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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

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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