By Lyndsey Hall
In part two of our How to save time blog series, we’re focusing on your work life. Whether you’re a freelancer, a nine-to-fiver or a small business owner we’ve got lots of tips and advice for ways to reduce time wastage and improve your efficiency.
“Eat the frog” is a common saying when talking about efficiency, meaning ‘do the least appealing job first’. This is solid advice, as everything else feels like riding your bike downhill once that big, horrible task is finished. But how else can you shave minutes off your daily grind and still achieve your professional goals and ambitions?
Embrace the Cloud
Technology is the ultimate game-changer when it comes to business, as everyone from Kodak, Blockbuster and Woolworths will tell you. But even if you don’t operate a retail business, you can still benefit from the latest advancements and use them to your advantage.
Remote desktops, online software and teleconferencing mean you could take your laptop almost anywhere with WiFi and be able to do your job without any loss of function. You can even do most things with just a smart phone now, so there’s nothing tying you to a physical location or a long, tedious commute.
Online accounting software, such as Sage, Xero or Quickbooks, allows you to keep up to date with your accounts and send invoices on the go. You can even submit expenses and update payroll from your phone, and sign important documents instantly.
If you’re self-employed or run a small business, cloud accounting software could save you time and money, as you’ll never need to upgrade your old desktop software and new updates will happen automatically and at a convenient time (like 2am).
The Pomodoro Technique
If you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro Technique, where have you been? Named as such after the tomato shaped kitchen timer the inventor, Francesco Cirillo, used as a university student, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the late 1980s.
The original method comprises six steps:
Choose a task from your to do list.
- Set your timer to 25 minutes.
- Work on the task.
- Stop working when the timer goes off and write a checkmark on your notepad.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3-5 minutes) and go back to step 2.
- Once you have four checkmarks, take a longer break (15-20 minutes), start a new line of checkmarks and go back to step 1.
This method helps to reduce the impact of internal and external interruptions on focus and flow, as you’re able to concentrate fully for a single pomodoro (25 minutes, or whatever length of time you’ve chosen to set your timer for), knowing you’ll have a break when it ends. This limits procrastination and trains the brain to focus for a set period of time before allowing it to wander freely.
Cirillo recommends taking a low-tech approach, i.e. using a mechanical kitchen timer, paper and pencil rather than setting a timer on your phone, for example. He says the physical act of winding the timer confirms the user’s determination to start the task; ticking externalises the desire to complete the task; and ringing announces a break. Eventually, these physical stimuli will become associated with focusing on the task at hand in the user’s brain.
You could obviously use an app on your phone or laptop to time your pomodoros, if you’d prefer a more digital take on the method. Ultimately, the aim is to concentrate fully for set periods, with short breaks in between to give your brain and eyes a rest. The average attention span is no more than 20 minutes, so after that period we’re no longer paying full attention to what we’re working on and therefore our quality of work will begin to decline. With this kind of time management technique, you’ll eventually be able to work with limited distractions for longer chunks of time, allowing you to complete tasks quickly and efficiently, while limiting procrastination and mental fatigue.
Collaboration and delegation
If your to do list is starting to get a bit long and unwieldy, it might be time to tidy it up. Sit down and go through it with a fine-toothed comb, is there anything on there you could hand over to someone else and free up some of your own valuable time? Delegation isn’t a dirty word, so if your admin team could take on a few of your basic tasks like filing and booking meetings, then hand these jobs over to them.
Like the sound of the Pomodoro Technique, but need a clear, step-by-step workflow to help you smash your to do list? That’s where project management comes in. Apps like Trello allow you to create a detailed workflow with tasks and all their necessary steps, as well as adding team members and assigning jobs to them.
Collaborate effectively with your team; identify each members’ strong suits and USPs, and use them to your advantage. Save yourself time by sharing the load and appointing the best person for the job. After all, Jack of all trades, master of none! Reserve your time and energy for your most important jobs, the ones no one else can do like you can, and let your team do the same. Just make sure you all do your fair share of the dirty work no one likes!
Switch off and enjoy your downtime
Now you’ve gotten to grips with your to do list, you can really switch off and wind down when you log off. Working late into the night and at weekends is counterproductive and can even be harmful to your health – and if you’re working effectively and efficiently during the work day, it shouldn’t be necessary. Some countries have banned companies from expecting employees to be contactable outside of working hours, including France and Germany. And Sweden is consistently high up the productivity charts, despite working less hours on average than Britain, the US, and many others.
Take a look at our previous post, Saving Time – Home Edition, for ways you can manage your personal time and get a better night’s rest, boosting your productivity as well as your mental and physical wellbeing.