Laura Vanderkam has built her career on time management. But nothing could have prepared the author, podcast host and productivity expert to know how very different the average workday would be at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet his new book, The New Office Corner: How the Most Successful People Work from Home (July 21, Portfolio / Penguin Random House), arrived just in time. Drawing on 18 years of remote working experience, Vanderkam defines specific and pragmatic strategies that are godsend for all of us crouching at home.
For many white-collar workers, she says, stay-at-home guidelines provide an opportunity to ditch the traditional 9 to 5 and just focus on what needs to be done.
Here are his top tips for getting more done in less time – and making more money for the hours you spend doing it.
It’s about the task, not the time
“We’re so used to thinking of ‘productivity’ in terms of the number of hours we spend on something,” says Vanderkam.
Instead, try to manage by task, she advises. In other words, if you have 10 things to do, when they’re done, so are you, at least for the day.
Working from home can really help here. “You can get things done in fewer hours,” she says. “There are a lot of really awkward things happening in offices. Time to come and go places. Uncomfortable things, be it the temperature or the noise. “
All of these distractions get in the way of actual work and cost the company and, therefore, you-money.
You won’t always get your most important tasks done in eight hours, so don’t worry when it does. But creating an optimal environment focused on what needs to be done rather than how many hours you put into it is a useful shift.
Work the hours that suit you
Not all times are created equal, as anyone who embarks on a 12 hour project knows. Vanderkam is a firm believer in distributing the right tasks at the right times, no matter what is going on around you.
The little things, like answering administrative emails or dealing with low-level questions about a project, should never eat up your most productive hours. Know when you’re working most clearly and skillfully, and get high-level ideas, like interacting with top clients or brainstorming for a long time in the future–finished then.
“It’s really about managing your energy,” she says. “Put the most important work in when you are best able to do it. “
If you use your whole brain on minor projects, it will be difficult to accelerate to a place where you are maximizing your profits, for your business or for yourself.
Work and play go hand in hand
It’s easy to imagine your work tasks separate from the other, more fun parts of your life, but that’s never quite the case, according to Vanderkam.
“They’re all related. Getting enough exercise and getting enough sleep means you’ll have more energy. You’ll be a better friend, parent and worker,” she says. “If you are happy at work and do the things you want to do, you’ll be in a better mood with those around you, and vice versa.”
To thrive on all fronts, she recommends a weekly planning time to think more broadly about your life. “What activities would have the most impact on a personal and professional level?” I like Friday afternoons because most people don’t do anything other than wait for the weekend. “
Put a handful of items in three buckets – business, relationship, and personal – to accomplish next week, she recommends. “Do it every Friday and check last week to see, ‘Well, did I do these things? If so, great, but if not, why not? What can I do differently next time?’”
This can reframe what may appear to be long term goals as more achievable. If you want to move on to a different and better paying career, it will hardly ever happen overnight. But if every week you push yourself in the right direction, you might very well be surprised at how far you’ve come.
Always look at the biggest prize
Where and how you work, it’s natural to want to rise through the ranks in a way that matches your ambitions, but it also gives you extra cushion in your wallet. We’re used to thinking of this in terms of office politics, but it’s time to take a fresh look.
“A lot of times people do whatever they have in front of them without wondering if it’s important to their organization,” says Vanderkam. “If you’re trying to get promoted and get a raise, it’s not just because. Identify what generates income or what saves your business money. Can you spend time on these things? “
Or, say, you want to tackle sideways fuss. Sure, it sounds intimidating, but stopping work helps a lot.
“Many people reach their peak when they start working at least 5-10 hours per week. [on a side gig]”Says Vanderkam.” Start thinking in a different state of mind. Instead of “Do I devote 10 hours per week to my secondary activity?” Say: “Where could these 5 secondary tasks go in my schedule?” “”
Know the value of your time and spend it
The cliché that “time is money” is much more prevalent than it is applied wisely. So Vanderkam’s final piece of advice is to USE some of those hard-earned dollars.
“You can invest in yourself and over time that will increase your earning potential,” she says.
Now that you are working from home, you can also invest in childcare for a few hours a week. Or, if you’re chained to that home office, your literal comfort.
Spending money on a new monitor may seem like a frivolous expense, says Vanderkam. “But if you work less and you’re miserable because your neck is cramped and you’re hunched over a small laptop, it’s probably worth the extra $ 200,” she says. “You will earn it in return.”
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