My English teacher in middle school once said: “even George Bush only has 24 hours in a day.”
She was trying to convince us that we did in fact have enough time to write a long essay in one day, just as the ‘most powerful leader in the world’ at the time did. Not 10000% relevant, bless her, comparing a middle-school student to the president of the US, but the thought stays with me until this day. How do we get our work done on even the busiest of workdays when we, too, only have 24 hours in the day to do that and everything else?
Prioritize and List
Tale as old as time, but prioritizing and listing are key to getting work done. Imagine spending hours on a task that wasn’t due until next month, or turns out isn’t very crucial to your project. Take some time to understand what is most important to you, which of the tasks handed over to you are the most important to the one in charge, and which task’s deadline is coming up the soonest. Keep a neat list of all of those in order and make it fun! Think of color coding for various levels of importance, or drawing little shapes and arrows to keep things organized.
Just Say No
Why is this rule number 2? Because saying “Yes! Sure! I’ll get right to it!” to everyone around us (boss included) can be a huge waste of our own time. Unless it’s life-threatening, stick to your to-do list before assuming responsibility of someone else’s – especially your boss! When a manager comes in with even MORE work, stop and ask them: “which of these is most important?”. This will help you prioritize and get the most important done first, it’ll buy you time to work on other tasks, and it’ll earn you your managers respect for proper planning and for speaking out. A manager will always come in with new work, but they’re not necessarily all due NOW.
I read this somewhere and it stuck with me forever: anything that takes 2 minutes or less should be done NOW. Not later – NOW. Get all the petty tasks out of the way so you can focus on the big stuff (including emails, setting meetings, even making a to-do list!)
Take Frequent Breaks
Contrary to popular belief and the notion of “sit here until you’re done” that most of us have grown up with, sitting still in attempt to concentrate for hours on end isn’t the best way to get work done. Instead, committing to time slots of work and ONLY work and following that with a quick break will help you get work done faster, because: you can eat that snack in the next break, check your phone in the next break, and maybe get up for a quick stretch too. Rewards after every strict time slot make it all worthwhile.
Just like in yoga and meditation, the mind wanders if it isn’t given something to concentrate on. Unlike yoga and meditation, you can’t really sit at your desk and repeat a mantra. What you CAN do is give your mind something to play with while you get your work done; a song on repeat or a soothing soundtrack of nature usually helps. And for this, headphones are a neeeed – not want. Make sure you have a pair of good headphones on you whenever you’re eager to sit and get work done. Blocking out the sounds around us will keep us from being distracted or – in my case – jumping in on conversations that colleagues are having around you.
Just like you made a list to prioritize your tasks, use the list to keep track of those that have been completed or maybe even cancelled or delayed. After a long day at work, the last thing you need is to get back to the office the next morning with an unorganized day ahead – especially at the start of the week after a fun weekend. Use little check-boxes to tick off the tasks as you get them done and your future self will thank you.
Yaaaay! One task down! Let’s celebrate. How? I’ll leave that to you. You’re a smart, hardworking person who deserves a break and a high-five. Go get ‘em!
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