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MIHE Blog News, views and insights from Macmillan International Higher Education

3 Tips For Working Smarter

by Emma Sue Prince 21st May 2019

When it comes to your working patterns, how smart are you really? From stress to procrastination we often resort to default behaviours that are making us surprisingly stupid at working effectively and productively.

This is all about the difference between working HARD and working SMART. When we have a long to-do list or a big project on our plate the tendency is to just work harder to complete it but that is not effective. Especially when you combine that with the urge to work on several things at once, have email open and fail to chunk your time. A major culprit on our productivity and ability to work well is distraction.


Distraction

Distraction happens in two ways. The first is ‘Internal’. This is the mind wandering, being worried or anxious, or thinking about past events or future events. The main strategy for handling this is the practice of mindfulness.

Then there’s EXTERNAL distraction – noise. Noise can be anything around like notifications, pings of emails and messages and interruptions by other people. The amount of noise around us is increasing all the time. The main strategy for handling this is managing the ‘noise’.
It takes roughly 20 minutes to get back on task after a distraction.

The impact of being constantly distracted?

There are many impacts to being constantly distracted. We are less efficient – it takes roughly 20 minutes to get back on task after a distraction which means we are probably doing everything less well than we might. We’re also are less effective because we are usually not fully listening and are not fully present when things are happening i.e. at a meeting for example or training session. Subsequently, we miss out on opportunities, conversations, relationships.We are less calm and we are not as good at making decisions because we are too reactive

3 tips for working smarter

1. Time Yourself. Very few people actually assign a time limit to a task. Yes, to-do lists make us more productive, as does grouping the tasks into batches and prioritizing them. That, however, doesn’t mean you’ll get them done to completion in the time frame you allotted or that whatever you are batching won’t end up taking over your day. The more you time yourself, and gain more self-awareness into how long a particular type of task takes you, the more time you will be able to actually identify and re-purpose in your schedule.

2. Time Theming. Theming frees one’s mind to focus on the tasks that are critical to making progress in all areas of life. Time theming is a great way to avoid decision fatigue. Theming your months, weeks and days gives you less to think about when you’re trying to decide what to do because that given time already has some sort of thematic value. It’s also great for helping to ensure work-life balance. I have started making Friday a yoga and mindfulness morning and admin day. I’ll also tend to frontload big projects or preparation to the beginning of the week and always the first couple of hours of any day.

3. Create A New Email Strategy. The vast majority of people do not have one AT ALL. E-mail is one of the largest productivity killers I know. You’re multitasking and don’t even realize it because of technology notifications. For instance, you get a notification regarding a new e-mail, you click on it without thinking and in turn stop what you are doing, you then read through the email and decide either to respond to it or revisit it later, and eventually need to revisit your original task and remember where you left off. This type of multitasking can leave a person feeling like they are working hard and constantly busy, yet constantly shifting tasks is harming their overall productivity and focus. Have specific times in the day for checking your email. Have filters so you know who is writing to you. Or create a folder for every day of the week. During the designated time frames in your day for checking emails, either delete new e-mails or place them in the day of the week folder in which you plan to respond. The goal is to never have any emails in your inbox, but have them all delegated to a specific day of the week. Bit radical but it works!

This is the first of the 'Working Smarter' series by Emma Sue Prince. The rest can be found below:

  1. 3 tips for working smarter (the one you're reading now!)
  2. Understanding your brain will change the way you work
  3. How to stop living inside your brain, and get focused, productive and happy
  4. How to get better at public speaking
  5. How to get better at talking on the phone
  6. Coming soon!
  7. Coming soon!
  8. Coming soon!
  9. Coming soon!
Feautured image credit: Photo by Joanna Kosinska. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash license.