How to get home on time

Let's face it, for many people, the way they are working just isn't working.

Life as we know it is getting faster and we are constantly being asked to do more with less at work. The most obvious solution seems to be putting in more hours, but this rarely solves the underlying problem. Hours worked do not equal productivity.

The Ernst and Young Productivity Pulse recently surveyed 11,500 people and found lack of productivity was costing Australian businesses more than $41 billion each year in wages alone. The survey discovered 1 in 3 Australian workers waste almost a quarter of their day at work and the top time-wasting activities are waiting for approval from a higher authority, reading and responding to emails and technology issues/distractions.

It found that unproductive workers took fewer breaks, spent more time travelling to work and less time on leisure and recreation. In contrast, highly productive workers spent two-thirds of their time on meaningful work, they took longer breaks, spent less time travelling to work and allocated more time to leisure and recreation.

Even though many Australians are now working more than eight hours a day, productivity has not grown over the past decade. A lot of smart people do dumb things in relation to productivity when they are overloaded and under constant stress.

My productivity theory is very simple – do more of what really matters at work and then have a buffer to have a life outside as well. The seven tips below are not rocket science, but they are practical and proven strategies to help minimise distractions, work smarter and squeeze the most out of your day. Put them into practice and get used to going home an hour earlier every day.

1. Daily Warm Up
Before diving into your inbox start the day with a mindful approach and work out the best way to invest your time. What are the most important tasks you need to accomplish? Who do you need to speak to? What reports or proposals do you need to finish today?

2. Tame technology
Turn off email pop-up alerts. Don't let email control your day, check email five or six times a day rather than every three minutes. At night, turn off mobiles, Blackberrys and digital devices and have a block out period to switch off and connect with family and friends.

3. Compress Meetings
The reason most people meet for 60 minutes is because Microsoft Outlook has 60-minute appointments. Compress the majority of internal and regular client meetings to 45 minutes. This will give you a mental buffer to process the previous meeting and ensure that the next meeting starts on time.


4. Pick up the Phone
Get out of the habit of long games of email tennis. Follow the two email rule – if you're still unclear after two emails revert to the old fashioned way of picking up the phone and actually talking to people, just like we use to do in the old days.

5. Forced Isolation
At least once a week turn off all of your electronic devices, remove yourself from other distractions and work on your high-end cognitive tasks like reports, thinking, strategy, writing, etc. You'll get three to four times more work done when you work without constant distractions.

6. Work in Waves
The human body is not a machine and we work best when we oscillate between periods of high concentration and rest. Concentration and energy levels are governed by the body's ultradian rhythm. We can focus for periods of 90 minutes to 2 hours maximum and then require a 5 to 15 minute brain break.

7. Change Expectations
Take the time to talk to colleagues, customers, family members and friends about your new productivity rules. If you suffer from Noddy Syndrome (always saying yes to everyone) you need to train yourself to start saying 'no'. Let people know the best times to contact/meet with you and be proactive about managing your time, rather than constantly being managed by others. The old notion 'great managers are available 24/7' needs to be rewritten to 'great managers are available at certain times during the day and work smart the rest of the day'.

How do you go about getting more done in less time so you can get home earlier?