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7 Steps to Productivity

In my last blog, I talked about how to increase everyone’s productivity by tweaking your meetings. What about making your personal time more productive? Technology helps you multitask and do more, right? Wrong. Mutitasking creates lower quality results making you less productive. Here are seven productivity tips that I have combined from inc.com, a list apart, fastcompany.com and NPR.

Set Concrete Targets with Realistic Deadlines

Work backwards from goals to milestones to tasks. This helps you to properly estimate the time needed. Be honest with your estimates. If you give yourself too little time, you create unnecessary stress that causes you to cut corners. Do not set deadlines too far away either as it makes procrastination too tempting.

Of course, you cannot control rush deadlines and emergencies. But when possible, stick to your timeline and protect the time you need to do a good job. How? Tell them, “Rework takes longer!” Setting reasonable timelines for each step improves chances for success.

Stop Multitasking

Multitasking doesn’t work. It makes us feel like we are accomplishing more, but studies have shown the opposite. Humans can only do one thing at a time, we just switch very quickly. Moreover, we frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks. This lowers the quality of our work for each task. Early humans didn’t multitask much. Multitasking could lead to becoming a leopard’s lunch. In the office, the consequences aren’t as high, but we lose the benefit of focused attention (see the”go for flow” section below).

Me Time

Schedule time for yourself. Determine how much quiet time you need, then put it on your calendar as a meeting. Suze Orman, expert financial adviser, has a daily television show, runs her business and still finds time to write best selling books. She does this by scheduling an hour a day dedicated to writing. Her staff knows not to disturb her or schedule meetings during this time. The more control you have over your day, the more productive you become.

Email Vs. Phone Calls

Try checking your inbox only two or three times a day. Checking it continually creates a ton of distractions. If you have replied more than twice to the same email string, try calling or chatting with the person(s) involved. It can be faster to discuss the issues in a two way conversation than just kicking emails back and forth.

You Set Your Own Agenda

Don’t let your email set your agenda. Only you can provide the perspective on what is most critical for you to achieve. Set your day’s priorities each morning. Treat email as “miscellaneous issues” and schedule set times to deal with them. However, set a finite amount of time for dealing with email issues. If the solution will surpass the day’s allotted time, then add it to tomorrow’s agenda and give it the appropriate amount of time. Don’t let the inability to triage issues sap your productivity.

Of course, true crises come up that require your immediate attention. Deal with them to completion, then return to your prioritized list.

Achieve Success in Intervals

Momentum is important. Stopping because you are bored or a little tired can become habit forming. Sometimes pushing yourself a little more helps you achieve better long term gains. However, mental effort and specifically the expectation of mental exertion, leaves you feeling drained regardless of the amount of actual energy used. That’s why you feel burned out after long meetings even though you are sitting. Take a break, but don’t veg out or sit idly. That relaxes you, but doesn’t recharge you.

You need to reset your feelings of mental exhaustion. How? By doing something that reinforces your sense of accomplishment. Completing something like preparing a meal, finishing a chore, running an errand, nailing an exercise routine or even conquering a video game (less than 20 minutes!) will recharge you. Avoid Internet surfing or watching TV. These don’t have “goals” (unless you’re determined to catch up on every episode) and will bleed off your momentum.

Go for Flow

Flow is being in the zone. It’s total concentration on the task at hand. Time slows down. Stress hormones flush out. Mental and physical abilities peak. Creativity crests. Flow is awesome. Think about how much you can get done if you can get into the flow on demand.

In fact, there are techniques to get into this zen like state when needed (without risking life and limb). Create risk and consequences. For example, before your scheduled writing hour, drain you laptop battery to 20% and put your cord out of reach. This will give you about an hour of time before it sleeps. The consequences aren’t dire, but this artificial deadline forces you to focus. (I inadvertently do this all the time and it does work!)

Experiment with these tips. Share the ones that work for you!

  • NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Alain Lemay

I agree with most of these, even when they are hard to do. I tried checking my email only once or twice a day and it did not go over well. People expect you to respond right away now and will get frustrated with you if you do not! I actually had someone complain to my boss that I was ignoring her (because I had not answered her late afternoon emails until the next morning)

Chaeny Emanavin

Alain. Yeah, I watered over that part to keep the word count low. That is a problem depending on your organization’s culture, but generally speaking people do expect instant replies.

This is a refinement of what I do:

I check it more often like once per hour. However, I only reply in bulk 3-4 times a day at set times. I usually do like 10, 12, 2 and 5. I can’t help but check again at 7, but I rarely find that those emails need replies.

I answer emergencies right away, but the rest I do at the set times. This gives me time to think about the answer and not just fire off half-baked answers.

Secondly, I have canned responses ready. Google lets you have canned responses which are essentially blocks of text that you can add to a message with a single click. I have one that says essentially, “I received your email and will get back to you as soon as I can.” I fire that off to certain emails during my hourly checks. Then, I answer it during one of my email blocks.

Hope this helps!

This helps you manage your email without being consumed by it every second.

Debbie Rosie

E-mails are better than constant interruptions that force one to lose focus and multi-task. Also, e-mails gives on the time to do research to be able to have a quality discussion. And, some of us have a hearing impairment, and prefer not to be interrupted verbally all day long. While some issues do lend themselves to discussion and personal contact, many do not. It is better to set up meetings than have constant verbal interruptions. And, I also find that management where I am prefers verbal, because anything in writing is evidentiary.