How To Plan Your Work Week For Maximum Productivity In 2021
By Barnaby Lashbrooke
Date Published: Jan 15, 2021
Entrepreneurs steering their businesses through the pandemic may be finding work a welcome distraction. Yet, in troubled times, that evasive ‘flow state’–total absorption in work–might also seem further out of reach.
That’s because productivity is largely a psychological state and, for entrepreneurs, whose job descriptions are the opposite of set in stone, the freedom to choose what to work on can prove a hindrance to efficiency. That’s potentially a big problem for those leaders firefighting or pivoting because of Covid-19 and who are expected to make fast decisions.
But why? In a brilliant 2005 Ted Talk on The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz explains that too much choice causes paralysis rather than liberation. “With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all,” he said.
Schwartz’s theory may help to explain why, psychologically speaking, we perform better with boundaries: planning, deadlines, someone to hold us accountable to meeting our goals. This even translates to more creative tasks: research published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that creativity was higher in individuals working under structured conditions.
But what else works for the majority in terms of boosting productivity? Read on to start 2021 as you mean to go on:
Rethink your to-do list
If you have more than three items on your to-do list for today, then what you think you can achieve, versus what you can actually do, are probably misaligned. Most of us would agree the days we feel the biggest sense of accomplishment are the days we’ve got through our to-do lists. If it’s 25 items long, you’ll never feel satisfied. Stick to the rule of three.
We should also rethink how we write our lists says Jandra Sutton, founder of creative agency The Wildest Co, who thinks we all have a tendency to hide work by oversimplifying time-consuming tasks. She explains: “Take writing a blog post for your website: there's more to the process than simply writing it, so why do we just put ‘write a blog post’ on our to-do lists? For me, the process also involves coming up with an idea, doing a brief outline, editing it, uploading it, checking SEO, etc. All of those tasks should be accounted for on your task list if you want to get a true sense of your productivity levels and workflow.”
Make your calendar work harder
The humble calendar app is one of the most under-used and widely-available planning tools out there. Beyond bringing your to-do list to life, it can change the way you view your time. No longer does it stretch out in front of you, the limitations of the working day are right there, in black and white (or whatever colors you fancy customizing your calendar with).
Using your calendar as your daily planner can also be a revealing exercise. It suddenly becomes much easier to see, at a glance, what tasks repeat most often in a given month. This can help you make a judgment call on what tasks could be automated with apps, such as logging expenses, and what could be delegated to someone else, such as research.
Respect the value of time
No one could accuse Patrick Frank, founder of venture-backed healthcare startup Rightdevice, of not respecting time. First, he plans his day down to the minute. He explains: “Every single minute is accounted for, from the moment I wake up to the moment I shut my eyes. Some would say it’s strange that I even schedule my morning shower but I have found it helps keep me focused in the unpredictable world of startups.”
Frank uses his Google Calendar, Siri and an alarm to keep him on track. He also has a custom-built calculator that integrates with his calendar and works out the cost of meetings, based on the salaries of those in attendance and the duration. He explains: “This tool allows me to attribute a cost to every minute of my day. With time being the most valuable asset to any entrepreneur I figured why not actually be able to visualize the saying ‘time is money’. This has, by far, been the most useful tool I have used to ensure that I am getting the maximum amount of value from every minute.
While Frank’s meticulous schedule won’t be for everyone, understanding the value of your time can help you make better decisions about what you should be working on, and – perhaps more importantly – what you shouldn’t be.
Lauren Goldstein, founder of consulting firm Golden Key Partnership says: “Run your day or it will run you. Those words were spoken to me by a mentor almost 10 years ago and they have stuck with me.
Goldstein spends Sunday evenings planning her week: “The first thing I do is brain dump all that needs to get done for the week. Then once I have that jotted down, I start to cull and prioritize. I weed out and delegate what needs to go to my team, I schedule what can be deferred, and I prioritize those few things that only I can do.”
Her method is similar to the Eisenhower Matrix, where tasks on your to-do list can be plotted on a simple four-square grid divided by urgency and importance. Tasks that fall in the ‘urgent and important’ box are prioritized and should be done, by you, right away, while those jobs deemed ‘not urgent, not important’ get culled from the to-do list immediately. Tasks that are ‘important, not urgent’ are scheduled to be done by you later. What’s left are tasks that fall into the ‘urgent, not important’ box. These are the jobs that can and should be delegated to someone else.
Commit to rest
If entrepreneurs applied themselves to rest and relaxation with the same gusto as their businesses, productivity would soar. If energy is finite, then rest is tactical in order to sustain us through the working week: physically, mentally and cognitively. It really is that simple.
During the pandemic, you might have experienced working from home doing something strange to the brain. We feel naughty for taking a break, powering on through instead of going outside for fresh air and movement. Welcome to ‘work from home guilt’. It’s a thing. Owl Labs’ 2020 state of remote work report revealed that, on average, remote employees worked an extra 26 hours each month during Covid-19, nearly an extra day every week.
Beat burnout by scheduling breaks in your planner, and by identifying what you’re going to do in each break, be it walk the dog, go for a jog, hop on your bike or read a book in the back yard.
If you’re not sure how often to break, think about when you’re most and least productive throughout the day, and plan around those. Some research suggests humans, in accordance with ‘ultradian rhythms’, can only really focus for 90-minute intervals before needing a break.
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