Work smarter and reclaim your downtime
Expert advice on maximising your productivity and making time to rest and recharge.
Health Agenda magazine
It’s the common refrain of our times: someone asks how you are and you inevitably answer, ‘Busy!’ The ever-elusive work/life balance is getting harder to achieve – partly because of modern technology.
“Email and smartphones have changed the way we do business,” says Mark Bowker, facilitator of the Time and Priority Management short course at Swinburne University of Technology. “They allow us to be incredibly responsive to colleagues and customers, but often there are unwritten expectations to respond to messages at all hours of the day.”
Not only does this pull us away from time with family, friends and hobbies, it also means we’re almost constantly distracted and take longer to get things done. “The net effect of this is that life can feel like a never-ending marathon, without many opportunities to rest and recharge,” he says.
“And without this rest, procrastination and a lack of focus take over, making it harder to complete important tasks. This often means more hours at work and the cycle continues.” Sound familiar?
There are ways to break the cycle, though. Instead of thinking about time management, Bowker says it’s more productive to look at self-management.
“This means focusing on renewing your energy levels more regularly and effectively,” he says. “Then you can channel that energy into tasks that contribute value towards whatever your goals are.”
In addition to the sage advice to get seven to eight hours’ sleep a night, drink plenty of water and exercise, he recommends taking plenty of mini breaks throughout the work day.
“A quick walk, stretching, a few deep breaths, or just taking a few minutes to reflect on the last meeting before moving on, allow your brain to lower its activity and can enhance your focus on future tasks,” he says.
These have a real energy-boosting effect – the direct opposite, in fact, of the coffee or sugary snacks that so many of us turn to, which are ultimately energy sapping. When you’re flagging at work, swap an energy sapper (chocolate bar) for an energy booster (quick walk – not to the vending machine!) and see what a difference it makes.
“Managing self is also about taking control back from technology,” Bowker adds. Try turning off email notifications on your phone and computer and instead designate certain times of the day to read and respond to them.
Prioritisation is also key. “List your tasks in order of importance and do the high-value ones in the morning or when your energy and concentration levels are high,” he suggests.
“Then complete a daily plan for the next workday prior to leaving the office. This ultimately leads to you being more productive, employable and happy – and gives you more time and energy to spend on your other commitments, interests or passions.”