By Andrew Filev, CEO of Wrike
I was raised in Post-Soviet Russia, and at that time scarcity was simply a fact of life. Supplies were scarce at school, food was scarce at the grocery store, and entertainment was almost non-existent. As a kid, the most exciting part of my day was at 8pm, right before bed, when I got to watch precisely 15 minutes of cartoons, because that was all that was broadcast. So, I ended up reading books and playing a lot of chess. Looking back, it helped me build skills like focus, persistence and concentration. These are skills I would not have honed had I spent the hours in front of a television set that my seven-year-old self longed for.
I also developed an appreciation for the value of the resources we did have, and an aversion to waste of any kind: food, money, and especially as I grew older, time. I became very passionate about productivity. This is what led me to explore how to best leverage technology to make people more productive, and to build products that help us work better together in our digital world.
As much as our “always connected” world has solved a lot of problems, it’s created quite a few as well: mainly in the form of a deluge of communication from every possible direction. Distraction is becoming an epidemic in the workplace. The difference between having a great, productive workday or a feeling like we’ve wasted time can often come down to the habits we build with our digital tools and technology.
The list below is a compilation of some of my own routines and habits I’ve developed to stay productive. Shaped by skills built in my low-tech childhood and as the CEO of a fast-growing technology company, I’ve found that the days I deliberately put these into practice are some of my best days at work.
1. Recommit to your biggest goals.
It’s easy to start your day by jumping right into the middle of everything and floating down a never-ending stream of tasks, demands, responses and requests. Yes, you’re busy; yes you’re responsive. But are you focused on your best work – the stuff that really moves the needle for your organization? It’s so easy to lose focus amid the constant, other pressing demands. If yet another day has passed without enough time to dig deep into your most important work, it’s time to recalibrate.
Before you check any message or status in the morning, revisit your big vision and most important goal. It’s the why behind what you are doing. Your goal should be simple and clear and unlikely to change that often, even if your immediate circumstances do. Your goal is a compass, an anchor, and fuel, all in one. Commit to your vision at the beginning of the day. Unapologetically filter all requests and initiatives for your day through your vision, and be ruthless in your focus.
2. Complete one step today.
Now that you have your focus for the day it’s important to balance your big picture thinking with some achievable tactics. Breaking goals down into digestible pieces is imperative. Otherwise the work in front of you seems daunting and it’s too easy to get distracted and lose motivation. Suddenly you find yourself answering an email that has nothing to do with your goal, and the day starts to get away from you. Nope. Not today. Think about one to two steps you can complete to move yourself forward and get started. Make it challenging but possible. The most productive people I know are laser-focused on tackling what is right in front of them. Not anything that is in front of them, but the most important thing that gets them closer to their set goal.
3. Build a virtual wall against distractions.
Needless to say, technology can be as much of a friend as a foe of productivity. Notifications should be there to tell you that something important needs your attention. Instead you can end up drowning in them, which completely misses the point. Disney vacations are 30% off this week? Maybe I should check that out. I need to present Wednesday instead of Thursday? Well, now that is actually important.
Distractions sap your focus, but since most of our work is collaborative, muting everything is not always an option. Instead, funnel your inbound alerts into a single stream where you can prioritize some and reject others. You can also use apps to help you bundle and channel the noise. A little bit of time spent adjusting notification settings on the worse offenders (instant messaging is one that comes to mind) is well worth the investment. Set aside a few minutes at the top of an hour or 90 min period where you check in to see if anything needs immediate attention. But do not be distracted more than once an hour when you are focused on your goal.
Of course, there are times when you are really in your flow and require complete, focused solitude. In those situations it’s helpful to silence notifications entirely. Silence is golden – just remember to turn them back on when you’re done!
4. Start Early.
This is an easy one. I’m not referring to the idea that early risers are more successful. I know plenty of effective night owls as well. What I do know is if you start your day focused on your big goals before the stream of inbound requests begins in the morning, your sense of purpose carries you through the day. You’ve already dug into your most important work and it’s harder to be distracted. It’s also easier to evaluate and organize the priority level of other tasks.
5. Acknowledge your results.
One of the great things about setting an attainable goal for the day is that you consistently get that rush of achievement. This is a reward on its own, because progress can be intoxicating. You can also sweeten the deal by promising yourself a little “prize” as further incentive. Positive reinforcement is powerful. At the end of your day, review what worked best for you and contributed to your success. Was it starting earlier than usual? The place you chose to work? Signing out of all messaging apps? Make a note of what worked and put it into regular practice.
Lastly, plan for your next productive day, or even a morning or few hours that you can carve out of your week. Put it on your calendar. Make it a routine to move between collaborative work and inbound requests, to specific times where you insulate yourself from distraction and follow your own best practices. Once you adopt a certain way of doing things and begin to see results, you can build a positive habit of productivity. When I was growing up, I had an environment that was scarce in entertainment but rich in focus; now it’s time and focus that are in short supply. In an age of endless distractions, it’s best to be proactive and strategic about we manage our days at work, because time is too valuable a resource to waste.