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Last month I looked at ways of helping yourself to work more in the flow of how you work best. This month I want to look at some of those things that stop us from applying those principles.

Let’s start with the problems we cause ourselves! We often don’t allow ourselves a realistic amount of time to be able to think about what we’re doing.

Weekly Planning

Taking a bit of time to plan your week can pay off enormously. I don’t mean that long list of things to do; I mean getting clear in your own mind where the different things to do fit in to your week. There are a couple of things to bear in mind when doing this:

  1. Where possible, put different things in slots that match with the type of thing it is, and the best times (see last month)
  2. Keep it realistic. Are you really going to feel like writing that report after 4 back-to-back meetings? Can you really do those 6 things in the hour you allotted to them?

Making an overall plan for the week helps you to build in some of those things that do matter, but often drop off the list: starting something before the deadline looms; preparing properly for an important meeting; spending a bit of time with a colleague that isn’t driven by an urgent request. It also helps your mind-set for the week, by giving you a clear intention rather than ‘just getting it all done’.

Daily Planning

Applying the same principle on a daily basis also helps. Just take 5 minutes at the end of the day to check out where you are up to. Don’t forget to be pleased with yourself for what you have achieved or made progress on – that gives you a bit of a boost!

Then assess what didn’t get done, and whether it is possible to fit it in to the next day, or if you need to reassign the tasks for that day. By taking a moment to do this, you set yourself up to be ready to go the next day.


During the day, we often spend the majority of our time sitting – and even worse, in front of a computer! I talked last time about knowing when to stop because you’re no longer being effective. We are not designed to just sit all day, so when you ‘run out’, move. There is a lot of research that suggests that most of us don’t move enough, and that it adversely affects our health, and it is a good way to help yourself to recover your flow. When the body moves, the mind tends to ‘unstick’ itself as well. If you feel you need a reason to get up from your desk, go for a pee or to rinse your face, make a cuppa, pick up some papers and walk briskly through the office – it all helps!


Those are all the things we can do something about, but what about those interruptions that disrupt our train of thought or our concentration?

  1. If you operate an ‘open door’ policy, remember that it doesn’t have to be ‘open all hours’! You can allocate times when it’s OK to interrupt in a day, and make that clear to others.
  2. You can move away from your usual space to do work that requires concentration for an hour or two to the café, a meeting room, or work from home.
  3. You can ask the person if their query could wait for 30 minutes, so you can pay them proper attention.
  4. And turn the ‘ping’ off that signals emails or texts arriving!

Applying the principles of working smarter

It can be hard to be the one who isn’t rushing, busy, stressed, if that’s the general environment you’re in. You feel guilty for being less ‘busy’ than the others. So experiment with introducing just a few more of these ideas into your day; change it a bit at a time. And notice the positive effect on you, and on others. I guarantee you will feel better, and others will benefit from you being more present when you’re with them.

Go on, work a bit smarter – you deserve it!

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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!

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