There are lots of techniques for managing your time, such as Getting Things Done, The Pomodoro Technique, or Franklin Covey/Filofax systems.
However, there is less discussion about how to make the best use of the time you have carefully organised and allocated. The secret here could be ‘flow’ or concentration.
Flow is a mental state in which you are fully immersed in the task at hand. There is a very good description on Wikipedia and you can see Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s excellent video on TED.
Here are ten techniques that will help you improve your ability to focus on the task at hand, get into a flow state and get more done:
- Switch off distractions. Shut you email client. Put the phone on mute. Use noise-cancelling earphones.
- Focus on one thing. Just concentrate on the task at hand. Don’t multitask.
- Set a time limit. Set an alarm for 30, 45 or 60m (depending on how long you can concentrate). Take a break when it goes off.
- Change your location. Try working somewhere else like a cafe or meeting room rather than your busy desk.
- Use a concentration timer. I use a quiet bell every five minutes to remind me to refocus on the task if my concentration has wandered. In fact, I created an online timer specifically to help me do this.
- Non-religious meditation. Sitting calmly and counting your breaths for a few minutes before you start is a good way to calm down and let distracting thoughts evaporate.
- Defer the difficult. When I write, sometimes I need to look things up (dates, references etc.) but this distracts me from actually writing so I just write TK and keep on writing. For example, “HP was started in TK DATE by TK NAMES…” Find tricks like this that let you keep rolling.
- Leave a hook. When you finish a session, leave a breadcrumb trail or hook so that you can easily restart. For example, I finish with a few notes about the next page so that I can start writing again easily.
- Treats. Give yourself a reward after a concentration session. It doesn’t have to be sweet and cookie-shaped. A walk round the block can be just as good.
- Improve your working environment. You can reduce the number of distractions you have simply by cutting out paper, sound-proofing your office, and creating a productive office environment (see Peopleware for more tips on this.)