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How to get home on time


Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

View more entries from Performance Matters

A few simple measures will get you out of the door an hour earlier every day.

A few simple measures will get you out of the door an hour earlier every day.

Let's face it, for many people, the way they are working just isn't working.

Life as we know it is getting faster and we are constantly being asked to do more with less at work. The most obvious solution seems to be putting in more hours, but this rarely solves the underlying problem. Hours worked do not equal productivity.

The Ernst and Young Productivity Pulse recently surveyed 11,500 people and found lack of productivity was costing Australian businesses more than $41 billion each year in wages alone. The survey discovered 1 in 3 Australian workers waste almost a quarter of their day at work and the top time-wasting activities are waiting for approval from a higher authority, reading and responding to emails and technology issues/distractions.

It found that unproductive workers took fewer breaks, spent more time travelling to work and less time on leisure and recreation. In contrast, highly productive workers spent two-thirds of their time on meaningful work, they took longer breaks, spent less time travelling to work and allocated more time to leisure and recreation.

Even though many Australians are now working more than eight hours a day, productivity has not grown over the past decade. A lot of smart people do dumb things in relation to productivity when they are overloaded and under constant stress.

My productivity theory is very simple – do more of what really matters at work and then have a buffer to have a life outside as well. The seven tips below are not rocket science, but they are practical and proven strategies to help minimise distractions, work smarter and squeeze the most out of your day. Put them into practice and get used to going home an hour earlier every day.

1. Daily Warm Up
Before diving into your inbox start the day with a mindful approach and work out the best way to invest your time. What are the most important tasks you need to accomplish? Who do you need to speak to? What reports or proposals do you need to finish today?

2. Tame technology
Turn off email pop-up alerts. Don't let email control your day, check email five or six times a day rather than every three minutes. At night, turn off mobiles, Blackberrys and digital devices and have a block out period to switch off and connect with family and friends.

3. Compress Meetings
The reason most people meet for 60 minutes is because Microsoft Outlook has 60-minute appointments. Compress the majority of internal and regular client meetings to 45 minutes. This will give you a mental buffer to process the previous meeting and ensure that the next meeting starts on time.

4. Pick up the Phone
Get out of the habit of long games of email tennis. Follow the two email rule – if you're still unclear after two emails revert to the old fashioned way of picking up the phone and actually talking to people, just like we use to do in the old days.

5. Forced Isolation
At least once a week turn off all of your electronic devices, remove yourself from other distractions and work on your high-end cognitive tasks like reports, thinking, strategy, writing, etc. You'll get three to four times more work done when you work without constant distractions.

6. Work in Waves
The human body is not a machine and we work best when we oscillate between periods of high concentration and rest. Concentration and energy levels are governed by the body's ultradian rhythm. We can focus for periods of 90 minutes to 2 hours maximum and then require a 5 to 15 minute brain break.

7. Change Expectations
Take the time to talk to colleagues, customers, family members and friends about your new productivity rules. If you suffer from Noddy Syndrome (always saying yes to everyone) you need to train yourself to start saying 'no'. Let people know the best times to contact/meet with you and be proactive about managing your time, rather than constantly being managed by others. The old notion 'great managers are available 24/7' needs to be rewritten to 'great managers are available at certain times during the day and work smart the rest of the day'.

How do you go about getting more done in less time so you can get home earlier?

19 comments so far

  • I liked your first tip the most, which is basically what I do every morning.

    I write a to do list each day and number everything as a priority of 1) needs to be done today 2) can wait.

    I won't leave until all my 1 priority items are completed and if I have time I start knocking back the number 2 priorities.

    If you have a page and a half of 1 priority tasks then you need to have a chat with your boss.

    Date and time
    June 18, 2012, 10:07AM
    • Time is our most valuable asset, but few of us are ever trained how to use it. It's our tool, but in general, we're fairly unskilled in its use. I help people every day develop this skill, increase levels of focus, clarity, creativity and satisfaction. Our lives are too precious to be lived as a constant stream of diary alerts, useless emails and worse still, unproductive, energy-sapping meetings.

      If we're going to solve the truly 'big' challenges we face as a society, (eg. supporting an aging population), we're going to have to free up some time to innovate, think creatively and implement new solutions. And all of this will need to be done while we cope with 'business as usual'.

      In the end, this means getting more done in the same amount of time, and in a way that drives happiness and satisfaction with how our time (ie. life) is being spent.

      Date and time
      June 18, 2012, 10:47AM
      • At the end of the working day, make your 'to do' list for the following working day : and put everything into it, even if that means blocking in time for potential interruptions.
        If you haven't been doing this, it may take time to develop the skill.
        It also helps that if you are working on long term projects to have a strategy in place. A simple chart that you create to progress the project will help this and gets factored into your planning.
        A lot of people think that their day has no structure, where in reality it often does, if you pay attention to it for long enough, the pattern will emerge.
        Good luck to all you people grinding away out there.

        Date and time
        June 18, 2012, 11:38AM
        • I refuse except to work back except in exceptional circumstances. A: the company does not pay overtime and they can pay for my time if they want it. B: I ignore the culture of who works the longest is best (I do not dicsuss my hours with others). C:I do take the laptop home just in case however, I would far prefer to log on at home instead of work.

          Most people I have noticed are just unorganised. As said I refuse to be in the office beyond the required payed time - I must also say I am the only person in the office that does this as all the others seem to be driven by other peoples opinions and the disgraceful work culture (time police) of the place - it is also a huge organisation.

          Date and time
          June 18, 2012, 12:28PM
          • This is such an employee comment.

            If you want to "make it", the 40hr a week is not enough. From someone who made a bucket load of cash purely due to my work ethic I can attest it is only the very, very lucky ones who strike it using their alloted 40hrs.

            There is too much competition out there, but hey, if you are happy working for the man and paying off that mortgage, then 40hrs is plenty.

            Date and time
            June 19, 2012, 10:04AM
          • If you are naturally hard working and long hrs pay off great. if you understand your values in life and working hard aligns to this, even better. but not all us are of this 'boarder collie' type with life-needs that only a hard earned paycheque can supply. Those who cant think for themselves come unstuck, they blinding adopt this ‘work like a dog’ approach to life without the strength to really question their life values and then buck the trends to nurture them.

            Date and time
            June 19, 2012, 9:09PM
        • First, before embarking on hours of overtime, ask yourself if the extra effort you're about to put in will really be appreciated or rewarded, because quite likely it won't.
          Second, consider the needs of your family and loved ones. They need your time too.
          Third, your health and general well-being is of prime importance and must therefore be taken into account.
          Fourth, ask yourself honestly if what you are doing is really so important or so urgent. Unless you're working in essential services for example, it probably isn't.(I wasted many years in retailing for example and possibly the most misused word in that business was 'urgent'. Believe me, apart from a store fire, robbery or explosion, there is NOTHING urgent in retailing!)
          Finally, ask yourself how much meaningful overtime some highly paid senior execs are putting in. More than likely not much.

          Date and time
          June 18, 2012, 12:58PM
          • I've seen this bit about the survey results in another article. I don't understand why no-one has commented about unproductive people spending more time travelling to work! Unless you're cycling or walking (unlikely if you fall into the 'more time' category), then you'll be sitting on your bum in a car or on public transport. Sitting more than four hours a day increases your mortality rate as well.

            This is a serious problem and it needs to be adressed in a holistic fashion and not the band-aid, bonkers ideas that Gladys has been coming up with lately. We need SERIOUS, effective policies that will allow people more flexible worktimes, and more mature attitudes to working from home and telecommuting, that will free up the roads and allow more time for recreation, family and exercise.

            Date and time
            June 18, 2012, 1:07PM
            • Ah, this old chestnut.

              At my workplace I have some very strict rules. No one is to log on from home. No client calls/emails are to be responded to after hours unless they agree to our, quite frankly, extortionate after hours rates (credited to normal rates if it actually is urgent). I will not answer my work phone before 8:30am or after 5:30pm - text message only. No overtime (some time in lieu allowed). When scheduling meetings, only invite people who need to contribute or respond. Anyone else who "should hear this" gets the minutes sent to them later.

              The result? Much happier, and very productive workers. And our clients? They are now used to this, and have adjusted accordingly ("that can wait until tomorrow morning", sticking to appointment times, etc).

              Set the boundaries. Be firm. People will adjust.

              Simon of The Internet
              Date and time
              June 18, 2012, 1:27PM
              • What a sensible person you are Simon! How thrilling to hear there remains an element of commonsense in today's business world. Particularly impressive are your observations concerning meetings. I shudder to think of how many valuable hours of my working life in retailing were wasted during meaningless meetings enduring aural BS from inarticulate goofballs!

                Date and time
                June 18, 2012, 9:00PM

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