Swamped by work? This simple and brilliant tool will help

Anna Brech

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Forever working but never truly “done”? A simple time management hack can cut through the clutter, and bring fresh meaning to your work life

What’s the first thing you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Write a list of tasks and tick ’em off.

“I used to be really into to-do lists,” says former Silicon Valley tech designer John Zeratsky.  But then, he says, “I noticed a few problems with my approach”.

“The most important things never showed up on any to-do list,” Zeratsky writes in a post on Medium. “My best work happened when I spent hours in flow, intensely focused on a single task,” he says. “These projects […] didn’t need to be managed — I needed to clear my schedule and do them.”

Also “the list was never complete. At best, I felt like a super-productive machine”.

Organise your day around a highlight

A work diary on a table

In order to solve this dilemma, Zeratsky came up with an obvious yet radical approach: focus on one highlight per day.

As Zeratsky and co-author Jake Knapp explain in their book, Make Time, everyone should have a daily focus that answers the question, “what was the highlight of your day?”

This activity typically falls on a middle road between an incidental task (“answer emails”) and a grand ambition (“launch my own business”).

“A highlight is the one thing you want to prioritise and protect in your day,” Zeratsky tells The One You Feed podcast.

Read more: Dating trends anyone over 30 knows are BS

According to Zeratsky and Knapp, there are three types of highlights you can organise your day around.

The first is time-sensitive, meaning the urgent projects you just have to get done.

The second falls under “satisfaction” – meaning the things you don’t necessarily need to do, but you want to. And doing so will help you develop in some way, e.g. learning to use a new software tool.

This kind of venture is often pushed to the sidelines, so making it your highlight will give it the breathing room it deserves.

Carve out room for joy

A woman holding an umbrella in the jungle

The third kind of highlight is joy: something you really love to do.

Unsurprisingly, we give joy activities the least focus in our day-to-day lives.

“Even when we do get to them – we have something fun planned after work, for example – too often I feel like we’re skidding into that activity with no energy and no ability to focus,” says Zeratsky.

Making a joy activity your highlight means it becomes a priority: you plan the rest of your day around it. And therefore, you enjoy it a lot more than if you merely try and squeeze it in.

Read more: Tackling the mid-30s career blues

Imagine you’re having a long lunch with friends.

If you make this the highlight of your day, you will carve out room in your schedule before and after the event, to ensure you’re not rushed. And you can dedicate the afternoon to smaller, easy tasks, to take the pressure off.

Perhaps a long run in the evening is your particular slice of joy. In which case, you arrange to leave work bang on time, and do whatever you need to to fit other activities around it.

Less graft, greater meaning

Flashpacker Tony Stevens doing yoga in the Everest region of Nepal

The genius of this method is that it helps you to prioritise the things that really matter.

Highlights give focus to the sort of activities that would not make it onto your average to-do list. And yet, they bring far more satisfaction than the throwaway tasks we scrabble to tick off.

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With highlights, you still get the important things done. And you also create space for the goals that matter to you, in a more concrete way than big dreams can achieve.

So, when it comes to workplace happiness, it’s a win-win. You’re not frittering your hours away on endless to-dos. And by making your highlights happen, you stop time from blurring, and fill every day with meaning.

Make the job that you love

A happy woman looking at the sky

Research that shows that when people find meaning in their work, the risk of career burnout dramatically lowers. You’re less likely to feel drained and fed up when you’re really engaged with what you’re doing.

And just doing what you love isn’t enough: it’s the way that you do it that counts.

Read more: How being single can enrich your life

“When you look at people who are thriving in their jobs, you notice that they didn’t find them, they made them,” Ashley Goodall, author of Nine Lies About Work, tells The New York Times.

You don’t need to change everything about your job to find satisfaction. But if you focus on your daily highlights, you’ll move away from the things you loathe and towards the elements you love (in a process known as “job carving”).

Instead of getting lost in to-dos, you’ll bring energy and meaning to your daily life. And that’s something we can all get on-board with.

Escape the grind with a vibrant dash of adventure

Leave your work stress a distant memory with these game-changing escapes, all in the company of like-minded solo travellers

Get wild and free in Borneo

Primary Rainforest sunrise scenery in lowland Danum

Cut a dash to the steamy tropical interiors of Borneo, with a stay at a unique riverside jungle lodge, and the chance to see native orangutans in their natural habitat. This thrill-a-minute trip also features adventure caving, sunset cocktails and foraging in the forest. Plus, jaw-dropping river safaris in the land of crocodiles, proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants.

Borneo bound

Learn how to surf in Morocco

Morocco surfing

Morocco’s beach haven of Taghazout is your playground for three glorious days at the finale of this adventure, as we learn how to surf the waves and bust some ocean-facing yoga moves. It’s the reward you deserve after an immersive food safari through the souks of Marrakech, hiking in the high Atlas hills and glamping in the desert, with al fresco music and sunset camel rides.

Morocco, you beauty

Get down in the Deep South USA

Have your jazz hands at the ready for this riveting romp through the Deep South, USA. We’ll start in Nashville, the capital of country music, for some swingin’ beats and a chocolate-wine tasting masterclass. Then it’s over to Beale Street, Memphis, with some good ol’ fashioned blues bars and a sizzling sticky ribs BBQ. Next the jazz haunts of New Orleans beckon, along with scrumptious French-Creole cuisine. And of course, there’ll be time for a VIP trip around Elvis’ fabled mansion…

Dive on into the Deep South

Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack, Tony Stevens, Diego PH, Kinga Cichewicz and Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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