Skip to main content

We live in a reactive world. Despite having a background in organisational psychology and knowing all that I know about productive work and how to help our brains focus,  I’m a repeat offender of responding to everyone else first and leaving whatever time is leftover to devote to my own goals.

A few years ago, I was finding myself drained and to be honest, a bit deflated at the end of each week. Why am I spending Sundays and late nights catching up on all the deep work that relates to my key resullts? How am I not able to fit this in during working hours?

These days, I like to think of myself as a recovering people pleaser. Granted, I still find it more rewarding to respond to others and support them with their work, compared to carving out time for my own priorities. However, I like to think I’ve gotten a whole lot better at putting some boundaries in place to get the best of both worlds. I want to take you through three of my top tips that helped me get here:

Batch check your emails 

If you’re anything like me, a lot of your requests and temptations come through via email. “Hey can you just help me with xyz” or “while you’re at would you mind…” In fact, research from Rescue Time, a global time-tracking software company, found that the average adult desk worker does a “just check” of their email or instant messenger every six minutes. I found myself living in my inbox, waiting for the next opportunity to respond and react. It started to get disruptive and really eat into the time I’d set aside for my own projects.

To help me do deep work and stay away from my Inbox I implemented the strategy of batching. These days I batch check my email three times a day. All other times my email browser is closed. Yes you heard me correctly, closed. I use Inbox when ready to help me do this.

Create a shut-down ritual 

At the end of each day I ask myself  two questions:

  1. Today I made progress on…
  2. If I get x done tomorrow it will be a great day.

Research from Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile shows that making progress on projects that matter is the biggest contributor to our motivation and engagement at work. Not only does this give you a daily reminder of your own priorities, but it creates a moment to reflect on how much you have achieved. “If i get x done tomorrow” is the task I do first thing the following day. This means that the start of each day I first focus on my own goals before opening myself up to others.

Timebox enjoyment

What you’re able to do at work depends a lot on what you’re doing outside of work hours. Not sleeping much, not moving your body, this will all affect how you show up at work. Turns out I wasn’t just saying yes to everyone at work, but I was doing the same outside of work as well (surprised? Not really). Rushing from commitment to commitment, weekends were leaving me more depleted than the working week.

Then I found timeboxing. This technique is often applied to work tasks, but it transferred seamlessly into my personal life as well. Timeboxing is a project management tool from agile methodology, whereby you move from a to-do list to actually blocking out the relevant time required for each task in your calendar. I do this for my yoga classes, quiet reading time and baths. All things that fill up my cup. Just saying to yourself “I’ll do that if I have time” means that it won’t happen. These days I block out one thing each day in my calendar that I know will support my energy and give me some time just for me.

Do I believe I’ll ever fundamentally change this tendency of mine? No I don’t, but I’ve found tools and techniques that allow me to progress with my own objectives and feel a whole lot better in the process. Try one of these techniques this week and let me know how you go: [email protected]