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Tony Mobily's picture
By Tony Mobily
Friday, September 24, 2010 - 02:29

Don't work lots; work well instead

Some people just seem to get a lot done: some of them might works two jobs, and yet has time for his family and -- yes -- for a social life -- never looking stressed in the meantime. Are they super-humans? No, they are simply people who know that it's not how much you work that counts, but how you do it.

The basic rules are very simple and yet seem so hard to apply:

  • No interruptions
  • No instant messengers
  • No email. If "email" is part of your work, no access to email that is not "work"
  • No text messages
  • No phone, unless it's part of your job
  • No multiplexing: do one thing at a time, always
  • No noise. This might seem silly, but working around music or noise will most likely lower your concentration

These rules apply to people who work from home, and who work in an office.

If you work from home, there are a lot of dangers to look our for. For example, while you can hardly hide the fact that you are talking to your girlfriend on the phone, you can easily hide your instant messaging program under other important applications... and voila'. Your productivity is gone. The same applies to other coworkers interrupting your work: it might be your boss, who likes having long and meaningless conversations (and then complain about missed deadlines), or your coworkers who are trying their best to be unproductive and use you as a valid tool to distract and entertain themselves.

If you work from home, you notoriously end up with even more problems: friends will call you and expect you to have a chat, or ask you the most incredible questions in chat; your wife will expect you to "quickly pop out to go shopping in the middle of the morning" while you are at home (your morning is gone), or "quickly take the dog to the vet around lunch time" (your whole day is gone). Or "open up to the maintenance guy to fix the heater in the lounge room" (your concentration in the morning is gone).

Thing is, it's incredible how many things you can get done if you concentrate, continuously, without anybody bothering you.

The most stressful part of work is when you start on a task. The most demanding part of work is when you finish a task, and come back to the normal world (and back to your TODO list, after giving what you were doing a tick). The middle part, the "working" bit, should be easy: you should aim at reaching a quiet state of mind, almost an hypnotic one, where your brain works like a virtual mule pushing the right buttons so that the current task is closed. With constant interruptions, with people chatting with you, or asking you to open a door or a window, or with a boss who wants to talk to keep in control, you end up starting and interrupting your tasks continuously, increasing the number of mistakes you make and the time it takes you to completing a task.

(If you are using a project management software like Apollo, as you should, you really need to make sure that the software in itself doesn't become a distraction: open your task list, pick your task, maybe start your timer, and work on your task keeping the project management software closed till you're done.)

At home or in an office environment, the simplest way to achieve your "working well" goals is by simply "saying no" to people: your wife, your dog, your phone, your friends. I am not saying that you need to become a hermit. No. You need to become an absolute hermit, but only while you are working.