When I first made contact with Chris Bailey, his reply to my email was immediate – and automated. Bailey would be checking email just once a day, it said, at 3pm EST. Ah ha! I thought. That must save a bit of time.
This is just one of the techniques he's implemented since completing a year-long experiment in productivity. His goal was to find the most effective ways to be more productive, and put some myths to the test at the same time.
Bailey looked at the effects that sleep, exercise, meditation, and food and drink had on how much he achieved each day, as well as monitoring his Internet use and how he communicated. Hence the new habit of checking email once a day, which, he concedes, is "tough to do" but worth the effort.
"Certain elements of our work are 'springy,' in that they expand to fit how much time we have available for them," he tells me, in our Expert Interview podcast.
"So, if you have a 20-minute gap in your day, chances are that email might seep into that gap and begin to expand to fill it. And this is true with all these 'low-return' elements of our work. Any digital distraction is the same way."
"I wrote most of my book disconnected from the Internet, and nothing gave me more clarity in the writing process than doing that," Bailey reflects, admitting that this was a surprise.
"I didn't really expect it to work because, I thought, I've got so much research to do in this book. I've so many people to contact. I've so many emails to keep on top of, and the people that I'm chatting with about quotes for the book, and all those sorts of things. But it allowed me to meet the deadline and beat it. I think I shipped it six weeks ahead of schedule, which is rare for a book. But I would hope, for a book about productivity, that something like that would happen, and I credit that to the idea of disconnecting."
Bailey acknowledges that the techniques he tried work for some people and not others. But for him, there were some clear winners. First of these is writing down everything you do in your work and identifying the tasks that will deliver the most value. Then make sure you spend most of your time on these.
Closely related to this is the "rule of three," another of Bailey’s favorites.
"At the start of each day, you fast forward to the end of the day and you think, 'By the time the day is done, what three main things will I want to have accomplished?' Those become the primary focus that you have throughout the day," he explains, adding that he does this on a weekly, as well as a daily, basis.
His third top tip is to learn to "single task" – the opposite of multitasking.
"The studies around multitasking are conclusive, and they show that the practice doesn't work. It leads you to waste more time. It prevents you from becoming immersed in your work. You basically do a mediocre job of everything," he says. "Single tasking, working on one thing at one time, allows you to channel, like a laser, all of your attention and all of your energy and time into one thing at a time, so you can do a hell of a job of it."
It’s always useful to be reminded of such tried and tested tips. Bailey's book is full of them, but it also shares some less common advice. For example, we can use our future selves to motivate our current selves and beat procrastination, as he explains in this clip from our Expert Interview podcast.
"It leads to what the author calls “assertive play” – not brick-on-skull assertive, but self-confident engagement, where people know they have things to contribute, and stake their claim."- Jonathan Hancock