It is mid-January and most people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions of exercising more, eating healthier, loosing weight and being more productive. I have a to-do list that is already out of control and finding enough hours in the day to get everything done is a challenge. Experts generally agree that to get more done does not mean working longer hours. It is all about focus and that is best achieved by dividing the day into 1-2 hour work sessions followed by 20-25 minute breaks.
Plan your day in 1-2 hour sessions
People work best when focused on one particular task and it takes a few minutes to gain that level of focus and tune out distractions. Most people can remain focused on a task for 60-90 minutes and then lose focus and concentration with a peak in concentration that lasts for about 45 minutes. Dividing your day into smaller chunks, each dedicated to only one specific activity, is a habit productive, successful and talented people share.
- If fatigue is a problem, set sessions at 45 minutes and not 2 hours and mitigate fatigue in other ways. Work from a more comfortable position, for example, sitting at a desk is more tiring than sitting in a recliner.
- Set an alarm if it is difficult to keep track of time and force yourself to move on to the task or to take a break regardless of what else is going on.
- If the particular task on the schedule feels overwhelming, stick to doing one thing, but choose something that you feel up to doing.
- Have a short list to pick from ready.
Take 20-25 minute breaks
Take a break after each session. It takes your brain that long to switch focus from one task to another or get back into the zone after an interruption anyway. Use breaks to either recuperate and rest or to shed some energy if your desk job is sedentary.
- If fatigue is a problem, use the breaks in between sessions to rest and relax. Have somewhere set-up to retreat to so that the whole break can be used for resting and isn’t lost in finding something relaxing to do or somewhere that is quiet and appropriate. Make arrangements if in full-time employment for rest breaks, it should be possible if you have a longterm health condition or disability with fatigue as a significant symptom.
- If lots of energy makes it hard to focus, switch to active activities for a break or use it to do some exercise.
- Don’t be tempted to try to get too much done. Schedule all activities as sessions and use breaks to recuperate, whether that is achieved by doing less (resting, reading or meditation) or doing more (walk around the block, do some yoga, cooking or jump on a stationary bike).
7:15 – 8:45 Get up, get dressed, have breakfast
08:45 – 09:05 Break
09:05 – 10:35 Session 1: 90 minutes
10:35 – 10:50 Break
10:50 – 11:50 Session 2: 60 minutes
11:50 – 12:05 Break
12:05 – 13:05 Lunch break
13:05 – 13:30 Break
13:30 – 14:45 Session 3: 75 minutes
14:45 – 15:05 Break
15:05 – 15:50 Session 4: 45 minutes
15:50 – 16:15 Nap
16:15 – 17:00 Dinner time
17:00 – 17:15 Break: Cup of tea after dinner
17:15 – 18:45 Family time and toddler bedtime routine
18:45 – 19:05 Break
19:05 – 19:45 Reply to messages, emails, twitter and catch up on news
19:45 – 20:05 Break
20:05 – 21:35 Hobby/Relaxation/Rest
21:35 Get ready for bed
22:05 Read/listen to audio book
It takes 20-25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. Don’t multi-task at times when you are working. Tell others not to disturb you unless it’s an emergency, turn off your phone, all alerts and notifications and close the door (or put a noise cancelling headset on).
- If it isn’t possible to get rid of distractions, do your best to minimize them. Check your email once an hour instead of having it in the background alerting you every time an email arrives and if you can’t avoid the phone, at least limit making calls or following up on phone related queries as much as possible to a particular time slot in the day.
- Think about working off-peak hours when possible. Go into the office first thing one day a week and work late another.
- If unavoidable interruptions are somewhat predictable, plan for them.I have my nebulizer set up next to my chair on bad breathing days, so that I can keep working even when I have breathing difficulties. If unavoidable interruptions are somewhat predictable, plan for them.
- Think in shorter time spans when you feel particularly tired, overwhelmed or unmotivated. Commit to work one hour at a time. After that hour, take a 20-25 minute break. After the break, decide whether you are up for another hour dedicated to a single task. If you feel capable of that, commit that hour. If not, spend the next hour on whatever you feel capable of doing. Then take a break and after the break, decide whether you are up for another hour dedicated to a single task. It is a good way to get through a bad day.
A good schedule increases productivity both at work and at home and is particularly important if you juggle many responsibilities and issues during the day, like raising kids and having a long-term condition or disability that impact on your day-to-day life.