When you work in an office, it’s very easy to get stuck in what we call the ‘busy-ness trap’. You’re flat out all day doing little things like emailing, answering your phone, chatting to people who’ve swung by your desk, but at the end of the day… despite being so busy, you find you’ve accomplished very little.

The busy-ness trap has sucked you into its vortex. I know this place well because I used to get pulled into it all the time, with predictable results. I’d wind up finishing the day with an overwhelming sense of ALL THE THINGS piling up on me, and yet again feeling like I was dropping the ball. I’d go home feeling defeated, and then I’d lie awake at night stressing out over my workload.

This is a horrible, unhealthy place to be in day after day, night after night, so let’s plan your escape! This 3-step technique is brilliant in its simplicity. And it works long-term.

So how do you work more productively? Follow these simple steps:

1. Use the 4 ‘D’s – the ultimate planning process that will make you more focused, productive and satisfied

The 4Ds is a planning process that Priority Management teaches as part of our Working Smarter courses to help you make decisions quickly and to reduce your mind traffic.

The first D stands for Do It Now.

The second, for Decide When (or Date Activate).

The third, for Delegate It.

And the fourth for Delete It. (Love these ones!)

The thinking goes like this: Tasks that you would classify as both urgent and important would be ‘Do It Now’ tasks.

‘Decide When’ tasks would be for activities that are important, but not urgent – writing a report, doing some research, or continuing work on a project for example. These kinds of things MUST get a slot in your diary, otherwise when will they get done? Right before the deadline?

Tasks that you might be able to pass onto others – either up or down – of course are the ‘Delegate It’ tasks. These are often urgent in the mind of others, but they might not necessarily be important for you. If you are unable to delegate to anyone, you may consider negotiating the expected timeframe.

Finally, ‘Delete It’ activities are things you can dump – either into a file or trash. Low importance, zero urgency emails you’ve been copied into are good ones to either file for later or to delete if they’re irrelevant to your work.

2. Classify the urgency and importance of your tasks

This is a time-honoured time management technique that goes back decades, but we think it’s gold.

Essentially all you need to do is sort your tasks into one of four quadrants:

  • Quadrant 1 is Urgent and Important
  • Quadrant 2 is Important but not Urgent
  • Quadrant 3 is Urgent but Not Important To You
  • Quadrant 4 is Not Urgent and Not Important.

Quick Tip: More time spent in the Quadrant 2 equals less stress.

Not only will you be ticking off tasks like a ninja, you’ll also be focusing your time and energy on activities that add the most value – the ones you know are important.

Another nifty thing about splitting up your to-dos by importance and urgency is that you can then really easily apply the 4Ds.

For example, the activities in Quadrant 1 would be Do It Now tasks. The ones in Quadrant 2 would be Decide When – they go straight in your diary. Quadrant 3 items would be Delegated, and Quadrant 4 would be your last priority – probably best dealt with towards the end of the day when your energy levels might be low.

If you want to be really efficient, you’ll minimise Quadrants 3 and 4 as much as possible.

3. Plan for distractions before they come at you

For any of the above to work, you’re going to have to resist the temptation to let your emails, phone and colleagues throw you off course.

Now, unless you work in a bubble, disruptions are going to come at you all day, but you can head most of these off.

Turn off your email notifications, put your phone on silent for a set time period, and fend off the chatty colleague with a quick ‘Hey, really sorry, I’ve got a heap of stuff to get through. I’ll catch up with you later though? K-bye!

That last one might be hard but remember you’re in a workplace and we’re all adults. You can do it! And your mates will understand.

With the 4Ds, combined with the 4 Quadrants in full swing, you’ll be focused, working strategically, and working on stuff that’s actually adding value. The best part though? You’ll leave work when you should. And you’ll step out with that awesome feeling of accomplishment, rather than that horrible feeling of ‘ugh, I did it again’.

What are your workday planning habits like? Are you trying to be more productive?

P.S. If you feel like you’re just getting by at work rather than getting better, we can help you escape the busy-ness trap. Our Working Smart courses are tailor-made for turning frustrated, chaotic and overwhelmed into calm, organised and efficient.