I have always been obsessed with efficiency. I think it stems from the 1950's version of Cheaper by The Dozen. There is this scene where Frank Bunker Gilbreth (played by Clifton Web) is timing himself to see if it is more efficient to button his shirt up or down. I find myself often doing a task that is relatively mundane and then thinking "Is there a faster way to do this?" Usually, I am shaving milliseconds off of things which don't add up to much.
Often, my obsession with efficiency is focused on my personal life. In things like how to make coffee faster or how to shower and get ready quicker (pro tip: try drinking your coffee in the shower). I thought why not apply my obsession with efficiency to work. So for a week, I decided to try a bunch of different techniques to be more productive and save more time. Here are a few of the most effective!
The Distraction List:
The distraction list is precisely what it sounds like. Whenever you are in the middle of working on a task and something pops into your head stop yourself from pivoting and write the task down.
I often get ideas for blog posts at the most random times, for example, I got the idea for this blog in the middle of a meeting about our current LMS training schedule. In the middle of the call, I started writing down notes about this blog and stopped focusing on the meeting at hand.
This distraction was not fair to myself or my team.
So for a week, I kept a distraction list! When I had a random idea pop in my head I wrote it down, then went right back to what I was working on. When I got to a stopping point, I go glance at my list and deal with what was on it.
I found this method kept me more productive than expected! I finished a lot of big projects that would probably have been drawn out due to distraction.
Again time blocking sounds like precisely what it is, setting in advance chunks of time to perform different tasks.
I am not going to lie I often get stuck in email jail (I am one of those inbox zero people). I get lost in my email and have to claw myself out of the hole that seems to have no end! This obsession to have a clean inbox, I have found, sends me spinning and running into many directions at once (if you get email anxiety read THIS) .
I decided that time blocking might be a good way for me to curb my email problem. I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and answered emails. After that half hour was over, I closed up my email and set another timer for 20 minutes and worked on some art, then set an hour to work on some workflow automation, and so one.
I had two main takeaways from time blocking. First, don't completely close your email (when people don't get a response they will call you, and no one likes to talk on the phone). Second, the day goes by so fast if you chop it up into a bunch of smaller parts.
Speaking of increasing focus, I also tried something the internet called deep focus/work.
The general idea of deep focus or deep work is that you focus on a mentally demanding task without distraction. Finding a deep work state is surprisingly hard to do! Some of the online recommendations were to seclude yourself from others, turn off all notifications, and shut down all the programs except the one you are using.
I share an office so secluding myself was not an option, so I put in some headphones (here's my playlist) and shut off my email, desk phone, and cell phone. After I closed all my programs on my computer, I opened up photoshop and started to work on the one large design project I had to have finished.
I am fairly sure I found the deep work state because at one point someone walked up to me had to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention. I had somehow been working on my project for over two hours, but it had only felt like 30 minutes.
I tried several other focus based techniques, but these three were the most effective for me in reaching my goal of becoming more efficient. I don't often find deep focus so it is probably not a technique I will use often. I have taken quite a liking to time blocking and will likely continue to manage my time this way. The jury is still out on the distraction list; I found that at times I would get distracted by the different things on my list (ironic I know).
Have you tried any of these techniques or others not mentioned in this article? Let us know what you find make you the most efficient employee possible by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh' and before you start to become super productive take a few minutes and watch the Cheaper by the Dozen trailer!