When I was at university, I used to study more than 10 hours a day and participated in a lot of ex-curricular activities. This landed me scholarships and some great opportunities to build up my personal growth. Working hard became my motto, to be more precise, the only principle I believe in order to achieve every goal I set for myself, from fighting for better living conditions to enhancing my personal skills. As I got older, I realised that working hard is not the only path to success and time is the most precious thing in our life to be considered with great care, especially when it comes to personal life, family and work.
Working as a product professional for three and a half years, I have started to change from working hard to working smart. Sometimes, working less can actually produce better results. There is a significant distinction between being busy and being productive. You might be busy with a task for the whole day but that does not necessarily mean you are being productive. Being productive is more about maximising your energy and make most of it.
Here are my four principles to become productive at work
1. Cluster your daily work into several time blocks and stick with your daily routine
I tried to categorise my all-day work into three sections: meeting in the morning, emails and phone calls during lunchtime, testing and feedback in the afternoon. My typical workday starts with team discussion. During the discussion, we usually clarify project requirements, plan for deliverables and address any issue encountered in development. Followed by some meetings with clients, I can collect both new requirements and project feedback from clients. Considering the time difference (my development team is based in China) and the clients’ work pace (most of my clients would like to schedule their meetings in the morning), I prefer pulling all meetings together in a block of time. To keep it more productive, every meeting will last no longer than 1 hour. To be honest, I quite like to put the client’s meeting right after morning discussion with my development team. After all, I can also reflect anything noticeable in development progress when speaking with clients. Checking up emails thousands of times every day spells a big problem for being productive. Instead, I try to just keep an eye on the urgency of the emails which request immediate reply and only start cleaning up my inbox after the lunch break. Irrespective of how detailed reply the email requests, I will always keep it short and concise, well, for the latter one, I am still practicing it. As a non-native speaker of English, it’s a great challenge to use minimal words to express complex things clearly. There might be some phone calls coming through but the maximum time I can spend on replying emails is one hour and I do not allow extra hours to be “hijacked” from the third “timing block”. The last timing block is when I get the most productive. Without any interruption, no emails or meetings, I can work on the tasks which require particular deep thinking and proper planning. It also allows me to oversee the current situation and future prospects of my product.
Once you have identified what you need to do in different timing blocks for a workday, stick to it and let it become your daily routine.
2. Say no to mobile phone addiction
With too much time spent on smartphone, chances are that you will be constantly distracted from your work. Habits such as checking news and browsing social media may be taking their toll on our attention and sap productivity at work. The research shows that once you are interrupted while doing a task, it usually takes 15 to 20 minutes to get yourself back to “work mode”, in other words, to bring your focus back. To keep you stay focused and boost productivity, the number of apps and practices has increased on bullishness in the market over the past few years. Pomodore Technique (Tomato clock) is an eye-catchy that has been used for effective time management, by breaking down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. During each work interval, you should only focus on one particular task and stay away from any distractions, for example, your mobile phone.
I keep monitoring how long I spent on my smartphone every day and try to reduce the time spent on being a “social media lurker” week by week. This not only frees me from the anxiety of fearing “missing out”, but also allows me to have much more time to focus on “life experience” and personal growth.
3. Stop being a perfectionist
Though being a perfectionist is always portrayed as a positive trait at work, the destruction associated with striving for perfection can’t be neglected. While perfectionists spend more time than required on a task in order to make it 100 % accurate, they may lose the whole picture by focusing too much on every single detail. On the other hand, procrastination may also “nest” in the body of the perfectionists as those perfectionists always “wait” for the perfect moment to either start the work or finish the work. Rather than wait for the perfect moment, the best way to tinker with it is to get your hands on the tasks and keep the ball rolling NOW.
4. Stop guessing and start asking for help
In my previous post, I mentioned that one of the most crucial lessons I have learned when working with a remote team to deliver a project in a rigid timeline is that always ask support from your team. It’s important for us to realise that there is always something we don’t know and we can seek help when we need it. Instead of wasting time overloading yourself or tying to burn out yourself to do everything alone, let the team share the responsibilities and get the support from them.