Today was a good day. Perhaps even a very good day. A great day? Maybe that’s going too far, but it was good enough to make me think about why I left the office feeling that I’d accomplished a lot.
A little bit about my job
I work in an office with a team of eight people. I should actually clarify that by saying that I lead the team, but I don’t like to sound self-important. However, it is useful context for this post. So, I lead a team of people and have three main roles. The first is to review and approve the team’s work (I am accountable for its quality and technical accuracy). This normally takes most of my time. It’s related to the second role, which is to provide guidance and mentoring for the team. Finally, I have other tasks that are more strategic in nature that I should be doing; these are less involved with the day-to-day activities of the team, and they always fall to the bottom of my to-do list.
My typical day starts with a look at my to-do list and good idea of what I need to do. I select a handful of tasks that I think I should be able to complete during the day. I then try to work on one task at a time, aiming for what seems to be called deep work these days. Sometimes I try to apply the Pomodoro technique. More often than not, however, this doesn’t survive first contact with the enemy. (The enemy being, in this case, external distraction and internal procrastination.) Before I realise, it will lunchtime and I might have achieved one thing before being distracted by an email or phone call.
How today was different
I was in control. Today was quiet in the office – being a Friday in summer, a few people were on leave, and so I was fairly free from distraction and could focus on what I’d planned to do.
I made noticeable progress. Granted, many of the tasks on my list were small or trivial in complexity, but just seeing a to-do list full of completed tasks is satisfying. This was surprising, as I actually wasn’t particularly determined to have a productive day. The rest of the week had been tiring and I was resigned to the fact that I was likely to be quite lazy.
I was stimulated. Having spent the majority of the week keeping up with reviewing the work of others, I finally managed to spend some time at a slower pace reading and thinking about some more nuanced topics. This was refreshing and required a different level of work.
Is there anything to learn from this?
On previous highly productive days, I’ve reasoned that I was productive purely due to the lack of distraction. Today, however, I think that the main difference comes from the fact that I unconsciously removed pressure from myself. There was no excessive expectation, no rigid routine of 25-minute periods of work. Instead, there was a modest, rather than overambitious, list of tasks, and I was also able to spend quality time on a difficult slow-burning problem rather than just having to churn through review.
How can I apply these conditions to every workday? Clearly I can’t always just pick the work I want to do, and I can’t only work when I feel like it, but perhaps I can adopt elements of those conditions and see some benefit:
- Use structured tasks and take breaks, but don’t be a slave to the structure. Allow your mind to wander within reason, especially if it’s work-related
- Mix up tasks – use intellectually stimulating tasks to break up and reward a number of repetitive tasks
I’ll be interested to see if I can implement these ideas, and whether it has a noticeable effect. If it doesn’t, there’s nothing lost, but if it does I might be able to further improve my motivation and overall satisfaction at work.