Good productivity-practice says to write a to-do list for the week ahead every Friday afternoon for maximum workplace efficiency, but taking the time to write a not-to-do list could make an even bigger impact on your work in the long-term.
While the former focuses on what’s important to prioritise on a week-to-week basis, the latter helps you identify recurring bad habits, tasks that should be automated or delegated, and favours that distract you from meeting your own objectives.
Here’s how to get out of an ineffective work rut.
Identify obvious bad habits
If we are really truthful, many of our bad habits are already known to us. Take 30 minutes to brain dump yours in a notebook, and if you have writer’s block, think of the distractions of the last day, week or month. It may not feel productive but this exercise will save you time later.
Common distractions include spending time on our smartphones –– 36% of respondents in the Deloitte Digital Consumer Trends 2022 said they check their phone at least 50 times a day, and 16% said they checked at least 100 times a day –– completing personal admin during work hours, and for remote workers, doing household tasks during office hours.
The result of too many distractions is missed deadlines or working late to compensate, neither of which are appealing.
In the same Deloitte report, half of respondents (51%) said they wished to spend less time on tech devices; there’s a reason why your smartphone gives you the option of limiting time on certain apps, and that there’s a proliferation of apps dedicated to helping you control your digital bingeing.
If this sounds like you, try one of these services for a week to get a clear-eyed view of not only how much time you’re spending, but how often you pick up your phone to check messages or mindlessly scroll.
Sure, it might only be three minutes, but a study by the University of California, Irvine says it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back into work flow after being interrupted.
If you’re picking up your phone 50 times a day, and 10 of those times are during work hours, that’s almost four hours of concentration lost across those 23 minute and 15 second delays. It all adds up.
Similarly, household tasks and personal admin can pile up too. A “five-minute” call to a utility provider may end up taking 20 minutes due to being on hold, and likewise, doing the dishes after lunch might seem like a small job, but time it. It often takes longer than you think.
While occasionally completing a personal task shouldn’t make a huge impact on achieving your productivity goals, if you find they are stacking up throughout your day, time each one and add up the total. You might be surprised.
Emails and meetings also crop up as huge time sucks for employees. Productivity experts now say chasing zero inbox should be one of the lowest things on your list, and workers are encouraged to “eat the frog” first, meaning you should tackle the most pertinent and difficult task of the day first thing.
Also review your calendar for recurring meetings and ensure every meeting description has a one or two line objective in its description. Are older recurring meetings still necessary? If not, eliminate them or at least cut back the amount of time spent in them.
Consider a 30-minute cap to all meetings, though this can be tricky when you’re keen to balance small talk and relationship building with productivity. And discuss with your manager about the organisation introducing a weekly no-meeting day.
Dig a little deeper
Beyond these shared distractions, each job will have its own unique set of time sucks that you should review.
Are there things that you’ve been meaning to automate, delegate or outsource? Schedule in time to set these up this week, and free up time down the line.
Are there legacy tasks that are no longer providing value? Often employees compile and file reports diligently because they’ve always been filed in that way, but question if these reports are necessary for the business right now. Talk to your manager about cutting legacy tasks in your role, and free yourself up to focus on current business priorities.
Being a helpful coworker is nice, but continuous favours and volunteering for short-term projects will affect your long-term goals. Learn to stay ‘no’ or at the very least, say nothing, if volunteers are sought but you’re too stretched to achieve your own team’s objectives already. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, write down and practise polite but clear scripts for tricky conversations and emails.
By the end of your analysis your not-to-do list could look something like this:
- No volunteering for experimental projects
- No looking at email for an hour first thing
- No reading the news or checking social media on my work computer
- No working post 6pm
- No one-hour meetings
- No phone at my desk during work hours
Ready to take your refreshed productivity into a new role? Check out the Silicon Canals Job Board for interesting jobs updated constantly, like these three.
SumUp is hiring an Android Engineer to work in its Mobile Platform Squad in Berlin or hybrid within Europe. As part of its autonomous team, the successful candidate will work across a wide range of challenging verticals: maintaining CI/CD for mobile projects, creating tooling for developers, and providing infrastructure and architecture to support the company’s modularised codebase. The ideal applicant will be comfortable with Kotlin, Java and Android Components, will be a keen tester and a clean coder, and is also pragmatic and a self-starter. If this sounds like you, apply here.
French multinational bank BNP Paribas is seeking a Technical Architect, covering ECOM and voice surveillance, as the industry involves at a rapid pace. The successful candidate will ensure the organisation keeps at pace with modern data analytics and AI technology by defining architecture targets and related costs, helping to define roadmaps to achieve these, ensure proactive management of operational risk, and will help define non-functional requirements for their architecture scope in collaboration with IT and business strategy departments. Applicants will ideally have at least five years’ experience in development with large data sets, and will have good knowledge of AI techniques, Python and Java. Find out more.
In Madrid, Western Union is hiring for an Integration Engineer who will think about the digital customer experience above all else. As part of its Mulesoft Engineering team, the successful candidate will work on the recently launched digital banks and wallets, with a core responsibility to establish these solutions globally by leading on API developments and enhancements. A BS in Computer Science or related field, with three to six years’ of professional experience, and a proven track record in writing high-quality efficient code to build and integrate APIs is required. Western Union’s Hybrid Work Model means working from the office a minimum three days a week. Read more.