This article was written by freelancer Charlie Duffield
If you’re starting the new year brimming with new goals or work projects, it’s worth making sure you brush up on your time management tips. As American writer Mark Twain said; “eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” In other words, complete your most dreaded job first thing in the morning, and you’ll have gotten it out of the way and can continue with the smug satisfaction that your trickiest task is behind you.
Frogs aside, give yourself a head start by using these 7 tried and tested time management tips to kick start a productive new year as you truly mean to go on.
Get strict with your internet access
Procrastination and the internet go hand in hand. According to a study by the University of California Irvine, every time you check your email, scroll on social media, or respond to a notification, it takes your mind at least 23 minutes to re-focus and get back on task. What can you do about this when everything which needs to be done is online? Well, if you use a Mac computer, you can download their free self control app to help avoid distracting websites. It’s genius – you’ll literally be blocked from refreshing your email for the twentieth time or skulking on Twitter.
If you don’t use a Mac, try the Freedom app, which also aims to help you break bad habits and stay focused. And if you slip up (no one is perfect!) Use Pocket to capture all that distracting content to access once your work is done.
Focus on one task at a time
Multitasking might seem like an efficient way to get lots of things done, but research suggests that it can actually reduce your productivity by 40%! Every time you divert your attention to a different task or respond to small interruptions, not only does it take longer to complete the original task, the quality of your work actually decreases. A study by Stanford University further highlighted how problematic multitasking can be. It damages your cognitive control, fuelling any pre-existing difficulties you have with concentration, attention, deep thought and organisation.
Of course, modern day life is busy and frenetic – we’re all likely to multitask to some extent, like texting in front of the TV. But when it comes to those important work projects, single task it all the way.
Map it out
All our brains work differently, and sometimes visualising information helps. If you’re a brainstorming type, apps like MindNode and Mind42 can help you become better organised by focusing your thoughts, and gaining clarity on what needs to be done. Mind mapping can be effective in connecting ideas and fleshing out solutions, whilst helping to keep things on track, and maximising your creativity. Give it a go!
Try the Pomodoro technique
This works by using a timer to break down work into 25 minute intervals, interspersed with short, designated breaks. Working in these focused bursts has been proven to boost productivity, and here’s why; in 2011 a new study in the science journal Cognition discovered that short breaks increase our ability to concentrate. Participants who took short breaks during one continuous task actually performed better than those who didn’t. As long as your breaks really are brief, intentional, and don’t just divert your attention to another task, your brain will reap the benefit.
For all the tech addicts out there, you could also try the Focus Booster app. It’s based on the same principles as the Pomodoro Technique, featuring a mini timer to monitor your progress.
Use the five minute rule
It’s the Co-Founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom’s, favourite life hack, but why should you give the five minute rule a go? In his own words: “If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing.” This hacks cuts to the core of why we procrastinate, in that it’s usually motivated by the fear of failure. When we’re faced with a large task, it feels insurmountable in the moment, so it’s easier to delay getting going on it. Perhaps we don’t understand it, or simply don’t know where or how to begin. Yet it’s proven that if you can just start somewhere – anywhere – you’re more likely to finish.
This is the Zeigarnik effect in action; it’s a psychological response which means it’s easier to remember unfinished tasks, so your brain will pester you until it’s done. Break it down into baby steps, starting with…just five minutes.
To do list…or not to do?
Writing an old-fashioned to-do list is a good way to manage your time and ensure all your tasks and goals are met, by creating a plan to stick to. But this seemingly fail-safe method falters if you think about the hastily scrawled notes you might have lying around on the backs of receipts, on post-it notes, or in different notebooks. It can be hard to keep track of everything, all in one place, and stay focused.
Time management expert and author of ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity’, David Allen, advocates to-do lists which are detailed, clear, to the point and structured. Of course, they’re now digital upgrades to reboot your list-making skills. Todoist, which featured in Wired magazine’s roundup of best apps to boost your productivity, allows you to easily organise and prioritise tasks.
Follow the 80/20 rule
The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of your actions come from 20% of the effort you put in, and this principle can also be applied to managing your time effectively by prioritising your tasks. Why not categorise items which are important or urgent, and focus on these? If 80% of your results come from just 20% of your effort, then you need to make sure you are prioritising your most important, meaningful and valuable jobs. Think about the amount of effort required, versus the potential positive result – don’t work on tasks which require the most effort in exchange for the least gain!