Simple steps to design your perfect workday

Donna McGeorge
March 26th, 2019
Media | The First 2 Hours

Business Woman Media

Traditional approaches to time management involve prioritising, planning, creating to-do lists and ticking off goals. Yet, despite all of this, if someone were to ask, ‘How’s work?’, most leaders would respond ‘Busy!’ And along with busy, comes the feeling of tiredness (because busy and tired go hand-in-hand.).

So let’s think of time like real estate. Beachfront properties with a water view are generally of higher value. Apartments in Hong Kong will be valued differently from those in Manila. Even in a game of Monopoly, properties that cost more give you a greater return than others.

When leaders start to value time the way the world values real estate, then traditional time management approaches get flipped. Instead, leaders truly think about what managing time means, not just how to do it. Now it becomes a valuable resource that deserves a return on investment.

So how do leaders make the best use of every minute of the day?

Measure Intensity and impact

To design a better day, one that is full of productivity, motivation and joy (gasp!) still means figuring out what needs to be done that day. However, rather than writing down and working through a long list of tasks, leaders should run their tasks through the filters of intensity and impact.

Intensity is the amount of brainpower a task will require. Does it need deep thinking, concentration and focus (high intensity)? Or can it be done with a blindfold on (low intensity)?

Another way of thinking about intensity is to use the metaphor created by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

In it, he describes the brain as having two systems:

  1. System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional. It moves quickly and makes snap judgments. It also doesn’t require much energy.

  2. System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. It takes deeper thinking and uses a lot of energy. People feel tired or ‘brain dead’ if they have been using System 2 a lot.

Hence, leaders need to schedule work that requires intensity for when they are at their most alert and energetic. Impact is the return they will get on the time and energy spent at those times.

If a task will have a high impact or return, it should be prioritised more highly than something that has low impact. To be clear, the first priority will be the impact on the leader themselves and their personal work, then impact on the team, and then impact on the organisation.

However, often leaders spend a lot of time doing things that are of low importance or have little impact on progress.

For most people, there are just two or three things that can be done in a day that will have the biggest impact on productivity and results.

Which task when?

The Pareto Principle explains that 20 per cent of activity will give us 80 per cent of results. This concept originated from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto when he noticed that 80 per cent of the country’s land was owned by just 20 per cent of the population. This led Pareto to examine this imbalance further and how it related to other areas, including how time, effort and energy is spent.

Therefore, when it comes to scheduling tasks, think about how much energy, or intensity, will be required in four areas:

  1. High intensity/high impact. 
    Tasks that directly and positively affect results and require a lot of attention, energy and focus. This is a person’s most important work.

  2. High intensity/low impact. 
    Tasks that require being in the service of others. Giving time to someone to ‘bounce an idea off’ or something similar.

  3. Low intensity/low impact. 
    Tasks that can be done while metaphorically sleeping because they are easy and the stakes are low. These are things that are repetitive and routine in nature.

  4. Low intensity/high impact. 
    Tasks that don’t require a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ brain-wise, but will have a positive impact: planning, maintenance, preparation. Basically, anything that sets a successful day tomorrow.

When leaders design their day like this, when asked, ‘How’s work?’, they will answer either ‘productive’ or ‘unproductive’ instead of the usual ‘busy’, ‘frantic’ or ‘stressful’. Try it and see.

Published in Business Woman Media - 27 March 2019