Do you want to be the most productive person in your office and still leave work at 5.30pm? In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests an approach that lets you do this. The idea is that if you only give yourself a fixed amount of time to complete tasks that are required to be done you’ll get them done in the time.
How does it work?
Decide on the times in which you want to be working. Let’s say you are the average UK worker and are required to be in the office between 9am - 5.30pm. You’ll also want to take an hour for lunch, but now that you have your set working hours you can then work backwards to make sure that everything else fits into this schedule.
Although it may sound strange, giving yourself time constraints to work with can actually increase your performance and you’ll be able to focus your time and energy on tasks in a way that you previously weren’t capable of.
Newport also suggests scheduling all your tasks for the entire week. At the beginning of the week, decide what needs to be done, and alongside meetings, site visits and bids etc., plan when you are going to complete each task.
When you are working, ONLY SPEND THE ALLOTTED TIME DOING THE PRESCRIBED TASKS.
You might find that you have to drop some less important tasks, cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule or stop procrastinating, but you’ll have so much more free time outside of work to enjoy family, friends, hobbies and holidays.
What happens if I get interrupted?
It’s absolutely fine if you are in a career where you might get interrupted along the way. However, factor these into your daily and weekly schedule - it might be that you only plan three quarters of the work that you could be doing in the week so that everyday there is room for manoeuvre. You could also schedule in some additional, nice-to-do tasks, that don’t necessarily need to be completed that week, but if you find you have more time than normal you can complete.
How to keep going?
After a few weeks you may find the fixed-schedule productivity method a challenge, and it’s likely that you will fail. Newport notes that it takes between four to six weeks of failing and adjusting and trying it again before you actually consistently follow it. This is because it takes time to figure out how much time is needed for each task. You might also not be used to concentrating so hard for so long. You might find that you can only focus for five hours a day or ninety minutes at a time. However, by doing the fixed-schedule productivity method and sticking to it religiously, you’ll work out when your best concentration times are and in what rhythms you can work and then you can build other activities such as phone calls or emails around this time. In this way, you will be making the most of your working day. You’ll also find you have achieved so much more in the same amount of time.
Have you tried the fixed-schedule productivity method or any other way of organising your time better? How did you find it? Are you still going strong?