Last week, our CEO and founder Steve Ressler started a simple discussion: How do you get ever actually get stuff done at work? It seems harder and harder to file through the endless emails, phone calls, and other distractions and get the bigger tasks out of the way.
Turns out, the GovLoop community had a lot of great ideas about how to be productive at work — and still have a life. Below, we rounded up 11 of the community’s best methods of being productive. Chime in in the comments with yours!
#1: Change Your Status (from Lisa Ventura Garcia)
In our organization (Government of the Azores) we are all connected via presence awareness (Microsoft’s Lync) and whenever I need a break from colleague requests to stay focused on as task at hand, I will change my status to “Occupied” or “Do not disturb”. It helps that Lync works in sync with Outlook, so whenever I’m on a meeting that’s been scheduled in Outlook, it automatically changes my status to “Occupied”.
Other than that, I find that a simple and polite “Hi there, I can’t take your request right now, but I’ll get back to that as soon as possible” works like a charm. Setting priorities straight and being constant at doing that is a good way to keep productivity on track.
#2: Use Outlook Filters (from Joy Hall Bryant)
Anything that helps me reduce time spent on email enhances my productivity. Much of my email must be filed by project and retained for record-keeping, so maintenance can be time-consuming.
A key time-saver for me is moving all email from my IN box and SENT box to one folder (which I call “To Be Filed”). First I run CLEAN UP in Outlook to delete redundancies. Then I file according to projects. Previously I’d file from the Inbox, get it cleared out, then do Sent, only to find I was spending unnecessary time on redundant messages by handling the two sides of the conversation separately. By consolidating all the emails first, I can use category markers, conversation threads, key words to more quickly group the emails and file.
#3: Use the Pomodoro Technique (from Tim Howell)
I use the Pomodoro Technique as much as I can. Basically it is 30 minutes of uninterrupted work on a single task then a short break, then repeat. When I am in a Pomodori (one pomodoro), I only focus on that one task that I have agreed to unless there is an emergency or something. I also schedule my work items based on the number of Pomodori that it will take so that I can look at my list and easily see what I have time to accomplish.
As far as distractions, I turn off the email notifications and make sure I only attend meetings that I absolutely have to. It is easy to get caught in the email trap where productivity is based on the number of email you review, reply and send. I clean out my inbox at the end of the day and transfer anything I need to a task list. I use KanBanFlow.com for my task list which has a built in Pomodor timer. I find that if I leave emails in my Inbox I end up ignoring them or rereading them numerous times before I take action. Plus they always sit in the back of your head when you are looking at email.
#4: One Thing at a Time (from Laura Free)
It may sound simple, but I’ve focused on responding to one thing at a time. I’m always tempted to check out the email that just came in while I’m looking into something or answering another email, and telling myself to just finish one task at a time has really helped.
#5: Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize (from Sam Ashe-Edmunds)
To-do lists are simple, but can be less effective the longer they get. Add an “A” “B” or “C” designation to tasks to rank items so the important ones will stand out. Instead of simply adding due dates next to items, put “pre-due” dates next to important items so you make sure you take a look at tasks and start working on them before they become due, rather than get reminded of something the day it’s due.
#6: Strategize Using Your Calendar (from Christopher Page)
Two email-related tips: (1) use mailbox rules to redirect low importance messages – if you get weekly newsletters or subscription lists or anything like that, create a rule to skip the inbox and put those messages in a separate folder. (2) Use the calendar function to your advantage. Every day, before I sign off, I schedule a 10-minute “appointment” in my calendar for first thing the next morning with notes to myself about where I left things, what the priorities are for the next day, and so on. Doing this lets me pick up right where I left off the night before. I also look at the daily calendar for meeting “gaps” – times where I might only have 15 to 30 minutes in between two meetings – as opportunities to knock out minor tasks (e.g., filling out forms, replying to low-priority emails, etc.), as it’s hard to accomplish anything substantive in that gap (with the caveat, of course, that depending on the meeting I might use the time to prepare for that meeting).
#7: GTD (Get Things Done) (from Jill Nissan)
My productivity trick is more a concept than a tactic. I was influenced by a concept David Allen introduced in Getting Things Done regarding open loops and closed loops (of course this concept is relevant in other contexts too.) Open loops are those things that you haven’t found a place for so they are occupying space in your brain and keep returning as “oh, yeah, I need to do x” or “I forgot to do y.” Closed loops are the things that cross your plate and you have a designated space for them…whether by adding them to your calendar, task list, or some other filing system to keep all the “to dos” in life somewhat organized.
#8: Friday Phone Day (from Steve Ressler)
My current favorite – try to postpone all non-urgent phone calls to Friday. It’s Friday phone day!
#9: Stay Away from the Email (from Catherine Andrews)
I’ll turn off my email for 30-60 minutes at a time and focus on a task at hand. Otherwise, I find it hard not to get drawn into other requests or asks via email, and by the time I’ve handled all of those, I’ve completely forgotten what I was originally trying to do.