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How to Boost Your Productivity with Banished Tasks

How to Boost Your Productivity with Banished Tasks

We live in a world full of distractions.

If you take a moment to sit back and take stock of what can pull you away from productivity, you’d probably be amazed. Here’s a brief list:

  1. Television
  2. Emails
  3. Social media
  4. Blogs
  5. YouTube

As a freelance blogger, I probably have more potential distractions that most during my working day at home. My life revolves around instant gratification – whether it be emails, blog comments, social media, or something else entirely.

Because my livelihood essentially relies upon how efficiently I produce my work without distraction, I have been forced into a situation where productivity is more than a convenience issue – it defines my future wealth.

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Quite the motivator, no? With that in mind, I want to share with you one of the most powerful tools I have in my armory for remaining focused and productive during my working day.

Banished Tasks

As the name suggests, banished tasks are simply things that you are not allowed to do within your normal working hours.

The definition of “normal working hours” is completely individual to you. For me, it is the hours in which I am blogging for clients. For you, it may be the 8 hours you spend at work, or the 2 hours you spend every the evening working on your own business.

The point is this – there are hours in your day where you should be working as efficiently as possible. In order for you to work efficiently, you must banish all tasks that fall into any of the three following categories:

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  1. Those tasks that do not directly benefit what you are trying to achieve in your normal working hours
  2. Those tasks that you would be happy to do in your “off” time
  3. Those tasks that you can multitask in your “off” time

    Let me give you some examples. I do not absent-mindedly surf theChive during my normal working hours, because it does not directly benefit what I am trying to achieve (first category). I do not analyze my blog’s analytics during my normal working hours, because I’d happily do that in my off time (second category). I do not handle “low priority” emails during my normal working hours, because I can do that whilst I’m watching the television in the evening (third category).

    You may categorize your tasks in a slightly different manner, but you get the idea. Beyond avoiding the obvious (like browsing your friends’ updates on Facebook), the key is to remove those time sucks that make you feel like you’re being productive, when you’re not. If you do that, all you’re left with is a creamy core of productive goodness.

    Discipline is Key

    Whilst you can remove the temptation of some banished tasks, others will be a little more difficult to avoid.

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    For instance, I make a point of not checking emails until my lunch break, and even then only dealing with important messages. However, when dealing with any important messages, those less important (but perhaps interesting) emails are sat in my inbox, willing me to read them.

    For those temptations that remain, you must exercise discipline in order to avoid succumbing to temptation. There is no secret to this – you just need to stop yourself and say “no – I will not do that, as it is not productive”. A voice in your head may well tell you that “it will only take a minute” – and that voice may be right – but there are two reasons why you should still not succumb:

    1. Those “just a minute” moments add up to hours in the long run
    2. The act of switching to and from a non-productive activity has a far greater effect on your productivity than just the minute you spent doing it

    If you exercise discipline consistently enough over a period of time, productivity will become a habit.

    Compromises and Exceptions

    Sometimes you have to make sensible compromises to the above approach.

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    For instance, I love engaging with my followers on social media – especially Twitter. But it is something that I will happily do in my “off time”. However, social media is time sensitive – it is beneficial to the continuing growth of my brand and blog to be present at times other than just 5pm onwards. So, I allow myself a small block of time in the middle of the day to run through my social media accounts.

    The key in making these sensible compromises is just that – making sure they are sensible. Check that you are not fooling yourself into doing something that isn’t actually beneficial to what you’re trying to achieve.

    Banished Tasks = Better Productivity

    I guarantee that you will become more productive if you follow the above advice. Furthermore, you will probably find yourself with a great deal more time on your hands, which is never a bad thing.

    So what tasks that you currently do during your normal working hours will you be banishing? And what stays because it truly contributes towards what you are trying to achieve? Let us know in the comments section!

    Featured photo credit: Hand pointing direction isolated on white background via Shutterstock and inline photo by Zach Klein via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Last Updated on July 13, 2020

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

    Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

    1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

    The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

    Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

    For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

    The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

    2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

    Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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    As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

    Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

    3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

    Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

      This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

      We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

      Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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      When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

      Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

      4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

      Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

      For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

      Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

      5. Make Decisions

      For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

      If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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      If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

      Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

      I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

      This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

      The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

      6. Take Some Form of Action

      Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

      The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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      It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

      Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

      The Bottom Line

      Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

      When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

      More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

      Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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