It's difficult to ensure that you have a productive week. According a study conducted by the University of California, you need half an hour to refocus after being interrupted during a task. Online distractions are increasing and with them, the solutions to increase productivity are changing. Avoiding online and "IRL" distractions are just the tip of the iceberg though.
Multitasking and crammed task lists equally overwhelm everyone.
1. Optimize your plans
GTD (Getting Things Done) is a method to help you prioritize your plans. Author David Allen states that it's possible to have a long to-do list and still have a productive week. The planning process is what matters. Using GTD to plan out your week lets you focus on meaningful tasks instead of on the amount of tasks..
The key is that you already know what needs to be prioritized. However, the results are muddied because of a lack of focus and not intentionally writing out your task list at the beginning of the week.
2. Focus on one thing at a time
So, I'm writing a blog post and I'm stuck trying to track down a source to a study. As if on auto-pilot, I open up the tab where my email sits and skim through all the unread mails I have. You know, like a FOOL. 15 minutes pass and I can't remember what I was doing and move onto something else completely unrelated.
Having a lot of things to do isn't dangerous, multitasking is.
Leadership speaker Peter Bregman wrote of the dangers of multitasking in everyday life. Work tasks are no different. GTD's first step is about writing what you need to get done first so it doesn't distract you during other tasks. Distractions are plentiful enough as it is, and therefore, it's important to empty your mind and work with intention.
It's not possible to eliminate multitasking in every situation, but by consciously refusing to engage with it, you can have a much more productive week.
3. Review your weekly progress
Choosing a few key plans for the week is not easy at first. What helps is reflection at the end of each week. Was what you did important and worth one full week of work? During the week, whenever something gets done, don't just delete it or tick it as done, but write it down as Progress.
On Friday, look at your Progress list and study each item. Could you have done something better? Repeat the process weekly, learn and iterate.
You'll soon get pretty good at listing your key goals.
4. Communicate when problems come up
Not everything you plan gets done. Quite often there are external reasons. Things get stuck or delayed. Don't procrastinate on things you can't solve yourself.
Ask for help from your manager, your team mates, advisors or anyone else.
You can use the weekly review process to aid you. Weekly reviews require you to finish your tasks on time. If you do not finish them, you need to record it both for yourself and others.
A Plan always becomes a Progress or a Problem.
5. Learn to say "no"
Be picky. Because something can be done, it does not mean it must be done. Be mindful of your goals. Take a minute or two to think whenever someone asks you to do something or you start writing something down as a to-do.
Start saying no to many of the things and focus only on selected plans. Leave out unimportant things. Do only the big things.
6. Plan your week on Friday afternoon or Monday morning
Reflection each Friday is important. Planning your next week on Friday evening before leaving work is even better. You'll keep your weekend worry-free and you can start right away on Monday morning. Many managers do their weekly planning on Sunday evenings, yet Friday evening would be more productive.
7. Focus on the results, not the process
Looking at our to-do lists, we often write down not measurable results to be achieved but actions or processes. Consequently, quite often it is hard to say if the task has been achieved or not. If possible, try to focus on results instead. This way it will be much easier to declare a goal accomplished and move on to next big weekly objective.
8. Share your plans with your team
In a team environment, always explain to others why you have chosen one goal over another and how your resources are divided. When your plans get accomplished, communicate the progress. Expect others to do the same. Whenever a challenge comes up, share that as well.
It helps both with getting feedback from others as well as keeping the team on the same page. A weekly paradigm is often ideal for these three. Use either e-mail, Google Docs, or a specialized tool like Weekdone's weekly reporting.
9. Write up your week based on your GTD priority items
People who have different responsibilities can divide their week into 5 days of different work areas. Then stick to them each week. Communicate your days' focus to your co-workers as well.
When Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square was doing 80-hour work weeks between the 2 companies, he was very strict about his daily planning. So he themed his 5 days like this:
- Monday: Management meetings and "running the company" work
- Tuesday: Product development
- Wednesday: Marketing, communications and growth
- Thursday: Developers and partnerships
- Friday: The company and its culture
10. Don't overload others with too much information
You would not want others to disturb you and waste your time. Being interrupted, be it via e-mail or meetings, is an annoying waste of time in any team. Be nice to others and whenever possible, do not e-mail or IM them, do not call for another meeting.
All in all, you can enjoy your daily work much more by limiting yourself to a smaller number of important goals and executing those really well. Keep it simple. Declutter. You'll do more by doing less.
To plan your productive week and monitor progress, try out Weekdone. The status report service is free for individual use and teams of up to 3 people. For others there's a 30 days free trial.