I wish there were more hours in the day. One day, it would feel nice to believe I am making a dent in my To Do list. Most of the time, my list of actions goes on and on, and when you add in home responsibilities as well, there just isn’t enough time to fit it all in.
As you’ll have heard before, we all have the same number of hours in the day. It’s what you do with them that matters. When you focus on how you are working, instead of simply on the tasks you are doing, you can build your productivity and get to the end of the day feeling satisfied in what you have achieved.
And yes, you can squeeze more out of the day. It takes careful planning and some mental discipline, but if you want to, you can do it. (If you’d rather not, that’s fine too. How you live your life and manage your work is a choice!)
Here are 3 easy tips for having a more productive day.
1. Plan your day
You already plan your projects, probably in quite some detail. But do you plan your days? Start your day with a planning session – just 15 minutes, while you have a morning coffee. Pick the three things you want to achieve today. They could be:
- Preparing for and sending out papers for a meeting
- Attending a meeting
- Updating your project schedule
- Meeting with your team
- Dealing with an urgent issue that has come up this morning or last night.
You’ll know what your top priorities are – and if you aren’t sure, then take a step back and think about how you prioritize your work.
Your planning time should be free from distractions. Try not to let anyone know you’ve arrived in the office, if you think they are going to start asking questions or seeking your advice. While it’s sometimes nice to have a bit of colleague chat to start the day, when you want to get on with planning you can do without hearing what your colleague thought about last night’s TV.
If it’s too hard for you to do planning first thing in the morning, consider doing your daily plan the evening before, when perhaps it’s easier to find distraction-free time.
2. Review what you did the day before
Take your next 15 minutes to review your progress from yesterday. (As you get good at this process, you’ll be able to use the same 15 minutes to both plan today and review yesterday.)
What were you working on? Was it the right thing? Is anything unfinished from yesterday at the office, and does that change your daily priorities for today?
I do this exercise after setting daily priorities for the day, because I think it is important that structured work isn’t a long list of finishing what didn’t get done yesterday. That’s not the best way to deliver strategically – that’s just fire-fighting.
However, I realize that what came up late yesterday and wasn’t completed might need to be a priority for today. Slot those tasks into your daily plan and give yourself adequate time to complete them, so tomorrow you can get back to delivering on your strategic goals.
Some days you’ll find that you completed a lot the day before. Other days, not so much. It’s fine either way – there is no competition and no need to share your notes with anyone else. The purpose of the exercise is to constantly be asking yourself, are we doing the right thing? Am I spending time on the right things? And if not, what should I be spending time on?
Workload on projects goes up and down, so some days you won’t be able to complete your To Do list for the day. Other days you’ll sail through it and spend some time getting ahead for tomorrow. Go with it, but watch out for a long spell of days where you feel like you aren’t completing anything – that’s a sign that something is wrong.
3. Book in admin time
We all need to deal with admin during the day. Whether it’s checking your inbox, returning calls, filing expenses or dealing with supplier invoices, there is a bunch of administrative tasks that come with project management, and being an employee more generally.
Book sometime in your day – before the day really begins – to do those activities. If you don’t allocate an hour or so for your admin, you’ll either ignore it or try to squeeze in urgent emails at the end of the day when you’d rather be thinking about packing up and going home.
You don’t need to complete all your admin jobs in one day. Do a little each day, maybe with a little more time allocated on the last day of your working week. You’ll soon find the mountain of invoices, purchase orders, staff appraisals, surveys, expense claims, holiday requests and emails gets smaller.
The more you test out different ways of working to increase productivity, the more you’ll come across techniques that work best for you. Try different tools for managing your To Do list. Transfer the big jobs to your project schedule so they aren’t overlooked. And always keep the big picture in mind for your weekly and monthly goals.
Elizabeth Harrin is the creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, which she started in 2006. She has won a number of awards for her internationally popular blog: "A Girl's Guide To Project Management." She also authors two additional blogs, regularly featuring interviews she conducts with industry experts: "Talking Work," and "The Money Files," on Gantthead.