When you're back from a big holiday, you're always looking for ways to make your holiday-zen last as long as possible, and if you're anything like me, that includes trying some different approaches to work.
I tried to write about this a couple of days ago, and it came out as a bit of a treatise, which was all wrong. So instead I'm going to scribble some notes and bullets that will hopefully get the gist across.
But essentially the point is this:
You should aim to achieve one thing, and only one thing, in your working day.
I've resisted talking about this before, because at face value it sounds a bit lazy. But I promise it's anything but. The times I've worked hard on this approach have been some of the most productive times I've had at work. Not that productivity is the point – sanity is. And it really helps with that too.
First I should say that admin doesn't count. Emails. Slack. Trello boards. Meetings. That's all the gubbins of work that we have to do. There are other techniques to minimise the impact these have on your working day or week. A certain amount of this is necessary bullshit, but if you're inviting more of this than is needed then, for the purposes of this blog post at least, you're on your own.
Also, there's some maker's schedule, manager's schedule consideration to this. If your job is mainly meetings, or project management, then this probably doesn't help. I'm assuming at least 30% and ideally more than 50% of your time is spent on the doing or making of things.
So. Say I have 5 hours in a day and, because I've had a lot of practice, it takes me 1 hour to draft a blog post. I could draft 5 blog posts, right? Wrong! Here are some reasons:
- The mental energy expended in that hour is not replicable for every hour of the day, or anywhere near
- Starting things is mentally exhausting
- Finishing things is mentally exhausting
- All the stuff in the middle is pretty tough too
- I should probably spend some time working out what I've forgotten to include
- I should probably spend some time looking at what I could cut
- I should probably spend some time asking people for feedback
- Oh wait, I even need to spend some time thinking about who to ask for feedback
- Many other things
Blimey – it's hard, and time-consuming, this blog-writing lark. Fair enough you don't have to do all of this stuff in one go. And some of it will go better if you leave some time before you do it. But what I'm saying is that we consistently underestimate how hard it is to do even the simple things, and how long it will take to do them – properly, at least.
It can be a smaller task than a blog post, of course. Whatever it is, it's probably harder than most people who don't do it regularly realise. So spend some time thinking about it, looking it from different angles, and trying different approaches.
If (to use another writing example) it's micro-copy, try 10 different drafts of it and see which you like best. Or others like best. Iterate the best 3. Now how do they look? How have other people solved the problem? Or what's a tangentially-similar but wildly different domain you can draw inspiration from? Spend time on the research – and the prep.
Spend time on the stuff you need to spend time on to make the work you do on a task enjoyable. What's the best bit? Plough time into that. It will immeasurably improve the outcome if you enjoyed working on it. Do the daft version for your own amusement. There might just be a seed or a spark you can use in the real deal.
Don't forget all the admin bullshit we have no choice but to do. If you got one thing done in a day on top of that, you've performed a mini-miracle. If you can do 5 things in a week, you should get a pay rise.
On the flip side, how many working days or weeks have you looked back on to reflect on what you did and drawn a relative blank? We spend so much time being busy, and getting the micro-transactions of work out of the way, we sometimes forget to tackle the big important stuff. It's much easier to look at Slack and find something to get involved in. So trying to tackle one meaningful piece of work in a day is pretty heroic, actually.
Of course some things are too big to do in a day. In that case, break off a piece. A piece small enough it feels very doable, but big enough that you'll feel like you've got something meaningful done. Then do that.
And if you don't quite get it done, it doesn't matter. You worked on one thing, and hopefully it felt sane. And you didn't spend any time and energy on context-switching, which is an absolute b$$$$$$.
Here are a few things I try to do to help with this principle of one thing:
- I block out calendar time for the admin/bullshit. And I try to keep email and Slack closed or muted out of that time window (while making sure I'm reachable)
- I block out calendar time for my one task a day, aiming for at least half a day. This is sacrosanct – new calendar invites will auto-decline in these windows
- I create distractions. I know, this is the opposite of good productivity advice. But I'm not a productivity zealot, I'm a happiness zealot. So damn right I'll fiddle with a Spotify playlist while I'm working on the one thing
There. That's my brain-dump on this topic. I hope it inspires you to do less.