Katherine F. Gerould
“Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”
John C. Noble
Over the last five years I have changed a lot about how I work, how much I get done and how well I do those things.
Today I get a lot of things done but that does not mean that my day is more stressful. In fact it is often more relaxing than it used to be. This is not because I have become some kind of superhuman but simply because I have developed a few new habits and rituals and I stick with them as best I can each day.
In this article I will share 7 of the habits that have had the largest positive impact on my daily work.
1. Single-tasking. Even during breaks.
Single-tasking means that you do just one thing at a time instead of trying to do a number of things at the same time. This is one of those tips you find listed on most productivity blogs and in many books on personal effectiveness for a good reason. It is a very beneficial way to work.
When I work this way I only focus on one thing at a time. I focus on it fully with no other thought creeping in. This helps me to do things better and in a shorter amount of time. But the most important reason why I work like this is because how it makes me feel. It makes me feel relaxed and calm. It drains a minimum of energy from me.
I try to stick to this as best I can each day, even when I take a break. If I watch a an episode of a TV-show, read a book or check a webpage during my break I still only do one thing at a time.
By sticking to the single-tasking during the whole day – even during breaks – it becomes easier to single-task and hit a state of flow when I get back to work again. And I strengthen my single-tasking habit and I tend to stay in the present moment a lot more during the day.
It may not always be possible to single-task but I recommend using it as much as you can.
2. Use a short and prioritized to-do list.
I start my day by doing the most important task. Today it was writing this article so now – just after breakfast – I am writing it.
Just before I started writing I checked my online to-do list on Teuxdeux.com (it's free and awesome). I added a few items, moved a few of them to other days and then prioritized today’s tasks.
Then I didn’t think or plan anymore since that often leads to procrastination. I switched programs and started writing instead.
3. Use a minimalistic workspace.
My work space is just a laptop on a small black desk made out of wood. I use a comfy chair and there is room for my glass of water beside the computer.
That’s it. There are no distractions here. Just me, the computer and the water.
4. Never work after 7 in the evening.
I am strict with limits during my day. Not to become the most self-disciplined person in the world but simply to ensure that I do not work too much or too little. And to ensure that I do not spend too much time on low-priority activities.
I have set a time-limit so I always have time to wind down and relax after my day. This is also very important to me because if I work too late then I will have a hard to time to fall asleep and I find the hours in the bed less relaxing than they could be.
You may want to set another stop-limit but I highly recommend this practice to not bring home your work and to be able to fully relax during your week and not feel drained as the weekend approaches. And if you start with the most important task each day and work through your to-do list that way in a single-tasking manner then you’ll probably be done with your tasks before you reach your time-limit.
5. Check everything just once a day.
I check my email inboxes, blog statistics, my online earnings, Twitter and Facebook just once a day. I combine all that checking into one small daily ritual so I don’t slip and go checking it more during the day and waste my time, energy and attention.
6. Check everything at the end of the workday.
I do the inbox etc. check mentioned above at the end of my workday. This is to make sure that I do get the most important things done first. If you check these things too early or too often then the day just seems to fly by and you didn’t get much done at all.
If you can’t always prevent or eliminate doing those less important things then at least postpone them for a few hours so that you can make a dent in your most important work.
7. Simple refocusing.
Over my simple workspace there hangs a small white board. It has three sentences written on it. All of them help me simplify my day. From the top:
- “Keep things extremely simple”. When I lose my way during the day and slip into procrastination or overcomplicating things I can just look up and remind myself about how to go about things.
- “Clean work”. This one reminds me to single-task and to just do one thing at a time fully focused during my whole workday.
- “There is no problem”. I have (or my mind has) a tendency to sometimes start to look for problems where there really are none. If I feel I have a problem I usually look up and read this sentence. It helps me to think things over once again. Sometimes I find that there really is a problem that I can solve. Oftentimes I discover that the problem may just be something have I have created in my mind. And so I let it go.
What is your best tip to simplify and/or relaxify the workday?
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