The first step to getting work done is evaluating your current productivity. Track your activities, prioritize, and log your work so you can see where inefficiencies lie and where your goals aren’t being met.
Schedule tasks, helpful to-do lists, organize virtual and physical space in order to achieve better focus, train yourself in better habits, routines and work more effectively with others.
Although improving your productivity requires time and effort up front, you’ll accomplish more longterm, more deliberately and calmly. You’ll handle distractions and improve focus. With the following steps, you can improve your productivity:
Commit to Change
Resist the urge to be drawn to urgency over priority. Take a stock of your work. Busyness can be a dangerous way to make up for lack of purpose or a feeling that you aren’t a good fit within a particular role or organization. Schedule your day and focus on productivity, not busyness. Admit to yourself that it might be time to improve the way you work. Put a system in place to organize your work, aid focus and give you time and attention for the work that contributes to your personal goals and KPIs
- Identify what needs to get done: What goals are you aiming for in your work? After you answer this, prioritize, organize and accomplish.
- List your goals: Meet each year to formulate your KPIs with your manager. Understand how the goals tie to the company’s mission and vision and your personal goals. Write the goals down. Prioritize your daily work and gauge your progress.
- Track your time: Are you currently doing what you should be doing? To truly answer this, understand where you are spending time and identify whether you should adjust your workload, track your work for 2 weeks. List all the tasks you perform, meetings you attend, socializing & procrastinating time.
Break it into:
– Core responsibility: day-to-day tasks that make the crux of your job.
– Personal Growth: activities and projects you find meaningful and valuable to you.
– Managing People: work that involves others – Superior, direct reports and colleagues.
– Crisis & Fires: interruptions and urgent matters that arise occasionally and unexpectedly.
– Free time: breaks, gist, emails, social, web surfing and other things you do during free time.
– Administrative Tasks: necessary tasks that you perform each day, approving timesheets/invoices, expense reports and more.
Track your time. You can be more granular. In the end, evaluate percentage (%) of time spent.
Schedule Your Work:
Identify the most important work you need to do then figure out when to do it.
- Set Priorities: Sift through your task list and arrange them in order of importance and urgency. Urgent & Important, Not Urgent & Important, Urgent & Less Important, Not Urgent & Less Important (Say no to these). Consider the potential impact on you and the group to measure the importance and put deadlines. This will also help with delegating.
- Use Deadlines to your Advantage: Set realistic, meaningful end dates and commit to them. Break the project into manageable tasks and duration of each step. Consider past trends. Allot time to change course if needed, make inquiries in advance and involve the team in this process. Don’t artificially extend deadlines
- Schedule your Tasks: Plot out what work you’re going to do, when. Put it in your calendar and set a time frame. Put U&I at the beginning of the day. Tackle tough tasks. Schedule easy tasks between harder tasks for a mental break. Group similar tasks together. It improves efficiency. Segment administrative tasks into – Just Do it Now (Bubble Top Priority), Tasks for Later & Remove the task.
- Create your To-Do-List: A To-do is a single task that will move a project or goal forward. Distill your calendar or break down the asks. Be specific. List your to-dos in a notepad, card or something mobile. Note the due date and time next to the tasks. Highlight your top priorities (color coding helps). Pay attention to the list and reprioritize or reschedule. Reward yourself for efforts eg when you cross 3 tasks, do something.
Find your Focus:
Organize your goals, priorities, and space. Find routines that work.
- Organize your Space: Keep your to-do list in sight. Eliminate the clutter. File or throw away. Keep what you need within reach. What you use daily should be on the desk and weekly, monthly etc can go in the drawer. Put complementary supplies together eg staples should be next to the stapler. Keep a physical inbox for people to leave notes for you. Segment into keeps and discard. Be comfortable. Have an aesthetically pleasing space with comfortable chairs, tables, and work tools. Reassess your space frequently to see if it is working for you.
- Organize your Email: Clean up your inbox. Create 3 folders (follow-up, hold, and archive). Archive Old messages – Start over.
- Develop Smart Routine: Think about how you’re going through your day. Routine helps limit the number of choices you have to make, preserving your energy for actual work. Put your decisions on auto-pilot and you’ll be better equipped for more challenging choices. Identify existing patterns and figure out what’s working and what’s not. Begin your day early -5 am. Start with yourself (to-do-list). Concentrate on tasks for 90 minutes uninterrupted. Review your day – Did you accomplish anything? were your expectations realistic? etc. Get a good night’s sleep. Plan your meals and wardrobe.
Keep up the Good Habits:
Identify what’s leading you astray and maintain better control of your attention.
- Stop Procrastinating: Identify the root cause, do you dislike the task or is too much or too little on your plate? To do this, set deadlines for yourself, reward yourself, get help. Don’t label yourself a procrastinator or tackle hard stuff alone.
- Avoid Interruptions: Check outside influences. It hinders creativity. Be careful to not put mundane work over crucial work in the name of urgency. Distractions can be visits, emails, social. Media etc. DOn’t shift gears too fast. Take a brief break, or a walk and get back to the old task after conquering a new one.
- Don’t Let email Take Over: Turn it off. If you can answer an email in two minutes do it now. Have an email schedule – 9 am, 3 pm, 9 pm… Rethink reply all, if it is the most effective use of everyone’s Time or if a meeting will suffice. Stop Unnecessary Responses – will do, noted etc. If it is not helpful, move on. Auto-Organise – filter the emails that you mind need later in archives or automatically file emails regarding a certain project.
- Stop Multitasking: It’s like continuously interrupting yourself. Give your tasks full attention. Humans are not capable of doing two things at once (except ambidextrous Einstein). Multitasking makes you less efficient. The stress of multitasking (anxiety) reduces your ability to think clearly.
- Work Less: You can’t operate at a level of peak performance all the time. Reclaim your lunch hour – take a walk, a date, a nap, music, podcast, read, meditate. Think creatively – brainstorm (alone or with your team)
- Work Effectively with Others: Working productively doesn’t always mean working alone. It can either boost your speed or slow you down. Work virtually. Have virtual meetings.
- Learn to Say No: Resit the urge to be pulled in every direction. Is the work valuable to the company? Does it contribute to the company/team objectives or bottom line? Does it add value to you? If no, say no. Is the task important to your professional performance goals? (Essential, important, discretionary or unimportant) Is the task meaningful to you or does it give you pleasure? Do you have a tough time doing the work? Can someone else do it? Can you teach someone to do it? If yes delegate.
- Delegate: Be aware of your workload and your team members. Identify low-value tasks. Hands off tasks that don’t fit into your goals. Choose the right person, it might just help the person develop. Walk away. Handoff the work and let the person determine how it’s done. Show that you trust them. Monitor the work, not the person. Be available for support. Keep your superior informed about the progress. It takes time to perfect delegation. Get feedback.
- Ask for Help: Start with what you know to give the person a background. Have an opinion (even though you don’t know the right answer, suggest a course of action/direction). Be direct and don’t be afraid to ask again.
- Make Meetings Productive: Have a purpose (is it a decision, announcement, brainstorm, status report etc), Get the right people together (reschedule if key personnel are absent). Set an agenda and share with team members with time slots allotted to each one. Stick to the 90-minute rule – very few things are accomplished after 90 minutes. Schedule a follow-up meeting instead of elongating. Send updates of the meeting in bullet points.
- Make Virtual Work more Effective: Virtual work demands clear communication. Establish norms – How long should it take for emails to be replied? When will team calls take place? The preferred option to reach team members? Be clear and specific. Spell it out and ask your colleagues to paraphrase to be sure they understand. “I need your feedback by the end of the day”. Respond promptly and communicate your absence ensuring structures are in place for your absence. It requires great commitment and work-ethics.
- Assess your Progress: Ask yourself whether they are working and if you are closer to achieving your goals set earlier.
- Reflect and Adjust: Check your list, are you using your to-dos? How is communication? Are you missing something? If it’s not working, change it. Find what’s working and what’s not. RESET every 6 months. Celebrate small and big successes. Anticipate obsolescence. Update your tech tools Reconfigure.
Getting Work Done by Havard Business Review is one of the books in the 20-Minute Manager series. Interested in getting the book? Buy it here.