Punxsutawney Phil may have condemned us to more winter, but the longer days, melting snow, and hints of Spring have many of us feeling a little antsy this time of year. New year’s resolutions lose steam, and some of our well-intentioned goals start to slip out of reach.
How do you get back on track?
Incorporating a few simple time-management techniques could be all it takes to jumpstart your productivity.
Eat the Frog
Yes, you read that correctly. A key element of productivity is jumping right in and “eating the frog,” meaning conquering your worst, hardest, and most unpleasant task first. It’s based on a Mark Twain quote, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
In practice, this means tackling your most difficult task first, right at the start of your day. This could be the chore you’ve been dreading, the assignment you’ve been putting off, or the uncomfortable email you have to send. Completing this task first will have a big impact on your attitude by making you feel accomplished and building your productivity momentum.
Observing the most results from one task is also known as the 80/20 rule or Pareto Analysis. It claims that 20% of the work you do results in 80% of the results. For example, if you work for 100 minutes, and the first 20 of those minutes were “eating your frog,” 80% of the work will already be done after the first 20 minutes.
Prioritization is Key
Before getting to work, you first have to figure out what work to do. Between our personal lives, household tasks, and careers, we often have so many things on our plate that it’s hard to figure out where to even start. This could even lead to feelings of paralysis, where you end up getting nothing done at all. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to help you evaluate and prioritize your tasks.
The Eisenhower Matrix
The first technique is called the Eisenhower Matrix, named after its creator, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Take a piece of paper and divide it into four quadrants. Then write out all of your tasks, placing them in the appropriate category.
Top left – “Do First”
- Begin these tasks as soon as possible
Top right – “Schedule”
- Less urgent
- Plan a time to start these tasks later
Bottom left – “Delegate”
- Less important
- Assign these tasks to someone else to do
Bottom Right – “Don’t do”
- Less urgent
- Less important
- Don’t work on these tasks
Another method is known as ABCDE, invented by Alan Lakein. To use this, first, write down a list of all your tasks, then label each one accordingly:
A – Most important
B – Important
C – Nice to do
D – Delegate
E – Eliminate (not important)
The 1-3-5 Rule
If categorizing your tasks by urgency isn’t helping because all your tasks are very urgent, try thinking about your tasks in terms of size, or the length of time each task will take to do. Experts say you can get the most accomplished by sticking to the 1-3-5 Rule, meaning each day you tackle one large task, three medium-sized tasks, and five small tasks.
The Glass Jar Theory
To visualize this, you can use The Glass Jar (also known as The Pickle Jar) Theory. Imagine an empty glass jar and a pile of sand, pebbles, and rocks. The jar represents your time, and the items next to it represent your tasks. The grains of sand are small, less important tasks, the pebbles are tasks of medium importance, and the rocks are the largest, most important tasks. As you do a task, you add it to the jar. If you do all the small tasks first, your jar will be filled with sand, and you won’t be able to fit the large rocks in. But if you start with the rocks and pebbles, the sand will fill in the empty spaces, and all your tasks will fit. This goes back to Mark Twain’s theory of eating the frog—get your most important tasks out of the way first.
According to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, “British historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson became famous for the phrase ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ In other words, the amount of time you give yourself to complete a specific task is the amount of time it will take you to complete that task.” According to this theory, known as Parkinson’s Law, setting deadlines for yourself and forcing yourself to get tasks done within a certain window of time actually helps you complete those tasks.
The Pomodoro Technique
One of the most popular time-management techniques that’s easy to incorporate into your workflow is the Pomodoro Technique. It’s named after the classic kitchen timers shaped like tomatoes. To implement the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for 25 minutes, and during that time, focus on one specific task. When the timer goes off, set it for five minutes and take a short break. Then repeat with three more work and rest cycles. Once you’ve completed four cycles, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.
If you don’t have a kitchen timer, you can find many online by Googling the word “timer.” You can also use the timer app on your phone, or download an app designed specifically for the Pomodoro Technique.
Dealing with Distractions
For any of these techniques to be successful, you’ll need to have your work sessions be distraction free. The following are some common distractions you might face, and how to eliminate them:
Being tired, hungry, or thirsty will quickly zap your focus away from the task at hand. Before you start working, make sure you’re well rested and have healthy snacks and water nearby. Staying hydrated is also important for your memory and focus.
You might think that hunkering down in one spot and powering through will help you get stuff done faster, but this can actually lead to neck and back pain that ultimately becomes more distracting than it’s worth. Getting up to stretch and switching up your space is good for your body and gives your mind a refresh. Try switching your location with each Pomodoro segment you complete.
It’s nearly impossible to be productive with a constantly beeping phone. Put it on Do Not Disturb mode while you work, then use your five-minute Pomodoro break to catch up on notifications.
If you’re worried about missing an important call or text from family members, you can turn on emergency bypass alerts for select contacts (here are instructions for iPhone and Android). This will ease your anxiety about missing an emergency while blocking out unnecessary notifications from social media and other applications.
The Importance of Rest
Do you ever struggle with feelings of guilt when you’re not doing something traditionally considered “productive”? You’re not alone. But remember, every action you do is productive at something. Resting is a productive way to let your mind and body recharge so you can carry on being productive with work.
According to Nivati, taking breaks while working is an important way to “help you reevaluate goals, increase productivity and help the mind refocus, lessen injuries, body aches, and pains, improve creativity, [and] reduce stress.”
This can be easier said than done while you’re having a productive streak. The following activities are a quick way to rest and reset while still doing something that feels “productive”:
- Walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water
- Prepare a healthy snack
- Take a short walk outside
- Spend a few minutes interacting with your (or your coworker’s) pet. It’s good for your mental health!
- Do a small house chore, like wiping down counters, washing a few dishes, or putting in a load of laundry. You can even use laundry cycles as a built in Pomodoro timer.
Time to Leave the House
Working from the couch in your pajamas can be tempting, but distractions at home abound. Even coffee shops, often used as a community workspace, come with a whole host of sights and sounds that can put a strain on your ability to focus.
Coworking spaces like LifeWorking are becoming increasingly popular for their distraction-free environment. They’re also the ideal setting for productive rest periods—a short coffee break is the perfect opportunity to network and connect with others.
If you’re in the Lake Forest area, visit https://www.mylifeworking.com/contact-us/ to claim your free LifeWorking day pass and experience productivity at its finest!