This is a guest blog by Matthew Gaddy
Would you believe me if I told you the only thing between you and the most productive day you’ve had is 30 minutes?
Thirty minutes is all it takes to transition from feeling overwhelmed and stressed out to an engineer who has a plan to be productive and conquer their day.
Keep reading to find out how you can take control over your day, get your most important priorities accomplished, and stay productive.
1. Get to Your Workstation 30 Minutes Early (30 Minutes Till Work)
I know you may have stress about going to work because you feel like you have so much to do and don’t know where to begin, and that’s OK! Prepare yourself before the actual work starts by getting to your workstation 30 minutes early.
This will allow you time to plan out your day without being rushed. By planning your day, you can schedule your success. Creating a plan before work begins allows you to be proactive with productivity instead of simply reacting to outside influences. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
2. Brain Dump (30 Minutes Till Work)
This step is where the majority of your time will be spent. Timothy Gallway, the author of “The Inner Game of Work,” states that a significant contributor to stress is a sense of lack of control, and I agree. But how can you gain control over something you can’t see? By brain dumping.
When we forget about a task and are later reminded of it, it creates negative stress, which makes it impossible to operate at your peak potential. A way to overcome this is to brain dump all work activities that need to be completed onto one sheet of paper. This will give you a 30,000-foot view on everything that you need to complete.
When listing tasks, make sure they are listed in the Next Action format. Next Action format is when the tasks are written in such a way that the name itself tells you what to do with it.
“Send emails” becomes “Send email to Tom about Project XYZ Update.”
“Schedule meeting” becomes “Send a meeting invite to Audit Committee for an update on Charter.”
You want the task name to tell you what the Next Action is. This will help prevent confusion when revisiting your list.
3. Find Your Big 3 (10 Minutes Till Work)
Remember, if everything is important, nothing is. Some of your tasks are more important to the job you perform than others, and those are the ones you want to prioritize and ensure that they get the attention they deserve. These types of tasks will comprise your Big 3. Your Big 3 are tasks that you build your day around. Be sure that you select wisely, and that these tasks are worthy of a heightened level of attention.
If you are struggling to pick your Big 3, try this exercise:
Ask yourself, “If I could only get one task on this list accomplished today, what would it be?” and select the task that best fulfills this. Perform this exercise two additional times to complete your Big 3.
Once you have made your selections, transfer your Big 3 to their own sheet of paper. You do this to prevent being overwhelmed by looking at the full list and to ensure that your focus stays on your most important tasks.
4. Time Block (5 Minutes Till Work)
Next, set up a dedicated time to work on each of your Big 3 tasks. These are called time blocks. What gets scheduled gets done, and that’s your goal.
Open your calendar application and set up three 30-minute to 90-minute meetings with yourself. Set the name of the meeting as the Big 3 task you will be working on. You do this to remind yourself of what you should be working on during that time and make others aware that you are working on a task essential to you.
You always want to work on your tasks in descending order of complexity. Your most complex task should be worked on first, and your easiest task should be worked on last. The reason for this is your willpower is highest during the morning and will decrease as the day progresses. A decrease in willpower will significantly impact your ability to convince yourself to work on a task that you know is difficult. Another benefit of doing your most problematic task first is that it prevents it from looming in your brain throughout the day and distracting you.
A tip that I have is to schedule your first time block for the first 30 to 90 minutes of your day. The reason for this is that for most people, the first 30 to 90 minutes is spent eating breakfast, getting coffee, and speaking with coworkers. While others are doing this, your chances of being distracted fall dramatically. By the time others are finally sitting down to work, you will have already made significant progress on your most important task for the day.
5. Respect Your Time and DO THE WORK!
All of this planning, prioritization, and time blocking will be worthless if you don’t do the work when the time comes. In the same way that you wouldn’t show up late or be distracted in a meeting your boss organizes, don’t be late or distracted in the meeting you set for yourself.
Tips for working in time blocks:
- Set a timer on your phone for the time block duration and then put your phone away. This will prevent you from checking your phone and potentially getting distracted while working.
- Place your phone on Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode to silence distracting notifications.
- Turn off email notifications, pop-ups, and chimes on your computer.
- Give yourself at least 20 minutes between time blocks for decompression time and to shift mental gears.
- For those of you working from home, communication will be crucial. You are more than likely not to get eight hours of uninterrupted time (especially if you have kids), but you can probably get one hour. Make sure to stay focused during that time block, and make it count!
By performing these five steps, you will not only have the framework for the most productive day in only 30 minutes, you will have captured all of your pending tasks and have learned a method to ensure your most important tasks get completed. These steps may seem simple, but they are a sure-fire way to transition from being stressed out and overwhelmed to an engineer who is productive and consistently producing quality work on time.
About the Author:
Matthew helps engineers who are overwhelmed by work become productive and positive professionals. His goal is to help people become the most productive and positive version of themselves because he believes that when you are productive and positive, you create your best work. His coaching program will help to transition you from being overwhelmed by what you have to do into a truly productive engineer. Matthew received his Bachelor of Electrical and Electronics Engineering in 2017 from the University of Texas at Arlington and currently works at Oncor Electric Delivery as a Distribution Standards Engineer.
If you want more help on how to plan out your day and transition from being stressed to productive, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewgaddy/ I would love to help you, and thank you for reading!
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success