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This article was originally published by Body & Soul

By Charlotte Rush

September 16, 2021

Organisational psychologist Charlotte Rush on how to manage your work tasks and deadlines – for ultimate productivity and more time off.

The latest news out of Scotland is big. Really big.

Yes, the latest season of Outlander is coming. And while that definitely gets me excited, that’s not what I am referring to. Scotland is the latest country to trial a four-day week (4DW). In doing so, they join a growing list of nations including New Zealand, Iceland, Japan and Spain.

I’ve been working a 4DW at Inventium since July 2020. We ran a 6-month experiment which proved the business case of this radical change – a 26% increase in productivity, 12% increase in job satisfaction and 18% decrease in stress.

Each week, I have the option to take Friday off. But ultimately the decision to work or not relies on me being able to achieve more by working less.

A year of experimentation and reflection on my work habits has taught me a lot. So, here are three strategies I am using to help me achieve more by working less:

1. Just. Keep. Prioritising

Prioritisation needs to occur proactively and reactively. Proactively to ensure you are dedicating your time to things that will have the greatest impact. Reactively to ensure that when things pop up, you can make effective decisions about whether to stay on your original path, or take on something new.

Proactively, I break down my annual goals down into quarterly, then monthly deliverables. Each Thursday afternoon I look at what I need to achieve for the given month, and prioritise the activities I need to complete in my allocated “deep work” time the following week (which is roughly three hours each morning).

My go-to for reactive prioritisation is a conversation with Mish, my CEO. If something pops up (a new project or a team member wanting my help collaborating on something), I will call Mish and announce “I need your help prioritising something that has popped up.”

Talking through this with someone who has oversight of our business priorities, my own goals and also has the ability to ask the right questions of me has been critical to ensuring I am allocating my time appropriately.

2. Don’t resist distractions, eliminate them

Have you been interrupted by a notification on your phone or computer today? If so, what was your response? Did you tell yourself to ignore it, keep working and try not to give in to reading that little message? If so, you used up some of your valuable, yet limited willpower resources.

Instead of resisting the temptation to check those notifications, physically remove them.

First, you need to identify your biggest distractor. For me, my inbox is all too tempting. I love to do a ‘just check’ and often this pulls me away from more important tasks that require my focused attention.

So, I use Inbox When Ready to help me to protect my focus and manage my addiction to my inbox. Every time I want to do a ‘just check’, I need to wait 60-seconds before I can access my inbox. This delay makes me far more likely to push on with my tasks and ensures that if I need to get into my inbox to read something, I won’t get distracted by new emails that have popped up.

3. Take short and regular breaks

How do you currently structure your daily breaks to optimise your energy levels?

Research from the University of Colorado has shown that in contrast to one 30-minute break (or no break at all), six hourly five-minute walking breaks boost energy, sharpen focus and reduce feelings of fatigue in the afternoon more effectively.

I complete my deep work in ~3 ‘sprints’ of 60-90 minutes each morning. In between each sprint, I make the conscious effort to get up, get outside and walk. While it’s tempting to ‘push on’ when you are feeling the pressure, or even ‘in the zone’, your afternoon self will thank you for taking shorter and more regular breaks.

Developing a strategy to prioritise proactively and reactively, eliminating your biggest digital distractor and taking short and regular breaks throughout your day are three strategies I encourage you to use to help you to achieve more by working less.