When should you do what sort of task?
If you've got a choice of what to do next, let’s talk about Circadian rhythms.
It’s not a dance style.
It’s what you might think of as your body clock. Before we get going, I want you to jot down a list of tasks that you carry out reasonably often at work. The table below gives you a starting point, but don’t take it literally because it’s based on my personal experience and – obviously – I’m different from you with a different job etc.
I can’t stress enough that your table will look different, but I’m sure you get the idea. Now let’s start to use it.
Rather than fill in the table in that format, try doing it in stages, like this:
- jot down your jobs as you think of them – take a couple of days to do this so that you've got everything
- go through the list you've just created and dump the ones you only do once in a while, or which you otherwise don't want to include
- copy them onto index cards, one job per card
- shuffle the cards randomly on a table, face up, with none of them on top of each other
- move them around into three piles, one for each of the columns I've put in the table – you might want to have only two piles, or perhaps four and that's okay if it makes sense to you
This short and simple video might take things a bit further for you…
I think the next stage is pretty obvious. If, like me, you’re an Owl, when’s the best time to do your routine jobs? Pretty clearly I should be trying to tackle things like scanning my emails first thing in the morning, when I’m half asleep. So far so good – and that’s what most of us do, isn’t it…
But what if you’re the team member I’ve called C? This person is wiiiiide awake first thing in the morning and half asleep later on during the day. Logically, the time she should be scanning her emails is mid to late afternoon.
Side note – one of the big SYDs I often see at this point is people saying “But I can’t leave my emails until the afternoon! What if something urgent has come in overnight?!” Really? For most of us, what are the chances of something urgent coming in overnight compared to something urgent coming in during the working day?
Big idea here: What’s more, just ask your favourite IT nerd about this… how soon can you guarantee an email arriving? Answer: you can’t. IT systems don't work that way – they're not designed to. They usually do, but you can't guarantee it. So, if something is so darn urgent you need to check your emails every 45 seconds you need to have a different system, that doesn’t rely on emails! A phone might be a better option, no?
Here’s your next exercise.
Exercise: You’ve got an idea from the stuff you do regularly from earlier work.
I'm going to stick my neck out here and say you've also probably got a decent idea about whether you need to be at your best for a task or if you can do it when you’re in zombie mode. Assume you’ve got a very limited amount of time available in the day when you’re at your best. Now pile up your tasks into three sets, putting together groups like this:
- high-mental-energy-need jobs that should obviously done when you’re at your best
- your middling-energy-need jobs when you’re at your ‘okay’ levels
- your low-energy-need-jobs to fill in the gaps, once you’ve pretty much burned your mental energy for the day.
My estimates are that you can get your high-energy-need jobs done up to 20% faster if you do them when you’re at your best; what’s more you don’t squander your high-mental-energy times on trivial stuff you can do while you’re half asleep. Obviously there are going to be some things in your diary that you can’t move around because you don’t control them (such as meetings with your boss – presumably they’ll be done when he or she is at their best, not yours!) but even if you can only move some of your tasks around you should start to feel the benefits pretty quickly.
Now you need to just do it!
Look at your piles and do a quick mental comparison between your ideal and what you actually do. If it's not the same, there are some productivity gains to be had here!
Pick one – yes just one
Just one – and plan for how to make it happen. If you can't, don't sweat it; just be honest with yourself about whether you can't or if you just feel like you can't. If you really can't, forget about it and move on to the next one.