine digital to-do lists with a bullet journal
I’ve always been a fan of digital to-do lists and I use a couple of apps to keep myself on track each day.
However, I recently added bullet journaling into the mix and it has helped focus my mind on what’s important each day.
Bullet journaling is a big topic, but one which I’d urge you to investigate. I only use the basics for my own, but it enables me to note down my tasks for the coming day that must be completed. Some stuff on my digital to-do list is a given, but the role of my bullet journal is to ensure I always undertake the items which are imperative to a successful day.
Working less hours feels like heaven for all of us, but I can confirm it’s possible – providing you follow my advice above and get out of the ‘busy’ mindset.