You start the day with an idea of what you want to work on and accomplish by noon. But when you check your email in the morning, a number of other demands crowd in, instant messages begin popping up, and people start dropping by with “a quick question.”

Soon, you realise an hour has vanished into meeting other people’s needs while your project has gone untouched. How do people ever get anything done nowadays?

Drop the idea of doing more… instead focus on these 5 Tips for working smarter:

1. Don’t check your email first  

It’s been said before but so few people follow this rule… Decision-making is an energy-hungry task, and our tanks are full in the morning.

For that reason, the way you start your day is crucial. Unless you’re in the emergency services field, or the matter of an hour is really critical, the best rule for email is don’t check it first thing.

As soon as you download your emails, your brain gets overwhelmed with information and ideas, and your personal objectives and goals start to slip out the window. Leave it as late as possible in the day, so you can get your own work done. Leave your emails to early afternoon, if you can.

And when you do tackle email, write your own sparingly. Use emails to share information, to schedule, but never use emails to discuss complex issues or give any kind of feedback, particularly negative feedback.

When you notice yourself writing an email longer than one screen, it’s time to pick up the phone – you can save countless hours with this one rule!

2. Prioritise your top 3 goals

Make your first task of the day prioritising your top three goals. Because of the number of outside demands in our lives can be so overwhelming, it’s important to know how to prioritise them.

There are so many potential distractions that can take our attention, we need to be really clear about the most important things. As a rule of thumb, you can remember three ideas relatively well. For that reason, you should limit yourself to three goals for the year, for the quarter.

With four, five or six goals, you’re less likely to be able to unconsciously scan the environment for opportunities and threats relevant to those goals. When you do finally check your email, remind yourself of those goals beforehand.

3. Protect your decision-making energy

Conserve your decision-making energy at every opportunity. Your ability to make great decisions is a limited resource. For that reason, it is essential to learn to say ‘NO’ to tasks not among your priorities.

This means not thinking when you don’t have to, becoming disciplined about not paying attention to non-urgent tasks unless, or until, it’s truly essential that you do.

For example, turn off your smartphone during a meeting instead of idly checking it to see what emails have come in – save it for later, when you know you’ll be able to respond. Additionally, don’t expend energy thinking about a project until you have all the information you need. And delegate.

4. Defend your quality thinking time

Find and protect your ‘quality thinking time’ – the time when you’re able to focus deeply and achieve what you set out to achieve, in the time you expect.

If you ask most people how much quality thinking time they get in a week, it’s generally only a couple of hours a week, if that.

The culprit is our connected world. The solution: Find the ideal window in your week when you can carve out focus time – to do what is sometimes known as level three thinking – deeper problem solving and writing and creative work.

For everyone, this will be individual, but generally the best time, is early in the day and early in the week – Monday, Tuesday, maybe Wednesday morning. During this time, turn off all distractions – email alerts, your phone ringer, etc.

5. Manage your low-focus time

Reserve meetings for your low-focus time. Just as you can find the time when your brain is most able to do level three thinking, you may also identify times when your energy falls away.

That could be the best time for you to have meetings – when you don’t necessarily have to be at your peak. Positive psychology research also shows that our energy wanes as our sugar levels drop, so, for some people, the period after meals could also be a good time to reserve for more complex thinking.

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