Structuring your day as a key to productivity

Withdrawing from social media is a meme of our times about which I’ve written a couple or three times.

The fact is that while I’m far from anti-social, I do relish moments of disconnection. These gaps pour destresser where on can think. And that, I think, is the need to take a break from social media.

However email, twitter and the rest are part of the world today. It is utterly impractical to go back to writing postcards and memos requesting or advising information as people did until well into the nineties. While we might fantasise about a nineteen seventies workstyle it is only a fantasy. The trick is to take the good aspects of the past and apply them to the present, and the trick to doing that is to make yourself some rules about how you run your day.

You need rules as rules give you a structure. You don’t need to obsess about them, and a bit of flexibility is always a good thing.

Some people say to prioritise. That’s not a bd idea but it means you have to make decisions about items. Having rules makes it easy to make the default decisions. Flexibility allows you to break them when necessary. Without rules, you end up like a rat in a skinner box reacting to flashing lights, you need to have a structure. Essentially, without one  you lose control of your existence.

The lack of control is what makes so many people stressed by the modern workplace by imposing and internalising an always on culture. Instant reaction is never good – you need some thought in the process.

So, let’s look at when I worked in a traditional eighties computer centre managing things:

in the old days, before the internet, one had a structure at work that was something like this

  • check nothing had broken overnight
  • deal with paper mail
  • meetings, work, whatever you had scheduled yourself
  • deal with afternoon mail and write memos in response to others
  • do some more work
  • check things and go home

That structure was imposed on you by the fact the mail came twice a day and no one could see your calendar unless you xeroxed you diary and stuck it on your office door. You still had to account for what you did, and you did get interrupted by phone calls, but most people wrote notes or else asked for a meeting.

You were basically in control of your own schedule, in large part because no one expected an instant response.

So here’s my suggestions for managing media:

  • make a daily schedule
  • diary skype and conference calls in you diary. If you can set your status to offline outside of those times do so
  • don’t be afraid to let phone calls go to voicemail – but make sure you call back
  • set aside a defined time to manage your email, check twitter and your rss feeds

and most importantly

  • respond promptly to emails and always call people back if they call you

That way people know that you will respond and set their expectations accordingly. Failing to respond makes you look disorganised or rude.

The other advantage of doing this is that it makes it easier to plan your day and your workload. If you know you take an hour to deal with email and rss feeds that means you have six hours left in the day for work – six as even if you work eight hours a day you need to give yourself some headroom for overshoot. Knowing this means you can give reasonable estimates of how long it will take you to do things and again make you seem more dependable – but remember, if you say two days to do a report it had better be two days.

And because your reliable in your estimations more and more you’ll get control back, simply because you’re reliable.

So the keys are structure and discipline – build a structure that works for you and stick to it – and that way you set others’ expectations.

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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