In Tim Ferriss’ now famous book The Four Hour Work Week, he introduces the reader to the notion of task creep, the notion that we are doing more to feel productive but, well we are actually accomplishing less. You know, the day where you've been to 5 meetings on the trot, eating lunch at your desk and answering emails at the same time.
However, all these tasks aren’t helping us work towards what we actually want to achieve. In the long run, we feel unenthusiastic about our working life and pessimistic about the pointless rat race we are living in.
Luckily, Ferriss offers a few tips as to how to get a grip of task creep, make sure that it doesn’t overwhelm us and help us get back on track to the task at hand.
1. Decide what the minimum amount of work you could do looks like.
Ferris asks the question ‘If you had a heart attack and had to work two hours per day what would you do?’ and it’s a great way to think about your goals. What do you want to achieve in the next month, three months, six months or in a year? Where do you see yourself in two years’ time?
2. If you had a gun to your head and had to stop doing 4/5 of different time-consuming activities, what would you remove?
These are his words, not mine here, but it’s a great way to help you be ruthless in removing all the little activities which fill up your day, whether it’s email, phone calls, conversations, paperwork, meetings, advertising, customers, suppliers, products, services etc.
3. What are the top three activities that I use to fill time to feel as though I've been productive?
We often use what's known as ‘crutch activities’ when we are postponing a task because we don't know where to start and it looks too overwhelming. What what do you do to fill this time? Do you send pointless emails, fill in invoices or get your holiday booked? The more you are honest with yourself about your time-wasting, the more likely you are to focus on the activities that really going to get you somewhere.
4. Learn to ask ‘If this is the only thing that I accomplish today will I be satisfied with my day?
This is another great way to get you to focus on the task at hand. The day before while you are still at work make sure you write down everything you need to do the following day. This means that you'll have a clear list of priorities for the day and can get on with the job when you arrived first thing. Ferriss suggests that you should have no more than two mission-critical items to complete each day–if you feel as though you got more than one that's what the rest of your week is for.
5. Do not multi-task.
Multitasking does not work. When focusing on your priorities for the day don't divide your attention or get distracted. If you do find your concentration failing, you could try the Pomodoro method of working 25 minutes solidly and taking a five-minute break. This can be repeated six times at which point you'll need a proper break. You can also schedule an hour in your day for tasks that you know need doing but do not require lots of time or energy such as emails or phone calls.