How focusing on doing LESS helps you get MORE done in a busy, distracting world

Posted by Derek Mason

15th March 2022

Picture credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

How productive are you? How often do you have a day where you think to yourself, “Wonderful! I’ve done everything I set out to do today”? If you’re like most people, the answer to that question could easily be, “Never”.

But there are five adjustments you can make, that mean you’ll be able to tackle your most important tasks every single day.

The truth is, after the events of the last two years, we could all be forgiven for being a little unproductive. Some have thrived working from home, but others have missed the office. For many, working from home is not always conducive to getting lots done.

It’s not just about the buzz of office life – it’s the practical aspects too. For example, as a structural engineer it is much easier to explain something to a junior engineer when they can look over my shoulder. Screen sharing online isn’t the same.

But regardless of whether we’re home-based or back in the office, how can we increase our productivity?

1. Three things

Although it may be counterintuitive, I’ve seen that putting fewer things on my to do list often results in much greater productivity. I might not always be able to control how many site visits I have in a day, but I can influence how many other items I add to my list.

If you limit yourself to one, two or three main tasks that you want to complete in any one day, and keep those front of mind, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll complete those items.

When the list is longer than that, you’re unlikely to get through it all, and the result is that you constantly feel behind. That’s not a great state of mind to be in, and it can leave you feeling that you’ll never get on top of everything.

With a maximum of three items to work on each day, you’re much more likely to be able to give yourself a pat on the back at the end of the day, instead of feeling deflated that you didn’t complete your tasks.

The key thing is to write them down and keep the list next to you on the desk. This works because you’re focusing, but also because you’re being proactive instead of reactive. When you focus on the three tasks on your list, it’s less likely that your day will get derailed by incoming items that you’re reacting to.

2. Plan

Another key element to this is to write down your three tasks the night before. Just before you pack up for the day, write down what you plan to achieve the following day. Not only does this mean you can hit the ground running in the morning, but it means your brain can be busy working on tomorrow’s tasks in advance. You’re more likely to have flashes of insight and inspiration when you know what you’re going to be working on.

3. Batch tasks and avoid interruptions

Batching similar activities means you’re much more likely to achieve a state of flow, so you can work efficiently. Return phone calls all in one go and create proposals or fee quotations in one batch. Each time we switch between different activities it takes our brain a while to catch up, so this will save you a lot of time. If you have set times during the day when you can’t be interrupted, this will also help you to get more done.

4. Hide future tasks

If your entire task list for the next month is visible to you daily, that could contribute to a feeling of having too much to do. You might want to review upcoming tasks and events once a week, but don’t have them in your eyeline every day. Keep it simple by writing your one to three tasks for the day on a sheet of paper or individual page in a notepad, kept open on your desk.

5. Review what works for you

We’re all different, and what works well for one person might not work for someone else. So, take five minutes at the end of each day (just before you plan tomorrow) to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What went well?
  • What could be improved?
  • What went badly?
  • What will you keep doing or working on?
  • What might you change or do differently?

I know when it comes to my own way of working, I sometimes have to learn the lessons of productivity more than once. I find I can follow a certain way of working for a while, and then something will happen to rock the boat. Maybe one of the team is on holiday or we have a higher than usual workload, and a habit I’ve recently acquired gets temporarily abandoned. It’s a never-ending learning curve! As the amount of work going on in the industry ramps up, I think it makes sense for all of us to work on improving our productivity levels.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Please drop me a reply if you’d like to talk more about this topic. And if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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