Productivity is all about efficiency — doing more, faster and with less. And with increasing demands from today’s anytime, anywhere workplace, it is has never been more important. To get the most out of your day, you need to focus on these three segments of your life:
Humans are notoriously poor multitaskers, so managing your time is critical to improving productivity. The biggest time suck is unexpected (and usually unimportant) tasks. We all know that urge to read the email that just came in or to peek at the latest notification to pop up — an inclination psychologist Daniel Levitan, author of The Organized Mind, calls the novelty bias. This unintentional task-switching eats up more time than you might think. University of California information scientist Gloria Mark found that it takes an average of 26 minutes to recover from trivial interruptions. To avoid this, plan out your day and compartmentalize unexpected interruptions:
1. Start the day with structured ‘me time’: Go through email and social media updates that have piled up overnight and triage the backlog. Knock out quick responses and referrals, so other people can start working on tasks. Schedule the bigger tasks. And delete the stuff that is informational or not important.
2. Use commute time to complete coordination tasks: It’s crazy not to use commute time to winnow out time-intensive tasks. During my morning commute, I do a roundup of my external consultants — getting an update on open projects and finding out if they need assistance. By the time I arrive at the office, I have an accurate picture of my projects’ status.
3. Reduce all meeting times by 25 percent: You will get the same amount of work done, because so much time is wasted dealing with conference call setup and useless banter. (See this humorous video for a demonstration.) If you cut one five-person meeting per day from one hour down to 45 minutes, you will gain back 25 hours a month of work time. That’s roughly 300 hours a year — almost two months of work!
4. Schedule regular breaks during the day: Running from back-to-back meetings is not productive, because you get tired and lose focus. Block off time in your calendar and take breaks. Making these breaks a routine increases predictability, creating a regular schedule to keep your mind organized. If you can afford it, take a 10- to 20-minute power nap after lunch, too.
“Space” refers to your environment — your office locale as well as to your virtual space. Workspace may not be the final frontier, but it is an important element for increasing work productivity. Here are a few space-related tips:
5. Work ‘offsite’ when it makes sense: When you need to write a document or research a topic, the absence of office interruptions will improve concentration. Some companies are finding that letting employees work from home has other advantages including reduced commute time, shorter lunch times and fewer sick days. See how you can apply documented strategies from Chinese travel site Ctrip, the AIIM and WordPress to your own work environment.
6. Consolidate the number of places you need to go for information: There are too many apps to navigate — email, microblogging tools like Yammer, chat tools like Lync, social media utilities like Twitter and LinkedIn and operational systems like SAP, Oracle and Salesforce. Make notifications from each application appear in one place.
7. Switch off popup notifications on mobile devices and on desktop: Don’t let applications interrupt your concentration with annoying popup messages. Shut them off. Now. And limit checking your email to set times during the day. You won’t regret it.
Put yourself in a position where you can focus on doing the right task for the moment:
8. Converse, don’t email: Pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk directly to colleagues. For geographically remote folks, use chat. You can give precise direction and clear up misunderstandings quickly. The amount of time wasted perpetuating endless email threads is mindboggling — and the pointless mistakes generated.
9. Chop up big problems into smaller chunks: This will reduce the feeling of overload and the procrastination associated with taking on big jobs. One practical way to do this is to adopt Agile techniques for managing your work tasks. Born in the software development world, Agile’s big contribution to task management is breaking big jobs down into short sprints. Having a solution in hand throughout the process reduces the anxiety of tackling big jobs.
10. Use checklists for repetitive tasks to reduce errors: Particularly when you are overworked or are operating under time constraints, checklists keep you on track. For an excellent guide for using checklists, take a look at Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.