I came across this article, The Mistake Busy People Make by Sendhil Mullainathan, shortly after returning to work several years ago and really connected with the message. The message has grown more relevant to me, as technology continues to expand and insinuate itself across more aspects of our lives, making focusing on tasks even more difficult.
Everyone I talk to these days is out of time and struggling to keep up with their work load. The ever growing list of tasks, adding yet more entries into our already overflowing calendar, can make for an exhausting work day. In order to be successful, it is important to learn how to not only manage our workloads but also find ways that we can thrive in this environment.
The reality is not every task is the same. Some are harder to tackle than others and learning to manage not just our time but our "bandwidth" can make for a more productive day. This is something that I think about often as I plan my approach to tackling my to-do list. I know in order to be successful that when I have more intense projects, I'll need to have some breaks and balance them by working on less intensive tasks as well. This approach allows me to be more focused on those tasks that require more energy.
I also came across a more recent article, "Why the 8-Hour Workday Doesn't Work" by Dr. Travis Bradberry, that while not addressing bandwidth specifically talks about the importance of incorporating regular breaks throughout your workday in order to be more productive.
According to Dr. Bradberry's article, studies have shown that:
"The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest." [Bradberry, Dr. Travis. “Why the 8-Hour Workday Doesn't Work.” LinkedIn Pulse. Published on May 10, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2017.]
These breaks can help to recharge your bandwidth and lead to a more successful, productive day. What strategies should you implement to manage your bandwidth? While it will vary from person to person, here are five things that I do to structure my day and maximize my productivity:
1) I finish my tasks ahead of my deadlines. Having my mind distracted by a looming deadline will take away from my overall productivity in other tasks that need to get done. So, whenever possible, I try to get ahead of my schedule. I'm sure this wouldn't work for everyone. Some people prefer working under pressure. Perhaps it ups their bandwidth. But, for me, that is not the case.
2) I also try to stay focused and be in the moment. When my mind wanders, it makes it significantly harder to complete my tasks especially when they are more bandwidth intensive. Sometimes this can't be controlled because of external events, and other projects that are looming, and during those times I might try to work on a less bandwidth intensive task. I also think this is where regular breaks can really help. Sometimes I don't have the luxury of jumping to a different task so if my focus is wandering, a break to recharge can really help re-energize me so that I can reclaim my focus and be more productive.
3) Another thing that helps is to remove distractions when working on a bandwidth intensive project. I'll shut down my e-mail, put my phone on do not disturb and ban all social media. Multi tasking is not my friend. I have found that, for me, it is much more efficient to complete competing tasks sequentially than trying to juggle too many things at once. Going down my list and checking things off one by one is better than getting only partially through them as I jump around from incomplete task to incomplete task.
4) Move, Move, Move. I sit at my desk all day, every day. I also blog as a hobby which means, you guessed it, more sitting. A few years ago, I began making a much more focused attempt to be sure that I get up and move my body at least once every hour. This is important for many reasons beyond managing bandwidth, but it can also be successful in pushing me forward. Exercise has been shown to have so many health benefits and I think recharging the mind is one of the best ones.
5) Breaking out larger, more intensive projects into smaller chunks can also help me manage and push through bigger projects. You can only stay focused for so long without a break. So maybe, outlining my project in the morning, and returning for a chunk of time in the afternoon to draft my first pass before revisiting the edits another day might be the best approach. It also helps clear my head and lets me see things with new eyes after a break away from the task.
Everyone will have a different set of methods that they use to manage their own workload. I think in many ways this is an individual thing although certainly there are studies, and expert tips out there, that can help give you some ideas.
I also see this topic coming into play in the services that we provide to our customers. I recognize that a major software implementation can sometimes feel like a double whammy, in that at stages it is both time and bandwidth intensive, but Soft Trac can help. We understand the process and can work with you to manage each step for a successful implementation so that you can be up and going with your software quickly and focus your attention back on your other tasks.
The irony is that while writing this blog post my distraction level, with other competing projects, and endless e-mails continually interrupting my thoughts and screaming for my attention, was high. In the end, I stepped away from writing this post to clear up some of my other tasks and then returned to finish it distraction free and with greater bandwidth.
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