Happy New Year! So, after a break over Christmas, have you come back to work or normal life and just resumed your usual patterns, or are you going to work smarter this year?
By working smarter, I mean working with your own nature, rather than forcing yourself on, and wearing yourself out – it seems like a good idea to me!
Knowing your own way of working
We have all developed habits of working harder not smarter: we infect each other with busyness, and become used to being stressed and pushing ourselves beyond our natural limits. Yet this set of patterns is unhealthy longer-term, for us as individuals and for the organisations we work for. We are setting ourselves up for chronic exhaustion and stress-related illness, and the organisation doesn’t get us at our most productive.
We can do something about it, if we choose to, by recognising ways in which we can help ourselves to be less stressed and more effective. We may not be able to control how our time is used fully – we have meetings that others arrange, tasks we have to get done urgently, etc. – but we all have some level of control. By stopping to think about how you would prefer to work, you can begin to slightly re-arrange the way you tackle what you have to do, so as to make it a bit easier on yourself.
Here are a few areas to look at, to start you off.
Knowing your ‘peak time’
All of us have a ‘best’ time of day, or probably several! For example, I find I write most easily in the morning before I do anything else; I am at my most creative before I clutter my mind with the routines of the day and the demands of others on my time. Yet I am more social and good at interaction in the afternoon, once I have cleared my own thoughts and important tasks. Routines and tedious tasks fit well towards the end of the day for me – I get stuff done without needing to use my mind much.
So what’s your preferred pattern? When are you most focussed, most creative, most sociable? We’re all different, and we can work smarter by organising our days to fit our preferences whenever possible. If you have a list of things to do, you can identify which of these require you to be at your most productive, your most creative, and arrange them to suit. And if you have to attend an important meeting at a time when you’d prefer to be getting on with clearing some stuff, then at least allow yourself ten minutes of ‘prep’ time beforehand – have a cup of tea, get yourself in the right frame of mind.
One thing at a time or several?
No, I don’t mean multi-tasking – no-one does this very well: just watch the car in front of you when the person driving is also on the phone! I mean do you prefer to take one task to completion at a time, or to do a chunk of one thing and then a chunk of another, so they all gradually get done. Again, if you can match your own preferences, you will reduce the level of stress you feel.
Knowing when to stop
How long can you be effective for? Research suggests that all of us have a natural ebb and flow and no-one stays effective for more than an hour and a half at a time. If we take a short break, we can often extend that effective time, although we will still begin to fade out more quickly.
You know when you’ve pushed yourself too far: you lose concentration, get fidgety, or just don’t take in what you’re hearing or reading. It isn’t productive to push yourself on- everything is more difficult and takes longer when we are in this state.
So stop, take 5 minutes, make a cuppa, go and talk to someone, go and splash your face with water, breathe, turn your chair away from the computer – anything to allow yourself to regain your flow.
Next month we will look at a few more ways you can help yourself to work smarter. In the meantime, experiment with discovering your peak time, with working out whether you prefer to be single-focussed or a ‘butterfly’, and with stopping for a short break – and make your life a little easier!