There’s something utterly wonderful about the summer; the sunshine, the social gatherings, the holidays… There are so many happy vibes going round, it can sometimes be hard to concentrate.
But it’s around this time of year – when not only you, but pretty much everyone else at work, has a sunny escape or savvy staycation planned – that you need to be at your most ‘on it’. In order to get away for a week or two, you’ll no doubt have stacks of work to get through, and because loads of other staff are off, there’s extra stuff to do every day anyway.
So, how do you get your head down and get through it all without wiping yourself out for your holiday? We ask the experts for their much-needed advice…
1. Set achievable goals
“Break tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks and then take action to tackle them,” says Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services for AXA PPP healthcare. “Focus on critical tasks, make a plan, stick to it and don’t be a perfectionist.”
2. Get up early and fit in a walk
Leading life coach, Carole Ann Rice, who’s partnered with Soft & Gentle, says healthy and organised morning habits are essential to help us feel in control and ready to face whatever the day has in store for us. “Be realistic with your time,” she states. “Try getting up earlier – even 30 minutes can make all the difference. And if the weather is good, commit to walking to your destination if you can. Is there a park or green space you can walk through to get to work? Nature has a way of putting our stresses and anxieties in perspective. Even if it is choosing to have breakfast or your morning cup of tea in the garden for a few minutes, you will set yourself up for a great mood all day.”
3. Double your screen space
“Use a second screen with your laptop to save time flicking between email and windows,” advises Elly Gray from Biteinto.net. “Utilise workspace software with templates to maximise output and minimise effort.”
4. Use a traffic-light system
When planning your time, Dr Philip Clarke, lecturer in psychology at University of Derby Online Learning, suggests having one document that has all your commitments in it, such as a diary or your phone, so you don’t have to rely on your memory. “When putting things in your diary, mark in red those things that are immovable and can’t change, and in green those things that are movable. Should anything unexpected come up, you will be able to see what can be moved around more easily.”
5. Find shortcuts
“Find ways to take shortcuts in the way you work, by completing two tasks at once,” adds Clarke. “For example, when travelling to work, is it possible to complete some tasks from your to-do list?”
6. Never skip lunch
There’s often a strong temptation to skip lunch, but this can be counter-productive, says Dr Dimitrios Paschos, consultant psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health. “Regular breaks have many advantages both physically and mentally, and can also have a positive impact on performance. Mental performance drops if we don’t take breaks; decision-making becomes slower, attention levels wane and thinking can become more rigid. Taking a lunch break could actually increase productivity in the afternoon, helping individuals accomplish tasks sooner.”
7. Make a to-do list
According to Seth Godin, business guru and TED speaker, it’s all about the written word. “The moment you write something down, it’s more real than it was just a moment ago. There’s something about using pen and paper, not easily deleted digital docs, but the real thing – it makes a difference.”
8. Don’t multitask
“Multitasking actually slows you down, takes more brain power and is less productive,” says Sue Andrews, business and HR consultant at KIS Finance. “Keep your focus on the task in hand and get it completed before moving on – you will get more done this way.
9. Check emails at specific times
Feeling like you need to respond to emails instantly can eat away at your day. Andrews recommends setting certain time slots for dealing with them, and letting others know about it, so you don’t get chased for a response.
10. Manage meetings
“Insist on a clear agenda in advance of meetings to ensure everyone is clear on the purpose and any required outcomes,” Andrews continues. “Ask colleagues to submit any key points in advance so that everyone arrives informed and prepared – this should only take a few minutes, but will save a lot of wasted time.” She also notes you should insist on punctuality. So, if the meeting is for half an hour but everyone turns up late, don’t let it over-run the original time slot. “Be polite but firm when time is up.”
9. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Business coach Emma Jefferys, from Emma Jefferys Coaching, says if in doubt, roll out the tomato! “The Pomodoro technique (named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer) is a great way of chunking down a task and getting it done as efficiently as possible. The theory is simple. Decide on the job to be done and break it down into manageable tasks. Set a timer to 25 minutes. Work on the task. End work when the timer rings and take a short break (five minutes for a cup of tea). Tackle the next task and, when you have tackled four of them, take a longer break (15–30 minutes) and see where you are at. Then go again. Simple, but it works.”
10. Declutter your workspace
“I recommend my clients follow a ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ exercise to boost their focus, creativity, and productivity,” says Alexandra Lees, feng shui and decluttering consultant and the co-founder of Wu Wei Wisdom. “Start and end each day with a clutter-free and orderly desk area, with only the essentials you are currently working on close at hand. This shifts unhelpful, stagnant energy from your workspace area and encourages new, fresh and vibrant energy to flow.”
11. Trim the to-do list
Matt Weston, managing director at Robert Half UK, believes workers often overestimate what they can accomplish, and become frustrated by their lack of progress. “Trying a shorter, more realistic to-do list, that leaves room for unexpected projects and interruptions, will help you be more productive,” he says.
12. Explore project apps
“Take advantage of the wide selection of software specifically designed to help people increase productivity, keep track of projects, meet deadlines and be more organised,” adds Weston. “Evernote and Focus Booster are two free apps worth trying.”
13. Wear headphones
“Putting headphones on when you’ve got a large task is very useful, says Andy King, productivity expert and managing director of Sell Your Jam Jar. “This drowns out ambient noise and stops you being distracted by conversations around you. Music also has calming affects.”
“If you don’t like to listen to anything at all,” he adds, “then putting your headphones on is still a great way to block out distractions, because people will assume you’re busy and will not be as likely to bother you.”
14. Eat properly
Business and mindset coach Vanessa Hallick’s top tip is stocking up on energising food, so you don’t grab junk food that might make you feel sluggish.
15. Step away from social media
“One of the biggest killers of productivity in the workplace is the constant distraction of alerts on your phone and desktop,” say Ruth Tongue and Lucy Faulks, founders of Elevate Your Health – a company that helps businesses improve the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce. “In fact, the average worker now focuses on a single task for just three minutes and five seconds. Switch off all alerts and use a pomodoro timer to keep your focus. ”
16. Break your day up into 30 minute slots
“Tasks on your to-do list should take one slot, two slots, or less, and then order your to do list, so that every half hour or hour, you start a new task. Group little tasks together into one slot. The deadline will create a sense of urgency and encourage you to work smarter, and that to-do list will clear much more quickly,” says Hannah Brice, managing director of Upmarketry.
17. Use Post-it notes
“Start using Post-it notes,” advises Laura Little, learning and development manager for CABA. “Put one task you have to do on each Post-it, and then order them according to importance. This may sound like a simplistic approach, but it will give you direction for the day, as well as help you to be more aware of your priorities.”
- Press Association