How to Structure Your Working Day to Get More Done
The way that you structure your day when working from home can make a huge difference to your ability to get lots of work done. The danger is that when you have no manager leaning over you, you might find that you allow yourself a little extra luxury and time than is ideal. That in turn could mean you end up procrastinating to the point where you fall behind before you’ve even started!
The solution is to introduce some rules. These might seem somewhat arbitrary, but we’ll see that they can provide a structure and discipline that will help you to accomplish MUCH more.
Eat the Whole Frog
The first one that we’re going to address is something called “Eating the Whole Frog.” This comes from a quote by Mark Twain that says:
“If your job is to eat a frog, then you should do that first thing in the morning. If your job is to eat two frogs, then you should eat the biggest and ugliest one first.”
You should also change your job.
Basically what he’s saying here, is that you should do the biggest and ugliest task first.
If you’re starting your day and you have 5,000 words to write, then you should sit down and do that before you do anything else. Before you answer any emails, before you do any smaller tasks, or anything you want to do.
This is important, because it means you’re providing the most value as quickly as possible. The biggest task is the one that will probably get you paid the most, that will win over clients the most… and it also means that is no longer hanging over you.
And if you run out of time at the end of the day, it’s much easier to fit in something small that you’re looking forward to doing, than it is to fit in something huge that you don’t want to do.
So instead of putting it off, then just get it out of the way! This also works as great training: it builds great habits.
This is why it’s so annoying when clients just want to talk, send emails, and change the goalposts every two minutes.
If you want a professional to do something – if you’re paying them to do something – then just let them do it!
This simple rule will allow you to be as productive as possible.
There are exceptions to this rule though…
The 1 Minute Rule
For instance, if you should find yourself needing to complete a task that will only take one minute, then you should tick that off as soon as you possibly can.
It’s very common for people who work from home to find themselves becoming overwhelmed and exhausted. While there are several reasons for this, one of the biggest is simply trying to manage their time when they have a huge amount to do. How do you possibly keep on top of all the tasks that are piling up, when there is no one to help structure your day?
Tim Ferriss calls the kinds of small tasks that play on your mind “open loops.”
For instance, you might have an email that you need to answer that you are putting off (because the client is awkward perhaps), or you might have something that needs fixing on your website.
These jobs take one minute or less, but you put them off because:
a) You have that other big pressing task to take care of
b) They are emotionally stressful – so you would rather bury your head in the sand
But here’s the thing: those issues aren’t going to go away. And the longer they hang over you, the more they are going to cause you stress and anxiety.
In other words, you should just do them right away. If they take one minute, then they aren’t really going to eat into your day. But once they’re done, that’s one thing less on your mind. And it becomes that much easier to just focus on the work that you need to get done!
This doesn’t just apply to your work either: it likewise applies to chores and things you need to do around the house.
For instance, if you have dishes that you have just eaten off of, then put them in the sink and get back to work!
The exception to the one minute rule, is when you are deep in work. If you are working in a very focused manner toward completing a specific task or goal, then you should not allow small things like emails to steal your attention away.
When you are distracted by another task, it can actually take you around 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus back on the original job (this is according to Gloria Mark, who researches the topic at the University of California). Our brains are not physically capable of multitasking, and instead work by switching between tasks!
So if you stop your big essay to write an article, you are going to break yourself out of flow, and find yourself struggling with procrastination again as soon as you try to get back to it.
(That said, this IS something you can train with time).
My advice is that you turn off all notifications, shut your doors, and put on noise cancelling headphones. You aren’t breaking the one minute rule, because you’re not going to be aware of the new task until after you have finished the current big job.
Okay, but what about those jobs that are going to take 2-3 minutes? What about the 20 minute jobs?
Well, jobs that are large enough to be considered actual tasks will simply be queued up behind your one big task in descending order. You’ll complete your biggest and ugliest “frog” first, and the second biggest and ugliest frog second.
For those niggling to-dos, the best option is to put them on a to-do list. Once you do this, you clear them out of your headspace, allowing you to focus more on the big task at hand. The best part, is that you can now designate some time within your day in order to attack those issues.
For instance, you can spend 20 minutes at the end of each working day making sure to work through small to-dos. This means they’ll never pile up and become overwhelming, and you’ll never forget something that ends up causing you a lot of stress!
Of course, these rules are not set in stone. Different people work differently, and the best strategy for you may depend on the type of work you prefer.
But the key takehome is that by employing strict rules, you can make sure that you don’t end up overwhelmed by tasks as they come in. This in turn allows you to work during more defined hours, and avoid letting your work spill over into your downtime. All that can be game changing.
And this specific set of rules have been tried and proven to be highly effective by countless professionals!