How to Work Smarter, Not Longer

When I first started in advertising, I used to think that the longer I spent in the office, the more work I was perceived to be doing. Now I know that to be untrue (shock horror). But even in the past few years, my style of working has somewhat been erratic, and I was in need of an overhaul.

I’ve been trying out different hacks and researching ways to increase productivity (or spend less time working); both at work, at home or just in general “doing” of things.

Below are the four that have worked so far for me, and made a real difference. By no means is my journey finished, but I’ve made vast improvements from where I was. Hopefully, you get something out of these and find a bit more time in the day for you.

Pomodoro Technique
My number one hack so far. It’s simple and effective. I use it to write The Greenwood Journal. If you try one thing from this email, make it this one. Great for getting sh*t done.

1. Remove all distractions
2. Choose a task
3. Set a timer for 25 minutes (phone on Aeroplane mode helps)
4. Work only on that task
5. When the timer sounds, take a 5-minute break (move!)
6. Repeat
7. Every four sessions, take a 15-20 minute break.

The Quiet Hour
We check our phones every 4.3 minutes, 221 times per day, equating to 3 hours per day on our phones alone. We (myself included) are addicted to dopamine hits, known as the reward molecule; we get a little dopamine hit every time we get a like, thumbs up or text message.

So how do we combat it? Schedule a “Quiet Hour” into your day, no phones, no notifications. I'm still working on this one.

Eliminating Notifications
At the risk of sounding like an “anti-technologist”; Facebook, Google and Apple all employ some of the smartest people in the world to get us spending more time on their Apps (and it works).

According to a Humboldt University study, the average worker switches tasks every 3 minutes, and after a distraction, it takes 23 minutes to refocus your efforts on the task at hand. That’s a ton of wasted time right there.

I’ve tried to combat this by turning Notifications and Alerts off, and it’s been a revelation so far. I left on notifications for Banking and Greenwood Notebook Orders.

1. iPhone: Settings > Notifications. Tap an app,  then toggle off the Allow Notifications switch.
2. Android: Settings > Notifications. Tap an app, then enable the Block All setting. 
3. Outlook Desktop: Select File > Options > Mail. Under Message arrival, clear the Display a Desktop Alert check box and then select OK.

Checking Email 1-2 Times Per Day
Currently, we check email 150 times per day, trying to get the inbox to zero while furiously replaying to each email as it comes through. I’ll set the scene. You are working on a project. You get a little email pop-up, you click it and then go about replying to it. You lose the momentum you’ve gained on that project, and the cycle of email continues. Is work really happening? I question we are just bouncing tasks between each other.

Try checking email less and spend more time in the “doing” phase. This one has been difficult for me, I’m probably at 5-6 times per day but am getting better each week.

In summary, if you're a school teacher planning classes, you can apply these. If you’re an artist creating, you can use these. If you're an accountant working on a client, you can use these. I have no doubt, no matter your profession, passion or hobby - you can apply these.

What are some productivity hacks you use to help stay focussed and work less? I’d love to hear about them.