Time is the building block of our lives. It is the most valuable commodity. It is irreplaceable. Once it is spend, it can’t be recovered. This post is about a practical method to make the most of our working days. It is the most effective productivity method I’ve come across.
What goes wrong in our offices?
Before introducing the method, let me go over a story to illustrate what’s going wrong in our offices all the time. Then you’ll see how this method can help you to take your working day under control.
After a fantastic weekend, Sam comes to office on Monday morning. He has to give a presentation to a customer tomorrow. He has to prepare the slides and his speech. He’s stressed, because this is the most important customer of his company. He turns on his computer and checks his email. He sees an email from another customer, who wants to purchase one of their products and needs extra information. He spends two hours writing all the details of the product.
Once the email is sent, he checks the social media to see what’s being discussed about their company. He’s disappointed by a few comments and takes his time to answer them. He realizes that it’s already noon and he’s hungry. He eats a sandwich and grabs a coffee.
Finally, he can start to work on his presentation, but the phone rings. It is the customer that he emailed in the morning. Confused by Sam’s email, the customer has even more questions now. Sam answers all of their questions and makes sure that the customer is satisfied with the answers.
He has little time left to prepare his slides. He quickly puts together some material prepared for the previous presentations. He decides to improvise a speech during the presentation. The working day is over.
Once he’s about to leave the office, he remembers the questionnaire he has to answer for the customer tomorrow. He hasn’t prepared them yet. He goes back to his office and works an extra three hours to prepare the answers.
Everybody thinks Sam is a hard worker. He spends a lot of hours in the office. He does a lot, but he has little to show for it. Although he’s frustrated with this situation, he accepts it. He doesn’t do anything about it.
Step 1: Make a list of the tasks that need to be done the next working day.
This is so obvious yet few people do it. Remember you have to prepare this list at the end of your working day for your next working day. If Sam did this step, he wouldn’t forget the questionnaire. He wouldn’t spend extra hours in the office to prepare them.
Step 2: Prioritize the tasks in your list.
This is also obvious yet even fewer people do it. If Sam prioritized his tasks, he would know that preparing his presentation was the most important task and the questionnaire the second most important.
Step 3: Start with the most important task and don’t move to the next task before completing it.
This is the critical part most people don’t get and don’t apply in their professional and private lives. Most of us have a counter-productive daily routine. This step is all about breaking that routine.
The Ideal Scenario
Let’s go over our example again. The ideal scenario for Sam would be the following.
Sam comes to the office. He immediately forwards his phone to the answering machine. In case of something urgent, his family can call him via his private phone. He doesn’t open his email client. He focuses on the most important task in his list. He spends three hours on his presentation and his speech. He’s thoroughly satisfied with his preparation and takes a break.
When he’s back from his break, he starts with the second most important item on his list. He spends two hours on preparing the answers to the questionnaire. When that task is done, he goes for lunch. When he’s back, he turns his phone on, opens his email client, and checks his answering machine. He sees the information request from the other customer. He schedules a meeting with this customer, because trying to answer their questions via email or phone would take too much time.
He spends the rest of the afternoon on social media answering the comments made about their company. When the working day is over, he makes the list for the next day and prioritizes the items in his list. He leaves the office happy knowing that he did a great job that day.
Now, it’s your turn.
Do you see how simple this 3 step formula is? Can’t you apply it in your job? If you find this method too difficult, you might need to work on your motivation, which is the ultimate productivity principle.
In my experience, the most challenging step is the third one. It requires some mindfulness to forgo checking your emails, to skip social media, and to start right away with the most important task in the morning. However, the results are worth it.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.