So you think you are really efficient and effective at work? Put that to a test and give yourself proof to that. At the end of every work day, for a month, list your achievements.
Finding it hard? Feeling disappointed by your achievements?
You are not alone. The problem with our generation of instant messaging and instant email is that we are usually so distracted at work, we are always handing things that are thrown onto our plate at that point of time that we fail to focus on our longer term projects.
Here are some ways to help you focus at work and make your work hours count.
1. Schedule reading of emails. Think of emails like how you would with conventional snail mail. Do you handle each and every letter that comes in as and when they do? My guess is not. In the good old days, we used to receive letters from the mailbox every morning and we’ll respond to them and have them sent out by the end of the day (or even the next day). Email should be no different. How many times do you get distracted by your email inbox while you are working on that major project? How much time does it take for you to get into momentum again after that distraction?
As you are receiving queries on your email inbox, list down on a todo list what you need to find out to respond to those emails. Place a label on those emails that you will respond later so you can retrieve them easily later. Do not attempt to respond to each and every mail as you read them, unless the response requires only a few seconds of thought for you to type them out. For information that you’ll need some time to find out, make a list and work on them later.
2. Schedule sending of emails. Once you have consolidated the response for those emails that require them, reply to them with the required response at this fixed times. Trust me, those email senders don’t expect and instant reply. Use that to your advantage. Do not let emails control your daily work schedule.
3. Use email filters. How many hours a week do you spend looking thru offers from daily deal sites, an yet not spend a single cent with them for the last six months. Filter out useless email. Have them marked as read, bypass your inbox and straight into a folder called Daily Deals. This way you will be able to retrieve the deals when you want, and not getting distracted by them during your efficient hours. Do the same for Newsletter, Offers, Investments etc. Not all email is Spam. Likewise, not all emails need to be read.
4. Don’t read the news. Reading the newspaper is a time waster. You get a whole load of generalized news that you don’t need for your professional work. Instead use RSS feeds from specific interest news site and read only news that apply to you. You can also follow relevant Twitter accounts so you can get bite sized updates from those accounts. Doing this will free up to thirty minutes a day for more productive work. Trust me, you will hear about that terrorist attack even if you don’t read the newspaper.
5. Plan your day. Take fifteen minutes a day to plan out, step by step what you plan to achieve in the day. I like to plan these milestones in my todo list and I usually do this planning while I’m having breakfast. I find satisfaction by ticking off items on the todo list as i go thru the day. While you are planning, keep in mind project milestones and timelines so you can complete your projects on time.
6. Schedule complex work in the morning. Research has shown that willpower can be fatigued, much like your muscles. You start off with a full load of willpower in the morning and throughout the day, you consume that willpower depending on what kind of activities you do. You will find it harder to pull yourself together to complete a complex task in the afternoon. Its also why it is easier to force yourself to go to the gym in the morning compared to going to the gym after a whole day at work. Schedule your complex project management to the morning if it is your desire to complete the project. Schedule your workouts to the mornings if fitness is what you want to achieve.
7. Schedule silent hours. Do not respond to phone calls or entertain colleagues during this period. The usual practice is for us to take this time after work when the office is empty. But if you bare looking for a better work-life balance, you should identify this time at work to work on your projects. An uninterrupted span of one hour working on a task will produce a much better outcome compared to an interrupted, accumulation of one hour working on the same task.
8. Don’t do favors. What’s a five minute favor for that colleague going to do. Nothing much for that colleague but really damaging for your working momentum. You might lose some friends but you will make it up in productivity. You have your time for projects planned out so well such that you can complete them all without any help from your coworkers. Why should you reward that inefficient colleague with a favor.
9. Nothing is urgent. A coworker comes in and say “this must be done now”. Tell him you will handle it at your own time, and it will not be now, maybe later or even tomorrow. Put that at the bottom of your todo list and handle it once your day plan has been completed. If you do not respect your own schedule and plan, no one is going to.
10. Eliminate meetings. Meetings are useless in the sense of time wasting. Getting a dozen people together for a discussion that can be achieved through email. This wastage of time is made worst if a commute through rush hour traffic is required. Unless you are paid to run that meeting (over and above your regular paycheck), resolve issues thru email. If the meetings can’t be eliminated, ask to have the meetings thru video conferencing. Make sure you send out the agenda well ahead of time and ensure everyone attending the meeting understands what is required of them. What’s worst than a meeting? A meeting where everyone doesn’t know the agenda and a meeting that doesn’t resolve anything.
11. Outsource meaningless work. How many hours a day do you spend trying to format that presentation after the entire “meat” of the document is ready? Outsource that to an intern in your company. You are that intern? Hire your own virtual assistant! Paying $5 to the virtual assistant for one hour of his time is an extra hour for you to work on your projects, or extra leisure time.
If you just think about it, those steps that I have listed above are usually steps that your boss is already takings. Is your boss efficient? Usually it seems that way. Start acting like the boss and you eventually will become one.