To Do More, Do Less

Deep Work, Focus

Starting a new job has given me space to reflect on how I’m spending my time and to be more deliberate with making time to think. In my last role, I spent on average 5+ hours a day in meetings, or preparing for meetings, and used the small gaps in between to get things done. I’d spend a lot of time in these meetings building a to-do list without ever having the time to work through it, and worse, if a direct report had something on their mind that required my attention, they’d need to wait until I’d finished the run of meetings I was in.

Over the last three months I’ve found the following things are helping me manage the amount of work I take on, and find time to complete that work:

1. Block out time to prioritise tasks

I make time every morning to review my task list and reprioritise. It only takes 15 minutes but it has a big effect on my day. I often find something I thought was important yesterday isn’t as critical today, and vice versa. Having a clear todo list means that when I do have time to focus I don’t have to think about what’s most important, I can just pick the item from the top of the list.

2. Take time away from screens

This felt counter-intuitive at first - the more time I spent not doing work, the more I was getting done. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, let your brain work through an idea for a little bit and when you get back to your desk you’ll be in a better position to solve that problem/write that document/finish those slides.

3. Say no more

I try to have 2 big-ish tasks on my todo list at any one time so that, when I am waiting on feedback or for a colleague to do something, I can work on the other issue. More than two and my attention is split - I’m probably going to drop something.

4. Prioritise async working

Adopting asynchronous working patterns means you can work when and how you like. This allows you to find the time that works best for you, encourages writing things down and clarifying thoughts, and you’re not dependent on people being in the meeting - new people can join and immediately get up to speed. Removing the need for meetings means you’ve got more control over your calendar.

Tom - 2023-05-23