Everyone gets the same amount of hours to carpe diem, but what you make of it is entirely up to you. Today, the average person in the U.S. works 8.7 hours a day — and for many of us, that still doesn’t feel like enough time to squeeze in everything we need to do. As the hours pass and our to-do list swells, it’s easy for the day to slip by right before our eyes.
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But it doesn’t have to be that way. By refining the ways you get things done, you can whittle down your workload and make the most of every single day.
Schedule your tasks and set deadlines
Don’t work off your to-do list. When you mindlessly throw a task on a list, you’re less likely to complete it if you don’t designate a specific amount of time to work on it. Instead, calendar in tasks, just as you would meetings, so you can prioritize and realistically plan ahead. Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke, also suggests adding self-imposed deadlines because they “allow us to clarify our thoughts and create an action plan.” Once you sit down at your desk, you won’t get bogged down with decision paralysis when you already have a clear plan in mind.
Do two-minute tasks immediately
If a task will take you less than two minutes, do it right away. If you keep brushing off a small to-do, it adds to the total amount of time it will take to complete. Right after meetings, isolate the quick action items and get them done. You’ll feel less bogged down by the sheer amount of tasks you have to do, and your workload will magically shrink.
Fully commit, for less time
It’s easy to get distracted when you’re juggling a million things. It also takes up more time — multitasking can reduce your productivity levels by as much as 40 percent, according to the American Psychological Association. Try dividing your time into smaller chunks and then, sort of like you’re playing a game of Tetris, assign each block of time to a specific task. If a project will take you four hours to finish, give yourself two 90-minute blocks to get it done. BJ Fogg, researcher and founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, found that when you parse tasks down into smaller parts, there’s a greater likelihood that you’ll follow through.
Don’t be afraid to take things off your plate
Dwight Eisenhower’s Decision Box is one tool that can help you clarify which tasks to address and which tasks to eliminate. Using the matrix, you can label items as urgent and/or important to figure out how much immediate attention it requires and how much it contributes to your overarching mission.
- Urgent + important = finish these tasks quickly
- Important + not urgent = finish these tasks later
- Urgent + not important = delegate these tasks
- Not urgent + not important = scrap these tasks
The Decision Box may not work for every project, but it can help you separate the noise and focus on doing more purpose-driven work.
The average American spends more than nine hours every week preparing for or attending meetings. Google Ventures’ Ken Norton suggests rethinking whether your meeting is absolutely necessary before you send out invites. If you still think it is, send out a timed agenda beforehand, so everyone arrives prepared and ready to stay within their designated time slot. After the meeting, follow up with action items, so all attendees have a record of what they’re accountable for. Don’t hesitate to cut a meeting short if you don’t need the entire amount of time. Or, just cancel it if a quick email orSlack conversation will do the trick.
Taking a work intermission is an important way to recharge. Grab some fresh air. Call your mother. Play Candy Crush. When you step away from a project, you’ll return with a new way of thinking about the project in front of you.
Set aside time for reading emails
Email eats up around 13 hours per week. For someone earning $75,000 per year, that means the time spent reading and answering emails can cost a company $20,990 per year. Set aside email-only time, so you’re less likely to get sidetracked when you’re deep into a project. Turn off notifications during the day so you won’t feel tempted to respond to every message that lands in your inbox. If you have trouble breaking away, consider logging out of your email (and social media accounts) while in the midst of a project.
With these productivity tricks up your sleeve, you can zoom through your to-do list, enhance your workflow, and let more meaning shine throughout each hour of the day.