There is no lack of opinions on productivity and time management tips. Popular books include “The 4-hour Workweek,” “Getting Things Done,” “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” and “Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.”
Josh Guilar, writing for Quire, the project management solution, shares these proven tips from hyper-productive and successful leaders:
- Jeff Bezos said making the right decision is less important than making a quick decision. As he reflects on productivity, he says many decisions can be reversed, but making the right decision slowly can often be more costly.
- Warren Buffet and the late Steve Jobs were both believers of saying “no” more. Jobs said saying no to outside projects and invitations allowed him to stay hyper-focused on his current project.
- Bill Gates says meditation helps him pay attention to his thoughts, which allows him to gain distance and perspective, which improves his concentration.
- Richard Branson says a notebook is one of the top five most important tools he carries with him on the road. He believes taking notes inspires more ideas leading to more success.
Here are my five favorite tips for maximizing time.
Routines are key
Consistency and routine are helpful for starting the day.
While many of us start the workday with online news or immediately digging into email, I suggest you ditch the habit. What starts out harmlessly as a few minutes catching up can often turn into hours down a rabbit hole. A 2019 annual email usage study by Adobe found that the average person spends more than five hours per weekday on email.
If you must start with email, make it a quick skim to ensure you aren’t missing an important message from a boss or client then get on with your work.
I typically start my day with a priority list of three to five items that I created the day before. This is not my entire “to do” list. But the priority list reflects those things that absolutely must get done.
My favorite way to start work is with a writing project for a client or an article or book I’m working on. While my mind feels fresh, and the day is full of possibilities the writing seems to flow. After writing for an hour or two, I need to stretch, get water and walk for a few minutes to get the blood flowing. Then I return to the writing project or at this point in my day, use a scheduled amount of time to return calls or emails.
While I don’t follow my routine every day, on the days that I do I am more productive. The productive morning then sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Create a wind-down practice
A wind-down practice was suggested by my writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant. Daphne is a believer in the discipline needed for writing, but I find many of her suggestions work for anyone who needs discipline to be successful in their careers. I find the wind-down practice helps me clear my brain for the remainder of my evening — which is particularly important when working from home with only one flight of stairs as my commute.
I make sure that I leave my desk neat, that I’ve checked items off my priority list and that I have created my priority list for the following day. This sense of satisfaction I gain during the wind-down practice is important for me to separate the workday from my personal time.
Daphne agrees that many experts suggest using an end-of-day ritual to plan for the next day, but she says, “I’ve never been drawn to that. Besides, I find it invigorating to plan my day in the morning so I can get excited about what I’m going to accomplish that day.”
While I appreciate her approach to planning in the morning, Daphne is an admitted “morning lark.” For me, I prefer to set my priorities the day before so there is a plan in place when I sit down at the computer. With experimentation, you will find the system that works best for you.
I start my wind-down about 30-45 minutes before the end of my day. While your routine will be different, here’s a look at mine:
- Final review of email
- Review and check off today’s priority list
- Create tomorrow’s priority list
- Shut down computer
- Leave work behind and focus on family, friends, and self
Trade your to-do list for your calendar
Peter Bregman, the author of “Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones that Really Work,” suggests rather than working from a to-do list, that instead we put the tasks on a calendar which serves as our blueprint for the day.
“The reason we’re always left with unfinished items on our to-do lists is because those lists are the wrong tool to drive our accomplishments. Decide when and where you will do something, and the likelihood that you’ll follow through increases dramatically,” he writes.
Calendars help you prioritize, says Bregman. “A calendar is finite; there are only a certain number of hours in a day. That fact becomes clear the instant we try to cram an unrealistic number of things into a finite space.”
Daphne agrees that structuring your day is essential: “My productivity took a huge leap as soon as I started using time-blocking. Each morning I take five minutes to plan. First, I decide my three to five priorities for that day. Then, I schedule when I’m going to do them by entering my tasks (not just meetings, but tasks) into a daily calendar, that’s divided into 30-minute chunks. This is one of my best tips for writing from home.”
Differentiate between important and urgent
Productive people understand the difference between important and urgent tasks. In the legal field, we are often putting out fires. Sometimes these emergencies are real; they arise unexpectedly and must be dealt with. But often, we become accustomed to constantly working on deadline and it becomes our default. It is hard to innovate or take your skill to the next level of excellence if you are stuck in the moment. Learning how to develop a proactive mindset rather than a reactive mindset is an important skill for successful legal professionals.
Practice wellness and self-care
Much has been written about the importance of getting enough sleep. During the pandemic, I have slept more than usual. In talking with my doctor, she assured me my need for additional rest was healthy. During sleep our bodies rest, rejuvenate and heal. For most people, living through the pandemic has taken an emotional, mental and physical toll and getting plenty of rest is key to well-being.
Exercise is another key component of wellness and self-care. Because I have not been going to the gym during the pandemic, I bought a small set of weights to keep in my home office. I use the weights, as well as floor exercises and stretching in five-to-10-minute increments three times a day. I use my Fitbit to provide reminders every 50 minutes to get up and move around. Sometimes I just head downstairs for water or a snack; other times, I’ll run out to check the mail. But at least three times a day, I perform my at-home exercise routine to keep me moving and my head clear.
Whether you add these skills to your routine — or you establish your own — organizational habits and schedules will improve your efficiency and productivity.
Continue this conversation by contacting Camille Stell at [email protected]lawyersmutualconsulting.com or (800) 662-8843.