The little things that keep you from being productive can add up to be a major time suck. But they don't have to be.
Whether it’s a workday, a school day or even a vacation day, we all “waste” time—it is in our nature.
Time management sounds like a great concept, but defining it, implementing it and attaining it is not the easiest. The little things that keep you from being productive—a Facebook notification, an email that catches your eye, or a chatty coworker—can add up to be a major time suck. But they don't have to be.
Here are some tips to a more productive lifestyle:
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1. Define “Time”
There is the time on the clock and then there is real time, the pace at which things really happen. In a world of billable hours and sales numbers, time spent on work and goal achievement varies greatly. There are three ways of spending work time: thoughts, conversations and actions. Being aware of the time spent on each type of action indicates where, when and how any time is “wasted.”
Optimizing work time means additional available playtime.
2. Know Yourself
Try creating a workday that mirrors your natural rhythms. Management consultant Carson Tate recommends taking on complex projects when you are at your most alert, and leaving routine items for periods when your energy levels wane.
Understand what boosts your energy levels when they lag during the day. Take breaks after demanding tasks.
Consider the following next time you need to re-energize:
- Take a 15-minute walk outdoors
- Do a few minutes of office socializing
- Do some simple yoga stretches
- Eat some food, perhaps fruit and a bit of cheese
Use the time to regroup and refresh your thoughts; resuming tasks seems easier afterwards. A break provides the freshening needed to take on a complicated report or important meeting.
3. DIY When Possible
The very nature of the business world requires a lot of personal interaction. However, that does not necessitate a meeting on every facet of a project. Meetings take up a lot of time in the workday (and everyone knows someone who cannot keep their mouths shut during them). Be picky about scheduling and attending meetings.
4. Take 5 (or 30)
At the start of each workday, take the time to lay out the day ahead, keeping in mind all the different types of tasks involved. Consider:
- Reviewing tasks and ranking each in terms of importance and due date
- Estimating the time needed to complete a task (including glitches)
- Grouping similar tasks together, when your brain is in the same thinking mode (e.g. phone calls, responding to emails, reading and signing correspondence)
Prior to an important meeting or telephone call, take five minutes to plan and prepare what requires attention along with the optimal outcome of the call. Doing so achieves several things:
- You go into the call or meeting with clear goals
- You directly address only necessary topics
- You know what was missed after the meeting or call concludes
Keep in mind that a shorter meeting means a longer lunch or earlier end of the workday.
5. “Touch any piece of paper once. Act on it, and move on.”
Avoid a desk cluttered with papers requiring action or disposal. Make a habit of dealing with each item as it hits your desk by delegating it, forwarding it to the right individual, adding it to the project file or disposing of it in the recycling bin.
At the end of the day, clean up your desk, throwing out or filing anything left from the workday. You will appreciate how nice your desk looks the next morning.
6. Embrace Small Victories
Breaking large projects down into smaller pieces makes them more manageable. Setting manageable intermittent goals keeps you sane and more productive. Small goals also leave you perpetually prepared to provide status updates to clients or supervisors, making everyone happy, and making you look good.
However, small jobs are sometimes just the daily tasks demanded by the business world. Allow small tasks to bolster your own feelings of productivity. This is not just busywork striving for kudos about long hours put in. It involves being productive while taking a break from more complex assignments. Create a to-do list with easy to accomplish tasks. Then, execute on the tasks.
The result? Several completed (albeit minor) tasks, done during “down time,” that provide a sense of accomplishment and a refreshed brain. An added incentive is that writing down all the distracting LSJs floating around in your head helps you concentrate on more important tasks, knowing that those other things have a designated place in your schedule.
7. Carefully Consider Multitasking
The realities of the workplace sometimes make multitasking unavoidable. It diminishes the quality of the time spent with clients or co-workers, and most people can tell when you are giving them only part of your attention. Dr. Isaiah Hankel (former sheep farmer/ADD sufferer/Anatomy and Cell Biology Ph.D./Consultant and motivational writer) states: “Dividing your attention between numerous tasks causes you to work extremely hard, and have little to show for it. You're better off selectively focusing on the top priorities and excelling at them.”
Eliminate unnecessary multitasking such as checking text messages every two minutes. Accept that our culture is highly distracting. Henkel recommends people avoid multitasking by defining “…your own priorities before you open your email, before you have a meeting with someone and before you embark on any time (and attention)-consuming project.” Consider turning off phones, logging out of email and putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
The Productivity Pay-Off
Controlling your time is worth the effort. When you finish a planned-out task, your product is of higher quality, and you likely completed it in a shorter period. You are in better condition to deal with clients, or you may find your work completed and you can go home. Just remember to make good use of the time gained. Your workdays may shorten, or you may find you have time to exercise and eat at lunchtime.