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Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task

Productivity Tip: How Not to Overspend Your Time On a Task
Overspending Time

    Have you ever felt that you spend way too much time on something? You started reading a book, but eventually realized that the time you spend on it far exceeds the value you get. Or maybe you worked on a project, but after completing it you realized that the project could actually be finished much sooner.

    Why do such things happen? While there might be external factors that contribute to the situation, I believe that there is one main cause: we waste our time on unnecessary stuff. We spend our time on things which do not contribute to the final results, and that eventually causes us to overspend our time. Obviously, the cure is:

    Do no more than what is necessary

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    It is easier said than done though. Here are some tips to help you do that:

    1. Set a clear expected output

    An important reason why we overspend our time on something is not knowing precisely what the final result we expect is. If we don’t even know what we want, how can we decide whether or not something is necessary? As a result, we do things which will later be found as unnecessary. So the important first step is to set a clear expected output. It should be specific so that you can know for sure whether or not you have achieved it.

    2. Write down the expected output in a prominent place

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    Google Desktop

      Having a clear expected output is good, but it’s often not enough. The problem is we may forget it once we dive into work. So we need to somehow remind ourselves about it.

      One way to do so is by writing the expected output in a prominent place you can easily see. For example, if you are working on computer and use Google Desktop, you can write it in Scratch Pad (see screenshot). Since Scratch Pad is always visible, you can easily reread the expected output of what you are doing.

      3. Realign yourself with the expected output every now and then

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      While you are busy working on something, it’s easy to get off track. So you need to regularly realign yourself with the expected output. To do so, whenever you are about to do a subtask you should ask: “Do I really need to do this to get the job done? Can I just skip it or do it in a different – more efficient – way?” These questions help you evaluate the way you work and get yourself back on track.

      If asking these questions before doing a subtask is difficult, you can alternatively ask them at a regular interval. For example, if you usually do 50 minutes of work followed by 10 minutes of break time, you can then ask these questions whenever you enter the break time.

      4. Set a deadline and work with inverted pyramid structure

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      Setting a deadline is another way to help you do only what is necessary. By setting a deadline, you are forced to prioritize the things you are doing. The best way to work within a deadline is using inverted pyramid structure: do the subtasks from the most important down to the least important. This way, if the time is up you can still deliver the best possible output.

      Working in this way is actually similar to the way newspaper articles are written. By placing the most important facts first and the least important ones later, a newspaper editor can easily trim an article to fit into the available space. Similarly, by using the inverted pyramid structure you can easily trim your work when you hit the deadline.

      5. Stop when you already get the expected output

      It may seem obvious, but when we already get the output and still have some time left, we may be tempted to spend more time to polish it. At the end, it may introduce some unnecessary stuff into your otherwise productive day.

      Donald Latumahina is an avid learner who blogs regularly about personal growth and effectiveness. Read his articles on 26 Tips to Stay Calm When Situation Goes Bad, and How to Develop Your Ideas Exponentially.

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      Donald Latumahina

      Donald Latumahina is the founder of Life Optimizer, a self-improvement blog to help people reach their full potential.

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      Last Updated on September 28, 2020

      The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

      The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

      At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

      Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

      One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

      When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

      So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

      Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

      This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

      Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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      When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

      Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

      One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

      Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

      An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

      When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

      Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

      Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

      We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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      By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

      Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

      While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

      I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

      You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

      Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

      When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

      Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

      Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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      Con #2: Less Human Interaction

      One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

      Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

      Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

      This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

      While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

      Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

      Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

      This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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      For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

      Con #4: Unique Distractions

      Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

      For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

      To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

      Final Thoughts

      Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

      We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

      More About Working From Home

      Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

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