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How to Ruthlessly Reclaim Work Day Time

How to Ruthlessly Reclaim Work Day Time


    When you’re starting a small business or working from home as a freelancer, you need to make every minute of time count; it’s a race against the clock to break even before your new endeavor uses up your savings and breaks you.

    But there are always a million and one things that interfere with and take over your day. Your to-do list of twenty items that you intended to tackle by the end of the business day has reduced in number by only one or two tasks, and you’ve got more to add for tomorrow.

    You realize you’ve got to get ruthless and cut away every minute you can manage to shred. Thursday recently wrote about 8 great ways to be ruthless with your time. Here are some more ways to be ruthless with your time, but this time we’re focused specifically on when things don’t go quite as planned. Here’s how you can get started.

    Life-Story Phone Calls

    There are many busy people in the world who, like you, know they need to get off the phone and get back to work, but you’re bound to get someone on the line who wants to share their life story or form a deep and meaningful relationship over the phone. It could be some lonely hack from your PR firm or the janitor you’ve hired for the new office, but for some reason you can’t seem to shake them.

    1. Ask for an email

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    One simple way to get someone off the phone is to ask them to send you ‘the details’ in an email. This tip works when you’re dealing with someone who needs to send you some kind of information. After they’ve agreed, thank them, give them your email address, and say goodbye before quickly putting down the phone. Don’t hesitate, or you’ve blown your chance.

    It’s firm, but still polite enough to use on business calls.

    2. Provide Contextual Cues

    Taking a hint from The Time Trap by Alec Mackenzie, start your call with something like “Hello, what can I do for you?” There’s a reason you hear this every time you’re dialing into a call center or a big business – it’s to avoid any bush-beating and get right down to business. They know time is money, and so do you – don’t feel like you’re getting too “corporate” by using this technique. It focuses the other person on the issue at hand, which is especially effective if you know someone who tends to waffle before they get to their problem – not after.

    On the other end of the call, you can use a cue to signal that the end is near. You can usually tell when you’re a few minutes from the end of a speech because the speaker starts dropping hints (if you’ve done this and heard a sigh of relief, it may be time for a new career path!) – the same can be done on the phone. Phrases like, “before we hang up,” or “one last thing before I go” tell the individual on the other end that you’re out of time and can’t chit-chat. Fortunately, most of the time they get the message using this tactic.

    3. Last Resorts

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    When worst comes to worst, there’s always a solution.

    Unnecessary Demands

    It’s amazing how often people you work with or, if you’re not self-employed, people you work for are so willing to put extra demands on your time knowing that you’ve got a full plate. If they know you’re good with computers – but you aren’t the company tech support guy – and constantly ask you to fix their self-inflicted tech problems, or if your boss keeps asking you to take on advertising projects even though your role is public relations, what do you do?

    A combination of firmness, honesty and tact is required. If you try to find excuses that aren’t based on the honest truth of the situation, you’re only going to make more problems for yourself here. Next time you’re getting nagged to take on somebody else’s job or clean up after your co-workers, gently remind them that while you’d love to help, you’re swamped with the work you’ve got and it’s really outside of your field.

    The key is to be politely firm, and though some people find this incredibly difficult at first, it will really be one of the biggest time savers you implement.

    Email and Feeds

    I talk about dealing with your email and feeds effectively frequently because I find that of all the connected people I know, this is the one thing that kills time more than anything else – even though it can be one of the least time-consuming parts of your day. Since I’ve done this topic in-depth so much already, I won’t repeat it again – check out this article for a primer on how to deal with the overload of information in your day more effectively.

    Work-at-home, not housework!

    If you work from home, according to some recent statistics I’ve read there’s a pretty good chance you have a spouse (and/or kids) there too.

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    One of difficulties I had when I started working from home was being asked to put towels on the line or do dishes while I was in the middle of writing an article. Thus, I lost my train of thought and had to spend way more time than I should have catching it again, and if you succumb as I did, you will lose far too many business hours.

    Now, you don’t want to put the wife in a bad mood – we’re all smart enough to know that! – and avoiding the housework is a surefire way to do just that. But you must have a conversation where you set the limits of your working hours and under what conditions you may be interrupted.

    In my house, we’ve agreed that if the door to my office is closed and I am on the other side of that door, it means I’m working and can’t be interrupted unless it’s an emergency. If the door is open but I’m clearly working, it means I’m not working on something that requires total concentration but shouldn’t be interrupted unless it’s ‘important’ – a step down from ’emergency’. What constitutes ‘important’ and ’emergency’ needs to be defined, because you and your partner will certainly have ideas that differ.

    If I keep up my end of the deal and don’t spend twelve hour days working in my office and help out around the house afterwards, it leads to you being way more productive, and less tension in the air around the house. Often the hidden bonus is that she’ll get sick of waiting and do it all herself. Yes, that was a joke. Especially if she’s reading this.

    When Technology Ruins the Day

    First off, two tips I cannot stress enough:

    1. Always have a bootable back-up, somewhere.
    2. Always have a non-bootable data back-up, somewhere else.

    If you follow both of those rules you will be back up and running in minutes for 90% of the cases where your day would normally be lost to ‘computer troubles’.

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    I have also previously talked about my system of synchronization which keeps essential data – though not big files (for example it doesn’t sync my master recordings, which are more valuable than my contacts and email archives) – that is required for day-to-day operations on each device. For me, this includes a Mac mini desktop, a laptop and a PDA phone.

    If you’ve got a spare machine around, get it loaded up, and get it to sync off your bootable back-up frequently. This is a bit of a luxury, but if you can do it, knowing that all you have to do is plug in a new machine and power it on before getting back to work is a great feeling. You may only have to catch up on a couple of days (or, with diligence, hours) of work, which is much better than weeks, months or years.

    As a last resort, keep a pen and pad handy, and ensure that you at least have a back-up of your contacts somewhere that isn’t prone to electronic or mechanical failure! You’d be surprised how much you can get done if you have to, with just these tools.

    What about you?

    Do you have work day time-wasters you can’t seem to make go away? Let us know in the comments and we’ll see if we can come up with a solution.

    Or, if you’ve managed to deal with some problems we haven’t listed here, let us know how you solved them!

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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