As most of you will probably know, I got back from a two week trip to The States late last Wednesday. While I love nothing more than getting away from the humdrumality (is that even a word?!) of everyday life and work, there is pretty much nothing more stressful than coming home to a to do list as long as my arm and an inbox fit to bursting.
I joked on Twitter that I should write a post entitled “How to get shit done when you have no time at all” to which many of you responded saying you’d love to know the secret too. While I can’t claim to be some kind of productivity wizard, as I powered through everything I had to do in the latter part of last week, I wrote down just how I did it. I hope you find it helpful and if you have any other tips I’d love to hear about them in the comments too!
A task will take as much time as you give it
Parkinson’s law states that any task will take you exactly the time that you give it. If you allow yourself a week to write a blog post then that’s how long it will take you – you’ll likely put it off until the last day because you know you have all that time or you’ll write it and then keep working and reworking it until your deadline. However if you’re up against it and you only have a few hours to write something, you’ll get it done. Why? Because you have no other option. “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, it states, so set yourself some achievable deadlines and get on with it!
Do the biggest, ugliest jobs first
It’s very easy to think “Oh I’ll quickly do this or update that because it will only take me a few minutes” but doing the small, insignificant jobs first is a recipe for disaster. We often feel that by doing lots of little things we’ve achieved a lot but actually, getting through just one mammoth task will not only be much more satisfying, it will mean you’re much more productive in the long run.
Firstly, if you do the small and easy jobs first you’ll be using up that vital ‘just getting started’ energy on (by comparison) insignificant things. Then, when it comes to the monster task that requires more brain power (doing your accounts/ editing a wedding/ tacking your inbox/ writing a blog post) you’ll be wiped out… or at least less efficient than if you’d done the big job first.
Have a system
It’s vital that you have a system in place for anything that needs constant attention. For me, email templates mean I can wizz through this job with greater ease than if I had to handwrite a personalised response for every one.
Think about some systems that you can employ in your own job. If you’re a photographer maybe maybe you need to refine and streamline how you cull and process your images… if you’re a designer maybe you need to spend some time really learning the ins and outs of inDesign or Photoshop. Instead of muddling through each time, learning as you go, make the effort to really hone your craft so that in the long term you can do these jobs better and quicker.
Know when you work best
Everyone has a particular time of day when they focus better and get more quality work done so make sure this is the time that you’re doing it. Turn off your phone, shut down your email and close Tweetdeck. Get rid of any distractions and just get on with it. Also make sure you’re always keeping this time free. Don’t schedule meetings when you know you do your best work and make sure you’re always able to be at your desk when you’re going to be the most efficient.
I do my best writing in the morning so if I have to go to London for meetings or I need to meet a friend for a catch up, I’ll always try and schedule it in the afternoon or early evening. Not only does this mean than I miss the horrific morning rush hour (I didn’t become self-employed for nothing!) but it also means that I can still get some work done in the morning and I never feel like I’m ‘wasting the day’.
Don’t put off those easy jobs
‘Easy’ or small jobs can quickly become mammoth tasks hanging over our heads if we put them off too long. Obviously don’t start your day with these (especially if you, like me, are most productive in the mornings) but when you’re at a loose end, crack on with them!
Maybe it’s sending that email that you promised a colleague months ago, replying to some blog comments or booking an appointment. They’ll take you just a few minutes on their own but if you ignore them soon enough you’ll have so many of them to do it will all feel very overwhelming and you’ll probably keep putting them off.
Multitasking isn’t always best
Multitasking makes it hard to focus on the job at hand which means things take much longer and require much more effort to complete.
If you’re easily distracted (honestly, who isn’t?) only use one programme at a time and close any windows you’re not using – now. If you’re writing a blog post, shut down your email and Tweetdeck, if you’re doing emails close down Facebook or your internet browser. Those constant beep beeps and notifications are only going to pull your attention away from what you’re doing (as a side note, turn off all social media notifications, you’re going to check in later anyway aren’t you?!)
Take little breaks
It can be easy to think that you need to power through to get everything done but research shows that shorter bursts of activity with short breaks in between is a much better method for success. Every 45 minutes or so take a couple of minutes (no longer or you’ll get into procrastination mode) to recharge. Make a cup of tea, go to the bathroom, check your Twitter… and then get back to work!
Social media is not always your friend
I’ve lost count of the number of tweets I’ve seen from people saying “Ohhh I’m soooo busy!” or “Fully booked for this year, how will I keep up?!” In the nicest possible way, give me a break. If you have the time to tell everyone on Twitter how busy you are then I’m sure you have time to get through it all… either that or you’re just hoping that by telling everyone how busy you are you’ll get some kind of external validation that what you’re doing is worthwhile.
Procrastination is a big problem for a lot of us so let’s stop kidding ourselves that spending an hour pinning pretty things is helping our blog traffic, or that tweeting our ‘industry colleagues’ is helping to form lasting working relationships. Let’s stop with the vanity tweeting already and go and do some actual work, mmmkay?!
To list or not to list?
Pretty much everyone will tell you that making lists is the best way to stay on track. Now, while I love a good check-list as much as the next person, make sure you’re not writing to do lists as an excuse for procrastination. Sometimes you just need to get on with it!
I’m an email nerd, so instead of writing lots and lots of physical notes, I use my inbox as a digital to do list. If I have a task that needs some action on my part, I’ll often email myself what I have to do, or if I have a conversation with someone I’m working with I’ll also get them to email me to confirm everything. That way, I can simply go through my inbox and work through each task chronologically. I also know the things I have to do won’t get lost in the chaos that is my desk! Having a record of what you need to do and when is important, just make sure you figure out a method that works best for you.
Unsubscribe from any newsletters or blogs that you don’t actually read or enjoy any more and unfollow people on social media that don’t interest you. I often feel that who we follow, especially in the wedding industry, it can be more political than anything else. If you’re really busy then why do you want to fill your brain with the pointless junk that you don’t need – or want – to see?
Launch and learn
I’ll let you in on a little secret – nothing is ever perfect, so don’t wait until it is. When I launched my blog it was far, faaaar from perfect. In fact it was a complete hot mess. It was only by starting it, muddling through and learning as I went that it has become what it is today. If you try to wait until everything is perfect you’ll be waiting forever. There is always something that can be improved or worked on and waiting around with likely only mean that someone with a similar idea will beat you to it.
The best way is always to learn, grow, make mistakes, change things up, reinvest and always strive to do better. You’ll then be able to organically and authentically become the business and brand you deserve to be.
The brilliant thing about working online is that things can evolve, change and progress with relative ease. Trust your gut and don’t agonise over every little detail. Stop trying to make it perfect, don’t be afraid to make the odd mistake and just get started already!
Work smarter, not harder
Like you, I’m a busy girl, but I still always find the time to catch up with my friends, hang out with my husband in the evenings or to visit my parents for Sunday lunch. Instead of feeling you have to work 24/7 to get anywhere, focus on accomplishing more in less time. Streamline your tasks and work towards doing the very best you can. Two hours a day of really solid work is much better for your business, your life and your happiness than a full day of stress, strain and pressure.
I get it, everyone’s busy these days, but being overworked should not be a badge of honour. Our goal should be efficiency and productivity not burn-out and 84 hour work weeks. Instead of taking on so much work that you can’t cope, take some time to implement systems that help you work smarter and create a schedule that fits in with the life you really want to live.
- Photography: June Cochran