New year, new approach: 15 ways to get 90% of your work done before lunch

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Want to know the secret to leaving work on time? Follow these 15 tips and you’ll be able to help squeeze two days into one.

Back in the office after a fully loaded festive season and trying in vain to get excited by the January return to business as usual? Or perhaps your New Year’s Resolutions list included a vow to spend more time head down, during the hours you’re in the office? Maybe you simply want to find a way to walk out the door at a reasonable hour to spend more time with the kids or friends?

Whatever your reason, Smarter has collected 15 proven strategies to help you boost your efficiency quotient and knock over more of the important tasks of the day before lunch-time rolls around.

Garden sign saying "It's all good!"
  1. Wake up!
    Accustomed to rousing yourself when the clock strikes 7? Successful folk have already been up and at it for ages. Be like Richard Branson and set the alarm for an hour or two earlier and use the quiet dawn hours to power into your To Do list. When it comes to business success, the early bird absolutely gets the worm. 
  2. Fail to plan, plan to fail
    Do you find yourself pulling up your chair at 9 and pondering how the morning might pan out? Productive types have their morning planned because they’ve written themselves a list of tasks the night before and worked out the order they’re going to do them in.
  3. Later, ok!
    Hear the ping of an email and open your inbox on auto-pilot? Usually it’s something that can wait. Try putting aside some email time in the afternoon and ignoring all your incoming messages ruthlessly until the appointed hour. If you’re in sales, or customer service, another tip is to set aside 4 windows in which to check and respond to emails daily. Outside of the allotted time slots, turn those notifications off. 
  4. Clean up
    Does your work area look like an attractive home for a large family of rodents? Perhaps you found your diary from 2009 and a slice of fossilised Hawaiian pizza last time you went fossicking among the rubble? Mess equals stress – so clear the extraneous papers, the coffee cups and your head. Ditto for the warehouse, construction site or dining room table – wherever you work, organise your space to save your sanity. 
  5. Status update: Busy
    Powerful business tool or powerful time waster? Social media can be both. Avoid letting the beast control you by blocking out some time at the end of the day for catching up on your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook feeds. If social media is really important to you, use it as a reward to look forward to after a period of productive, uninterrupted flow.
  6. Tick tick
    Find it hard to get stuck into writing the report that’s your allotted task for the day? Buy a stopwatch, set yourself a time limit and race the clock to get it done. Alternatively, try the ‘Pomodoro Technique’, which advocates the use of a kitchen timer, set to 25 minutes, as a measurement of productivity. Tasks should be broken down into 25 minute bursts, with short breaks taken in between. 
  7. Emergency or interruption?
    Do you drop everything when a colleague or staff member calls on you for assistance or input with a project they’re struggling on? One person’s emergency is another’s interruption. So, before you derail your own day’s work to jump on their case, take a few minutes to ascertain whether it’s something that really can’t wait. It’s a case of learning – and being confortable – with saying no. 
  8. Healthy body, focused mind
    Think you don’t have time to exercise in the mornings? Perhaps you don’t have time not to. Research shows exercise early in the day increases alertness and productivity – so squeeze in an express run, ride or weights session and watch your output soar. Another tip is to increase incidental exercise while at work. Try a standing desk on for size. 
  9. One thing at a time
    You’ve got too much on and there aren’t enough hours in the day – so the only solution is to do three things at once. Sound familiar? Not to the productive people who’ve already worked out that multitasking just doesn’t work. Take a leaf out of their book by taking on one task at a time and giving it your undivided attention.
  10. Tough stuff first
    Got a job pending that’s boring, or difficult and find yourself looking for any opportunity to avoid getting stuck in to it? Do-ers know that procrastination is the enemy of productivity and put their toughest jobs at the top, not the bottom, of their To Do lists. There’s simply no getting around this rule: do the job that will have the biggest impact on your business first. The rest can wait. 
  11. Meet less, do more
    Research suggests the average office worker spends around a third of their time in meetings, whilst for senior management it’s closer to 50 per cent. Often meetings can progress without your presence, so when this is the case, amp up your productivity by vowing to bow out of all but the most essential pow-wows.
  12. Prioritise and delegate
    Want to knock over more of the work that counts but find yourself distracted by unscheduled trips to the drycleaner or having to pop out for some coffee? Increase your output by outsourcing or delegating the jobs anyone can do and focusing your energy on the ones that require your particular input and skills. As a business owner, there are roles only you can perform. Focus on these 100 per cent.
  13. Centralise your data
    Got the minutes from last week’s meeting on your laptop, or hang on, perhaps the bit of information you’re looking for is in the notes you made on your phone? Either way, you’re searching when you could be doing. Save time scrabbling through cyberspace by centralising your information in one easily accessible place and making sure it’s backed up regularly. An easy tip is to store files in the cloud  - like Google Drive for instance – which you can then access from any device. 
  14. Take a break
    Had your nose to the grindstone most of the morning? Reward yourself with a short break, preferably not browsing news sites and catching up on Facebook. A stroll away from the desk will clear your head and recharge your batteries for the next round of activity. Even better if you can spend a pocket of time strolling through a park, or sitting under a tree. 
  15. I'm outta here
    Is home or switch off time when you’ve done enough for the day, or you’re too fed up to stay at the desk for another minute? Setting yourself a departure deadline of 5 or 6pm sharp can help you to power through more of the day’s tasks early on. With a clear finish line in sight, you’ll make better decisions to use your time wisely throughout the day. 
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