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10 ways to get the most out of a short work day

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I have a short work day, squeezed in between school drop off and pick up. I do work early in the mornings, too – but when all’s said and done, it still isn’t much time. Over the past few years, I’ve got a lot better at making the short days work for me, mainly through doing these ten things.

1. Plan the night before

Sometimes I can’t be bothered to do this, and I always regret it the next day. Not only does planning the night before save time in the morning, it also means I get on with the planned tasks rather than the ones I feel like doing.

2. Use the 1-3-5 way to get stuff done

When I’m doing my night-before planning, I use the 1-3-5 way to decide what to do. Basically, the 1-3-5 way is based on the idea that you pre-plan your day and commit to doing one big task, three middle tasks and five little tasks. It’s a real help in getting the mix right between hard and / or important stuff and annoying and / or urgent stuff.

3. Exercise early before work

I don’t always get to do this, but when I do I have a much better day.

4. Start with tuning-in time

This was quite revolutionary for me. Previously, I’d get cranky with myself for faffing around rather than getting straight down to work. Now I give myself tuning-in time and it works. In fact, I need less tuning-in time if I let myself have it than if I don’t.

5. Turn off distractions

Even with 1-3-5, pre-planning and tuning-in time I still get distracted. So now I turn off email, social media and my phone at certain times of the day (See next point for how to make this work). As I’m a little lacking in discipline, I use this self control app to turn off all distracting websites!

6. Set aside a specific time for email and phone calls

This took a bit of getting used to – and my FOMO (that’s fear of missing out to the uninitiated) was huge. But I soon learned that no-one expected me to be waiting on the end of the phone / email to reply immediately. Anyway, it felt so good to get important stuff done on my agenda that I quickly stopped worrying about the odd missed message.

7. Get the toughest thing done first

Although I’ve read this piece of advice a million times, my natural inclination is to ease myself into the day by starting with the easy stuff. Doing 1-3-5 helped me break this habit. And it works – starting with the toughest thing makes the rest of your day much easier.

8. Timeboxing

This is magic. And super-simple. The details are here but all you do is:

1. Pick a task you want to get done

2. Decide how long you want to spend doing it

3. Set your timer for that amount of time

4. Start doing the task and stop when the timer rings

I know. Not exactly rocket-science. But often the smartest things aren’t.

9. Keep a timesheet

Timesheets are a great way of working out where you’re spending your time and how you can be more efficient. I know it’s a bit of a pain to do, but it works. More on how to do it here.

10. Stop doing something

That’s right – cut out something. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to be doing this?” It’s amazing how many things we do out of habit, rather than because anyone actually wants us to do it. More on how to do this here.

This article first appeared on The Business Bakery blog.

Julia Bickerstaff advises small businesses through her consultancy The Business Bakery and is the author of How to Bake a Business.

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