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How to make your productivity simmer

I heard Nick Bramley, of Jorvik Associates, say something very interesting at an event he was running last week. He received some questions from delegates who said they had a time management problem.

His response was: “Do you go on holiday? Do you get to the airport on time, catch your plane, and take a holiday for two weeks? You do? Then you don’t have a time management problem at all – you have a problem with prioritisation.”

I thought this was really interesting. We can all manage ourselves perfectly well when we have to. The problem comes when we don’t give enough time to the things we are supposed to be doing, and we spend too much time on the things we aren’t supposed to be doing.

Allocating time to our tasks is a huge part of how we manage our day. When we’re multi-tasking, we’re actually allocating tiny slots of time to different tasks, and switching over and over again – real multi-tasking is actually scientifically impossible!

This can be a really positive activity, enabling you to move very quickly from one essential task to the other. But what about when you really need to focus?

Late last year I found a fantastic time management tool in John Lewis – a giant sand timer. It’s 24cm high (9.5 inches), its sands are almost Kaleidoscope green, and they take exactly half an hour to run through.

It’s ideal for those times when you just need to get on with something. I turn off my phone, close down Outlook and work on a single task for half an hour.

There are some tasks in business that we resist and put off for days, weeks or months, because we don’t know where to start, or we think and believe it will be a very unpleasant experience.

But once you sit down and tackle it, it’s actually quite enjoyable – and you’ll feel brilliant when you’ve finished. However bad it is, half an hour is manageable. If the task feels impossible, a good tactic is to devote one of your half-hour slots to simply looking at it, breaking it down and gathering the information or paperwork you need to make a start.

Eventually, sand timing your work gets to be good fun. You get to the point where, when the sands are running thin, you focus even more strongly and race it. When the sands are all gone, you can stop and do something else. However, more often than not, you’ll turn it over and do another half hour.