Increase productivity by inverting your day: method to work smarter

Introduction

Often, we have plenty of things or our agenda to work on during a business day. This can range from networking drinks, to important meetings, workshops, one-on-one meetings with your manager, … and in the meantime, work should be done as well of course. However, from my own personal experience, I noticed that these ‘events’ became more important than doing actual work. I had to find a way to increase my productivity. After aligning with Renaud Careme, experienced (Agile) trainer, we created a plan of action to improve efficiency and become happier at work. I call it ‘the inverted day’ as your starting point is not the morning, but the end of your day.

First, you end the day

Tasks

The proposed approach is to end the day with writing down the 3 main tasks that you will work on tomorrow. Let’s say we list the following tasks for the next business day:

  • Task A
  • Task B
  • Task C

Write them down somewhere, for example on a Post-it note. A Post-it note is certainly a good medium, as you can stick it on your screen and move it again later.

Estimate work

Once you have written them down clearly, it is time to estimate the work for each of them – trust your gut feeling. There are multiple approaches that may work here:

  • Write down the workload in minutes, for example:
    • Task A – 30 min
    • Task B – 90 min
    • Task C – 60 min
  • Use clothing sizes to estimate the workload, for example:
    • Task A – Small
    • Task B – Large
    • Task C – Medium
  • Use colours if you prefer a more visual approach.
  • Or, invent your own method!

You now have 3 Post-its ready to work on the next business day. Don’t forget to close Outlook (or any other mail program you use) – I will explain why in the next chapter!

Then, you start the day

Delivery

You start the day with a focused session of 2 hours (can be more, can be less; up to you do decide/adapt based on your needs). Here, you focus on actual delivery.

E-mails

Remember I said you had to close down your Outlook yesterday? Right: keep it closed during this session as it will only distract you from the actual work that is on your Post-it notes.

Prioritise

So start your day by reading again the Post-it notes you wrote down the day before. Make sure you understand them and you read as well the time estimation you made. You should have a clear idea of what each task entails and perhaps also already what sub-tasks you need to do in order to achieve the goals.

Now, prioritise the Post-it notes. Perhaps, start with the heaviest task first as it will allow you to do the less heavier tasks later during the day as well, outside of the 2 hours.

Now, get some actual work done!

Additional notes

Focused session

  • You will need to inform your colleagues you are not directly reachable by e-mail during your morning session. Best way is to inform them in person and explain why. Keep in mind:
    • Be soft on the people, but be hard on the facts: be clear in your communication, but explain it kindly.
  • Why have the focused session in the morning? The morning is a peak moment and it will help you to stay focused. There are certainly other peak moments during the day as well, however, they may be less predictable.
  • Remember, practice this way of working and improve iteratively. Kids fall down 2400 times before walking! If we all would have stopped trying after 100 times, nobody of us would be walking.
  • Try to apply this technique one week and evaluate yourself: what can I do better?
  • In Agile, a daily huddle almost always takes place during the morning. That is because Agile is derived from Lean, and Lean was first applied at Toyota in manufacturing. All employees arrived at the same time at the factory, thus the daily huddle was taking place at that moment. With this technique, a daily huddle can interrupt your work balance so challenge the daily huddle and place it at the end of the day instead.
  • 80-20 rule. About 80% of your tasks can be done in 20% of the time, keep that in mind.
  • Block your agenda during the focused session so nobody can interrupt you with a meeting. Also, verify that you are really necessary at that meeting or not.
  • Emergencies or other important topics (e.g. management task), of course, always come first, also during your focused session.
  • By being less available to your colleagues; you are more available to your colleagues. Because when you are available, you can be really there for them with a clear head because your tasks are under control or done.

Tasks

The tasks you define should have both a starting point and an objective. You start at the starting point for each task and you define steps towards the objective. Assign a time to each step if this is valuable (e.g. for bigger tasks in terms of workload or complexity).

This is a structured way to make progress towards the objective(s). It will become easier to perform more complex or ‘heavy’ tasks because you perform small steps towards the objective.

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