One of the best things I did when I decided to simplify my life was to simplify my workday. I eliminated the non-essentials, and can now focus on what I truly love: creating.
Not everyone can make such drastic steps toward simplicity, but you can do a few small things that will greatly simplify things for you at work.
- Start early. Going into work early is one of my favorite tricks. Before the phones start ringing and meetings start, I can get a lot of work done in the peace of a quiet office. By the time everyone else is getting started, I’ve gotten two or three big tasks checked off.
- Limit your hours. This may seem counter-intuitive, because so many people work long hours and think they’re getting more done and being more productive. But they’re throwing brute hours at the problem. Instead, cut back on your hours and set a limit — say 6 or 7 hours a day — and get your most essential work done within that limit. If you know you’re only working 6 hours today, you’ll be sure to get the important tasks done first and waste less time. Limits force you to be effective.
- Make a short list. Make a list of all the tasks you need to do and then make a short list of 1-3 things you really want to get done. Some of the most successful executives report that they only put 2-3 things on their to-do list each day. Complete your short list before checking email or other daily tasks.
- Batch distractions. What are your common distractions? Perhaps things like email, reading blogs, Twitter or another social network? Set a very specific time for these, preferably later in the day: don’t do the distracting tasks before then. Another approach might be to do them for 10 minutes at the end of each hour — but stick to that 10-minute limit!
- Write shorter emails. The simple change of limiting yourself to 3-4 sentences per email will make a big difference. It will not only drastically shorten the time it takes for you to write and respond to emails, but will most likely shorten the responses you receive. Therefore decreasing your overall time spent tackling your inbox.
- Limit meetings. The fewer meetings the better. Some top Google executives just do 5 minute meetings. Everyone who attends these meetings is expected to be prepared and concise. Even better, if you can find an alternative way to communicate, rather than meetings, it could save you hours per week.
- Automate. The fewer repetitive and routine tasks you have to do, the more time you’ll free up for important work. Automate wherever possible. Have people fill things out electronically, or get information from your website instead of emailing or calling you, or use a service that automatically processes payments or ships your product, and so on.
- Eliminate paperwork. I used to deal with a lot of paperwork, and even then I knew it was a waste of my time. If businesses and organizations could have paperwork filled out electronically, it would save a lot of paper, copying, filing, and duplicate effort. Whenever possible, eliminate paperwork in favor of digital. (This might be more of a long-term move.)
- Clear your desk. Clear everything off the top of your desk. Only put back the essential items. Everything else should be: filed, given to the appropriate person, given a permanent spot in a drawer, or trashed/recycled. Make quick decisions and then get back to work.
- Take breathing breaks. Every 15-20 minutes, get up from your desk, and take a breathing break. It could simply be walking around the office, or even better, getting outside to get some fresh air. Walk around, get your blood circulating, perhaps massage your neck and shoulders if you feel tension. Do some pushups if you want to get fit. When you get back to work, remind yourself what you want to be working on, and clear away all distractions.
- Practice a focus ritual. Every hour or two, do a refocus ritual. This only takes a minute or two. You might start it by closing down your browser and other open applications. Return to your list of Most Important Tasks and figure out what you need to accomplish next. Before you check email again or go back online, work on that important task for as long as you can. Repeat this ritual throughout the day, to bring yourself back into focus.
- Schedule big blocks of creative time. Not everyone can do this, but when possible, put a big block of 3-4 hours in your schedule for doing important, creative work. Do not allow meetings or other things to be scheduled during this time. Be ruthless about clearing distractions and doing the work you love during these blocks, taking breathing breaks as necessary. Rejoice in your creativity.