If you've taken all of the advice you already know on board and started putting some of these systems in place then you should start to notice life becoming a bit easier. You have more time, you have fewer decisions to make and you're less stressed thanks to a quieter social calendar.
But you're probably still over-worked and over-stressed and this comes down a lot of the time to your work. Work is what makes many of us so stressed and it's what leaves us with so little time to do anything else.
Time to put a stop to that.
Be More Productive at Work
The first thing you need to do is to start approaching your work in a more productive and efficient manner.
How do you make sure that you get through that to-do list and that you aren't constantly treading water?
The first thing you need to do is to remove multitasking from the equation. While multitasking maybe useful in some occasions, studies show that it simply doesn't work in a workplace environment.
The simple reason for this is that activities that require our mental faculties don't enable multitasking.
What you think is multitasking is actually sequential tasking - you're quickly switching from one task to another and back. This takes up more mental energy and less work gets done overall.
Instead then, you need to set out the tasks you need to do and then work through them in order until they're all complete.
This means that you should start your day with a to-do list. And there's a definite art to coming up with a to-do list. Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour Workweek, always talks about having one task that he absolutely must get completed that day and then completing that. Everything else, he considers to be 'extra'.
This is generally the best attitude to take to any list of objectives. Complete the biggest and most important task first and then move onto the smaller ones.
The reason this is so important is that the biggest task is going to take the most time, the most focus and the most energy. It's also going to give you the biggest sense of satisfaction once ticked off.
If you complete all the smaller tasks first, then you risk taking up a lot of time with switching between tasks, answering emails and setting things up.
This can end up taking longer than you think and then not leave enough time to complete that one 'big task' that you needed to finish. As a result, the day ends and you're left feeling stressed.
Instead, work on that one massive task that will make a real difference first. Then start on those smaller jobs and get as many as possible out the way. You can do this after 4pm, at the point in the day when you're starting to feel less productive.
Now you have just one big task to complete during your work day, you should stand a much better chance of getting into a 'flow state'. A flow state is an almost mythical state of mind that is described by many productivity gurus.
The idea is that by focusing on one job that you need to complete you can eventually get into a state of mind where you're able to shut out all outside distractions and work in a fast and focused manner. This results in the best work and also allows you to get through the task without procrastinating.
The most important key to being able to get into a state of flow, is to make sure you remove distractions and things that can break your concentration.
And the number one culprit? Email.
Email at work is one of the things that is most responsible for causing us to become distracted and stressed and as soon as we start responding to emails we can find ourselves getting into a 'reactive' mindset as opposed to a 'proactive' one. Now we're working to someone else's agenda instead of our own and that means we're less likely to complete the tasks we set for ourselves.
One important tip then is to make sure that you complete at least a certain amount of work before you even look at your emails.
In fact, you should aim to set yourself a certain amount of work before you complete any other task.
How you might have previously started your day is by going and making a cup of tea, having a chat and then answering your emails. A couple of those emails might take some time and thought and you can then end up quickly taking a look at Facebook for a break.
By the time you've started completing any actual work, it's already 11am!
So instead, start your day by sitting down and making a 'gentle start' on that one big project. Now set yourself a goal. If you have to write 6,000 words today for instance, then tell yourself you won't make that first cup of tea until you've completed 2,000 words. And you won't look at emails until you're on 5,000 words.
Suddenly, you've changed your regime in order to put the pressing work first. The psychological impact of having this much work 'under your belt' cannot be understated and because you have made such a start, you'll find it's much easier to just jump back into work.
By the time you've answered those emails, you'll now have completed a huge amount of work and be well on top of your daily tasks! Meanwhile, having a 'goal' to work to can act as great motivation.
The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is another tool you can use to formalize this process. Simply use a timer and set yourself a specific amount of time that you're going to focus on your work. This can be 10 minutes, 20 minutes or 60 minutes.
Work until that time is complete and the timer sounds and once that's happened, set the timer for 5 minutes to rest and relax.
Then, set the timer for another block of work.
Dividing your day into periods of work and rest like this helps you to maintain separation between your productivity and recovery and this can prevent burnout while also helping you to finish more work.
The only downside to this plan is that a lot of people will feel very unsure about ignoring their emails in case they are missing something very important. A way to avoid this nagging concern is to consider investing in a smartwatch.
While you might think that having yet another device with notifications is only going to make matters worse, in fact this gives you a handy (no pun intended) way to check what the email is about without having to actually load up Gmail and potentially get sucked in.
Another option is to set-up an autoresponder on your email that tells your audience you will only answer emails at certain times of day but that they can contact you by phone only if it's an emergency.
When you do this, you ensure that there's always a way you can be reached in a serious emergency but at the same time you also avoid getting inundated with unnecessary calls.
Reducing Communication Overhead
Communication overhead is a term used to describe the negative impact that lots of meetings, emails and phone calls can have on your productivity. When you're in a meeting you aren't working and when you're on the phone, you're not working!
To get around this, try to keep unnecessary communication to an absolute minimum. You can reduce this in a number of different ways.
For instance, if you find yourself in lots of long phone calls, consider asking people to email instead of calling. Alternatively, preface your phone calls by telling the person you're speaking to that you only have five minutes so you'll need to get straight to business. They may offer to call back, but simply say 'no it's okay, but we'll just have to make it quick'.
As for meetings, consider discussing with your manager whether you really need to be present for meetings. Try skipping one to begin with and explain that you have lots of work to finish and that you feel your time could be put to better use in other ways.
If you can arrange flexi-time with your work - or even arrange working from home - then this can help you to save a huge amount of time on commuting and getting started with work.
Again, try to discuss with your boss how you could be put to better use by doing other things with your time and you can provide the same service from home. The only real legitimate reason a company might need you to stay at the office is if you're needed to answer the switchboard.
Otherwise, it will just be a matter of convincing them to let you give it a try - and then you prove yourself by completing even more work than you would do in the office.
Flexi-time meanwhile could just mean asking if you can come into work an hour earlier and leave an hour later. This can make a huge difference if it helps you to avoid the rush hour and mean you actually save at least half an hour of your day...
The point is that you don't have to work in the exact same manner as everyone else and it may be that there are other more effective work styles that are better suited to your lifestyle. It just takes the confidence to push for the changes that suit you and to help your employer modernize a little!