It was one of the worst feelings in the world, and it was happening every day. I’d look up at the clock in dismay. I’d been sitting in front of my computer for 8, 9, 10 hours, but felt as though I had accomplished nothing. We all have days like that from time to time, but this was a constant. It got to the point where I wondered why I even bothered showing up. Why would I, if my efforts didn’t cause anything to change?
After many conversations and plenty of reflection, the reasons I felt unproductive became clear. Essentially, it was of my own doing. I didn’t have a plan for what I wanted to accomplish, and so it was guaranteed that I wouldn’t accomplish anything. The solution became obvious, then: write down what I want to accomplish that day, and then work with that in mind.
Of course, just writing something down doesn’t mean it’s going to get done. It might lend a little focus to the day, and it might let me accomplish one or two things that I otherwise would not have. But without a specific focus on workflow, it only improved my productivity marginally. Realizing this, I tweaked my system week by week, trying to find something that works. And then I lucked into a truly great workflow system.
In 2009, Peter Bregman of Harvard Business Review wrote an article about planning your day. It was a minimalist plan that forces you to focus and refocus. The basic idea is to plan your day, refocus regularly, and then review your day. To be more specific:
1. Write down what you want to accomplish that day.
2. Every hour, stop and review what you did in the last hour. Then refocus on something for the next hour.
3. Review what you accomplished and where you fell short at the end of every day.
You can tweak this to however you work best. For instance, I like to plan my day the night before, because that way it gets to set in subliminally. If I make a plan the same day, I tend to take it less seriously. You also don’t have to review every hour of that’s too distracting. Conversely, you can up the review to half-hour increments if focus is an issue for you. The tenets still hold, though. Plan, regularly refocus, review.
Using this system I’ve been able to see my progress. Finishing a work day feels much better, because my accomplishments are right in front of me, in my review document. And I look forward to tackling every day, because I know ahead of time what I plan to do. It has made all the difference in my work-from-home career.