Nobody realizes it. Everyone thinks James Clear or Tim Ferris is the best expert on productivity. But the best place to look for productivity techniques that work is actually enormous corporations with tons of employees.
Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and their ilk have the resources, time, and sheer numbers of employees to test and try every productivity hack in the book, and you can bet your bottom dollar they know which ones work. Because…they have also bet their bottom dollar on it.
As someone who balances a complex job with a lot of different responsibilities and duties, I often struggle to move beyond just attending meetings and answering emails as they come in. When I needed to get something done but was worried I’d struggle to manage my time, I scoured an unusual source: Microsoft’s internal help documentation. And there I found the very simple yet very effective productivity equation that has changed my workflow for good. It’s tough to put a numerical value on productivity, but I can safely say I get more done than I did before.
Here’s Microsoft’s not-so-secret secret.
Find your “available to focus” time with this equation
Microsoft puts great stock in focus time as a way to boost productivity, which they define as “uninterrupted stretches of time in your day to get your most important work done.”
Focus time is important because it gives you the hours you need to actually develop ideas and put them into practice. Writers will find that short bursts of writing are often less productive than setting aside at least a few hours to get lost in the flow zone of creation. I’ve taken advantage of focus time in the past to put together complex spreadsheets or detailed client management plans in my job.
Sadly, many of us are interrupted by meetings, phone calls, and entertaining Slack messages from our colleagues. Even more sadly, I at least often welcome those interruptions. Focus is hard!
So the tricky part of focus time is finding it. The way Microsoft recommends doing it is by clocking all your “collaboration hours,” which it counts as “meetings, emails, chats, and calls,” and then subtracting that from your available hours.
“Available to focus is equal to your working hours minus your collaboration hours,” Microsoft writes in their help documentation.
That’s the whole equation. It’s stupid-simple, but just applying that to my time made me realize what time I have available, what time I can set aside for projects, and just how much time I’ve been spending or wasting on chats.
Here’s exactly how I applied this equation to my own productivity.
How to DIY Microsoft’s productivity equation
First, I started with what I wanted to get done. This week, I had a personal progress report I wanted to put together in time for my yearly appraisal.
Then I had to work out how much time I usually spend in “collaboration mode.” Microsoft pitches their MyAnalytics product, but you can do this yourself with any time-tracking tool. I was diligent for a whole week: I tracked meetings, time spent on impromptu calls, even time I spent chatting with coworkers on Slack.
I then determined how many hours I had available to me. In a normal workweek, I have 40, but I subtract an hour for lunch each day. Then I remove the inevitable daily hour spent on household tasks. This gave me my 30 working hours.
Next, I subtracted my estimated collaboration hours. In a typical week, I determined I spent about three hours a day on “collaboration.” Some of that was meetings and important emails, but a lot of it was messaging, to be honest.
I now knew that I had 15 working hours for focus time.
Finally, I looked at my project and estimated how many hours I thought it would take, which I guessed to be about eight. I blocked that time in my calendar and set up Slack to turn off notifications for those periods. With my remaining seven hours of focus time, I picked a different project to tackle (reviewing potential upsells for my existing client portfolio).
Overall, I was able to get my whole project done and accomplished a significant chunk of my second project. More importantly, the calculation allowed me to see how much potential time I actually had available to work on projects that mattered to me.
These concepts are useless until you put them into practice
I’d heard of focus time before. I’ve tried to have meeting-free days in the past. I’ve flirted with turning off phone notifications. And besides those, I’ve tried countless other productivity “hacks” that didn’t work out for me.
No productivity hack will work unless you put them into practice. For me, knowing the Microsoft equation to find available focus time was hugely helpful to actually use that focus time effectively and productively. Hopefully, you can too, now.
Full Article: Eliza Bachard @ Change Your Mind Change Your Life
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