You work too hard. We suspect you knew that, but in case you didn’t, here’s some sobering statistics: work-related anxiety led to 10.4million lost working days in 2011/2012, with 20 percent of us grafting more than 45 hours a week, according Government figures. Yikes!
Yet a study at Harvard Business School found employees who left the office on time increased productivity, by working more effectively. (We bet they felt a damn sight chirpier too.) The lesson: work less, accomplish more.
Here, we reveal smart tactics to help you avoid last-minute panics, steam through your to-do list and have a life.
DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS
Which should come first, the chicken or the egg? When it comes to cracking the career game, they’re level pegging, says Magdalena Bak-Maier, author of Get Productive!. “Think of yourself as a chicken and the eggs as the results you get,” she says. “Trying to produce too many eggs is counterproductive – your chicken will burn out. Only happy chickens produce eggs, so maintaining a healthy balance between the two is important.”
To-do lists are useful tools to stay focused on goals, but be aware that, on average, we underestimate how long a task will take by 50-70%. Bak-Maier suggests choosing one result you want to achieve each day and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Use a minimal computer program such as Google Docs in full-screen mode to keep you focused solely on the job in hand.
ESCAPE THE NET
Surfing the web can be a huge time-waster – as you may discover to your horror if you register at Rescuetime.com. The service tracks your website usage, giving weekly graphs to show where all those lost minutes were spent. (Our bet’s on eBay.) The solution: the site blocks your access to any sites you request, for however long you need to stay distraction-free. Plus, you can set up reminders to keep projects on track. How did we do without it?
CUT YOUR CUT-OFFS
Parkinson’s Law, from a wise old bird called Cyril Parkinson, states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” You can apply this adage by setting yourself shorter deadlines, which forces you to work more efficiently. Time management consultant Claire Tompkins recommends breaking projects into clear stages. Asking a colleague to proof-read your work at a specific time will ensure quality doesn’t slip either.
HIRE A VIRTUAL AIDE
Outsourcing isn’t just for banks. At AskSunday.com, you can hire your own PA to 10 hours of work, such as setting up meetings or doing research for reports, for £60. “It’s easy to justify the cost,” says Dr David Spencer, senior economics lecturer at Leeds University. He argues doing such jobs yourself dilutes your earning power. Good point.
GET A CUNNING PLAN
Investing two hours each week to go through your calendar and to-do list can save you up to five hours the following week, according to David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. “Do it towards the end of your work week, ideally Friday between 2pm and 4pm,” Allen says. “Look at new projects and make decisions about forthcoming issues so they don’t blow up in your face.” The easiest way to do this is to make a list of all the tasks you need to have completed by the following Friday.
Also take time to look at what’s gone wrong over the past week. Reflecting on and learning from those experiences can stop the same thing happening next time you tackle a similar job. Which means come Monday, when it’s time to clock off you’re slinging your bag over your decidedly-more-relaxed shoulder.
KICK THE HANDHELD
“Don’t use your smartphone for processing email,” says Allen (sending shivers down the spines of countless addicts). A survey by software firm NeverFail found that 94% of us use our smartphone to check email after work or over the weekend. But, as Allen points out, “unless it’s from abroad, it’s highly unlikely an email will come in that you have to deal with there and then.”
In fact, checking email out of hours can be counterproductive, since if can’t deal with the issue immediately, you may well have forgotten about it by Monday morning – leaving that message to disappear down your inbox. To avoid temptation, deactivate your phone’s push email setting as you head out of the office. Then you can switch off and get more out of your free time too.