In our next series of posts we will be diving deep into the Google Workspace Guide to productivity. The main theme of this series is impact over output. When discussing productivity, people often think it’s about getting everything possible out of the day. Google argues differently, they think it should be more about getting things done that you set out to do and making an impact. This requires you to understand yourself as a whole person and focus on balancing the things that make you happy, productive, and efficient. During the global pandemic of the last few years, these productivity discussions have become more important, as a hybrid work environment has forced us to balance working from home with aspects of homeschooling and caregiving. In our first post, we will talk about rethinking your time and your calendar in your pursuit of balanced productivity.
Time is money. This is what everyone says. As you get older and busier, this phrase is even truer. You have obligations in life that you need to balance with making a living. You need to take care of your loved ones, stay in touch with friends and family, take care of yourself mentally and physically, all while holding down some kind of job or earning some kind of money. While not true for 100% of the world, this is certainly true for most. In economics, we learn about opportunity costs. Everything you do in life has an opportunity cost. If you decide to work instead of exercising or cooking a meal, you sacrifice that moment of freedom while working out in order to earn extra money or gain an extra accolade from your employer.
Work-life balance is hard. This is why people have been writing about it for the last fifty years. People study this as if it was some kind of science. For certain careers, your schedule is fixed. It won’t be fixed forever, but we can say with some certainty that a doctor or housekeeper will need to work during certain hours. For these types or careers, it's important that the people doing the jobs find balance outside of those hours so that they can maintain their focus during their working time.
The knowledge worker conundrum
For others, such as knowledge workers, it’s much different. There is the extreme flexibility of when the work is done, as long as it gets done. This is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you can make your own schedule, while on the other, your colleagues can schedule meetings with you whenever they like (within reason).
You might have the ability to take your kids to school, watch their baseball games, and have dinner with your family one week, while the next you are inundated overwhelmed with meetings and calls which span all hours of the day.
We (and Google) are here to tell you it doesn’t have to be all that bad. Even if you are on a fixed schedule and location. Important calls, emails, and messages don’t have to interrupt your peak creative or productive times, and more importantly, they don’t have to interrupt your work-life balance. Let’s talk about a few ways to accomplish this in the next few paragraphs.
Step 1: Understand your natural rhythm
This is the most important and “must-have” first step in reclaiming your calendar and achieving maximum productivity. Answer the question: When am I most productive during the day? When am I most energized and focused? These are what Google refers to as your “peak times”. If it’s not obvious to you when they are, take a week and observe yourself. When are you doing your best work? What meetings do you seem most engaged in? When do you feel like taking a nap? When do you want to throw your coffee mug against the wall? Note everything down for a week and it will make more sense. The times during the day that you need a nap or find frustration boiling over? These are what Google calls your “rest times”.
Step 2: Block peak times
This step is fairly simple. Once you know what those highly productive times of the day are, block them on your calendar. Two to three times per week at least, schedule it. No meetings and no checking email. If you want to take this a step further, reserve those times for work that is analytical, strategic, or just requires a general deep focus.
Step 3: Plan and theme your day
At the beginning of each week or even at the end of the week prior, take a step back and look at what’s coming up. Look at the whole week. Decide what activity you should dedicate to different blocks of time. If you are working in a hybrid environment, which activities should you schedule when you are at the office? How can you get the most out of your time at home and your time face to face with your colleagues? When most people in a hybrid work environment talk about their best weeks, they are planning their work from home days to maximize those peak time activities, while scheduling time to socialize, collaborate, and build relationships while they are in the office.
Step 4: Avoid doing small tasks first each day
This should be fairly straightforward, but one of the most difficult to put into action. Tackle your biggest task of the day the moment you sit down to work. The temptation will be there to start looking at emails and chipping away at the small wins, but in the end, this is not the most productive way to work. Starting your day with email is distracting. You will jump from message to message trying to figure out what needs to get done. If you tackle a big-ticket item first, you will stay focused and put all that energy into getting more done.
Step 5: Minimize context shifts
Emails are context shifts. Notifications on your desktop or phone feed into this. According to an Asana study, people switch apps 10-25 times per day to get work done. According to another study, it takes 23 minutes to refocus after a distraction. This adds up to a lot of wasted time during the day. Avoid switching contexts as much as possible. If this means you need to take advantage of natural context changes such as lunch or a coffee break, do it. When you look at your calendar, look for the places you can get long prolonged periods of work done. If you don’t have any because of meetings, try moving things around.
Step 6: Commit the plan to (virtual) paper
As you go about planning your days, use a template that helps surface the three most important activities of that day. Make sure the template also includes an hour-by-hour plan. Google recommends using this one, but you can create your own. Ideally, you should create your daily plan the afternoon or night before the target day.
Work-life balance is hard and as you can see, there is no tool that is going to fix this for you. If you came here looking for a calendar plug, you’re not going to get it. Google calendar is great for helping you keep track of all your tasks and work, but, like all other tools, it is only as powerful as the people that use it. You need to think about what works best for you and then put that action into the calendar to avoid distractions. Plan each day the day before, and you will reap the largest rewards.
As always, if you need any help with Google Workspace, we at Seibert Media are here to help. Contact us with any questions you may have.