By Shelby Rowe Moyer | Photo credit: Illustration by Liz Ablashi, courtesy of Vecteezy
We all have the same number of hours in the day, but how we each spend our time is likely drastically different.
Productivity and time-saving tips feel more valuable than ever as many of us are stuck inside with kids, work and home projects to contend with. Cue Laura Vanderkam. If you haven’t heard of this Philadelphia-based author and speaker, we recommend checking out “Before Breakfast,” a daily podcast with bite-sized tips and tricks that can help you move through your day more smoothly.
She came onto our radar with her book “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time.” The data-infused tome followed the schedules of high-powered women, proving that you don’t have to choose between work and family. It’s possible to “have it all,” when you’re aware of how you spend your time.
Vanderkam has authored a handful of other titles, including her most recent, “The New Corner Office: How the Most Successful People Work from Home.”
Now that working from home is a vastly more common norm, we wanted to share some of her tips that we derived from her podcast. One major takeaway is that successful people, including CEOs, aren’t working around the clock, Vanderkam says. In other words, spending more time working doesn’t equal success — and that’s good news for everyone.
Here are some ways to help you live and work more efficiently.
It’s Not Always Your Job
Noticing a problem doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to fix it, Vanderkam says. In other words, just because a coworker is fighting with the printer or the kitchen needs to be swept doesn’t mean you need to do it. “When everything is your job, nothing will ever get done,” Vanderkam says. If it’s your responsibility, handle it. If it’s not, ask yourself what would happen if you left the problem alone. You’ll probably find that someone else will rise to the task or ask your team how it can be solved together.
Save Your Brainpower
Some of the stresses of Mondays come from the accumulation of emails that awaits you. You know work has piled up, but you don’t know what’s waiting for you that week. Because the beginning of the work week can feel hectic Vanderkam says, she recommends having a sort of Monday uniform, whether that be the clothes you wear; the breakfast, lunch or dinner you eat; or the workout you do. Wearing, eating or doing the same thing ever Monday frees up mental space for other things. “Decide once and then you don’t have to decide again,” she says.
Spend Less Time on Email
Ever felt like you spent all day replying to emails? You finish responding to one, and five more roll in — it’s like work whack-a-mole. Constantly checking and responding to emails also means you’re consistently switching between tasks, which also stalls your productivity, Vanderkam says. She recommends email batching. Schedule two, one-hour blocks each day and dedicate that time to responding to your emails. In between those blocks, you can pop in to see if any urgent messages have come in. This way, Vanderkam says, you’re only a few hours away from seeing someone’s email and you can spend more time responding thoughtfully.
“Sometimes you need to disappoint someone’s immediate expectation, such that they will receive an immediate response, in order to meet the bigger expectation, which is an actual solution to their problem,” she says. Plus, if their need is truly urgent, they’ll call.
Batch Similar Tasks
We live in a world that requires near constant task switching, Vanderkam says. The problem with this is that science shows there is a cognitive cost: We make more errors. If you have a handful of similar tasks that need to be done each week, do them all at once. This is called batch processing. For example, Vanderkam says she writes a week’s worth of podcast scripts at one time. We use this technique all the time without even realizing it. Instead of washing something every time it gets dirty, we wait until we have a full load of laundry. Batching tasks together keeps you focused, so you spend less time switching back and forth.
Pick No More Than Three Priorities
When you create a miles-long to-do list for the day, it’s unlikely you’ll actually finish it and it feels demoralizing ending the day with an uncompleted list — like you didn’t really accomplish anything. Instead, stick to three daily priorities, with enough room for the unanticipated tasks and projects that will likely crop up during your day. Three tasks a day is 15 tasks a week, which is 150 tasks a year. Outlining a small list of priorities better ensures you’ll complete them, and it all adds up.
Change Your Language
Does your to-do list ever look like this: summer clothes, work on project, clean garage? When creating a list of tasks, it’s important to set clear intentions. To say you’ll “work on” a project is too ambiguous. “That sneaky little phrase can tank our productivity,” Vanderkam says, because you didn’t have a measurable outcome, so you didn’t decide what finishing it actually looks like.
Instead, create a smarter to-do list like this: Pull summer clothes out of closet and pack them away in the basement, contact five organizations that can help you with your fundraiser, put away loose tools in the garage and reorganize shelves. Outlining each step needed to complete the task will also make you quickly realize whether finishing it is realistic for the time and resources you need to complete it.