Thursday, 4 April 2019

Reducing office time by prioritising and batching

We don’t have enough time. We are generally too busy. Right?

Leo Babauta, one of my favourite writers on the topics of minimalism and mindfulness, has written a blog post with suggestions on how to spend time more intentionally. He claims that when we say we don’t have enough time for a particular activity, we are actually saying: “I DON’T WANT TO DO IT”. You’ll find the whole article here.

Leo Babauta recommends, inter alia, taking ownership of our time by prioritising categories of tasks and batching them. This has reminded me of how, in the summer of 2012, I took books away with me on holiday, in the hope that they would help me figure out ways of reducing my office working hours.

We can take ownership of our time: for example, by batching tasks.

At the time, I’d been completely exhausted and overworked, feeling I wouldn’t be able to carry on like this. The books which had been recommended to me pre-holiday included: “Anything You Want” by Derek Sivers (which I loved and have blogged about here), “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss (which I wasn’t such a great fan of), and a few others.

I managed to extract a few helpful ideas from these books, which I put into practice back home in the office. One of them involved prioritising and batching any related tasks. This is what I learnt: working on related tasks in batches and blocking out time for them is way more efficient than switching back and forth between individual tasks!

As it turns out, prioritising and batching works across the board. See, for example, the articles “The Definitive Guide to ‘Batching’ Your Work” or “How to Batch Your Tasks for Maximum Productivity”. In fact, many posts on the blog you’re just reading were batch-produced: I have a habit of writing blog posts in a batch – but then publish them weeks or months later.

It’s a myth that we generally don’t have enough time. We WILL find the time for an activity if it IS important to us. And we can take ownership of our time: for example, by batching tasks.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

5 simple techniques for making time

Making time and achieving serenity – it’s not actually as difficult as we might think!

I recently enjoyed reading the article “Time Management Hacks That Very Successful People Practice Daily” by John Rampton. It sets out proven, realistic techniques that very successful people apply in managing their time.

Famous, successful people use time management techniques that even teach us how to make time!

For this blog post I’ve picked out techniques from the article that stood out for me. I’ll also, where appropriate, set out my own variations on them (as I love using some of the techniques myself):

1. Have a fixed morning routine.

Richard Branson writes: “While I’m known for being predictably unpredictable – I’m always up for an adventure and love a calculated risk – I do, however, have a morning and nightly routine. I find structure to start and finish the day helps me to focus, and achieve the things I need to.”

My own (weekday) morning routine includes: waking up relatively early; spending 10 minutes on my favourite yoga poses; having breakfast over something worthwhile to read; bathroom time and catching up on the news via my internet radio; and then diving straight into work in my (home) office.

I love this routine as it sets me up for the day. I established it after reading Laura Vanderkam’s bestselling books, “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” and “168 Hours”, a couple of years ago (which I’ve blogged about here).

2. Keep your to-do list short.

John Rampton recommends making “knockout lists” and mentions Marcus Lemonis, who works through a list of 5 things every day. Many readers of this blog will know that I prefer to be even more minimal about to-do lists: I have reduced my daily to-dos to just 3 key tasks.

Having a 3-item to-do list has worked wonderfully for me for quite some time, and it works for a lot of other people, too. I’ve found that, thanks to my minimal to-do list, I now do more of the things that I love or consider important.

3. Check your email less frequently.

Email notoriously sucks up time. John Rampton’s article makes reference to an email management technique named Yesterbox, which involves responding only to emails from the day before.

My email handling approach runs along similar lines: I have non-urgent emails directed to an email programme which I open just once per day (usually in the evening), and I reply to a lot of emails on Friday afternoon only.

Which email management techniques work best?

4. Cut down on decision fatigue.

In the course of a day, the quality of the decisions that we make becomes worse. It’s therefore advisable to generally reduce the number of our decisions from the outset, for example by creating a minimalist wardrobe (check out my 3 minimalist wardrobe principles here).

Note Barack Obama, who once famously said: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

5. Prescribe yourself some downtime.

Both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates explain that plenty of blank spaces have been the secret to their success and time management. We all know downtime is good for us, but: how good are we at really scheduling it?

What’s more, we should enjoy work-free time more! I touched on this crucial topic a couple of times on this blog before, for example here, here and here.

Famous, successful people use time management techniques that even teach us how to make time. Some of them stand out, offering an improved approach to to-do lists, email management and downtime.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

How to make to-do lists pleasurable

How easy is it for you to include pleasurable activities in your day? I’ve noticed I tend to deprive myself of pleasurable activities as work and similar commitments typically fill every waking hour. There is generally not enough time in the day!

And I’ve heard others around me complain about how they, too, rarely get round to recreational or fun activities, which deep down they crave. What about activities that are, by definition, pleasurable? What about socialising or outdoor pursuits? What is a good use of time?

Tweak your to-do list a little, and you'll reap amazing benefits!

If you follow this blog, you’ll perhaps remember my article about the minimal to-do list. It involves setting 3 main tasks per day, which are important, easy to remember, and above all achievable.

I love my minimal to-do list; however, I’ve noticed my 3 daily tasks usually are tedious, difficult or downright tiring. Don’t get me wrong: the purpose of a to-do list obviously is to get tedious tasks done. And work can be pleasurable, too. But at the end of the day, it still is what it is: work.

All work and no play, after all, is not good for us, so I’ve started tweaking my minimal to-do list a little:
I occasionally include a pleasurable activity in my to-do list. It’s a time management approach designed to bring about greater purpose. It works for me, so it might work for you, too.

This is less ridiculous than it initially sounds: on some days I explicitly include a pleasurable activity in my to-do list, such as meeting up with a friend at the café; going out on a nice, long run; or treating myself to a full-body massage.

While I would have done these things in the past, I now savour and appreciate such activities even more. It is, frankly, the best way to get my priorities right. By adapting your to-do list a little, you can reap amazing benefits!

Tweaking my minimal to-do list in this unusual way has made it easy for me to find the balance between the mountain of work commitments, the engagement in relationships, and the pursuit of pleasure. All three should have a role to play in our lives.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Avoiding writing mistakes by concentration span management

As I was rereading an email which I’d sent to a friend in Germany on her birthday recently, I noticed a stupid comma mistake in my writing. As a translator I’m extremely sensitive to even the smallest of writing errors, but in this situation I didn’t mind. But why?

If this had happened to me in my translation work, it would have caused a lot of distress. If I had delivered a translation to a client with a stupid mistake in it, it would have been upsetting – both for the client and for myself. Blunders can easily turn a translation into substandard work.

The mental resources available to us in a day are finite, so we should use them wisely.

Mistakes in professional translations and professional writing can and do happen, which is why good translators put bespoke quality assurance measures in place to prevent them. Since the mental resources that are available to us in a day are finite, it makes sense to use them wisely and effectively, i.e. to “manage” them. This often means: first things first!

I could, of course, have written to my friend first thing in the morning, straight after the notification on my phone had popped up reminding me of her birthday. But I’d deliberately put it off till late in the afternoon, although I’d been well aware that my mental resources, after a day’s translation work, would be almost depleted by then.

Writing to my friend first thing would already have taken a chunk out of the mental resources so badly needed for the day‘s translation assignments. I knew that it wouldn’t really matter (much) to her that my writing was most likely going to be suboptimal. That she wouldn’t mind the odd punctuation mistake or typo. That my email would perhaps even be a bit incoherent. Writing to her on her birthday mattered more than the writing itself.

First things first! Since our concentration span in a day is limited, it makes sense to implement measures to plan our days ahead in a way to prevent careless writing mistakes.

Note: A German translation of this blog article can be found here.