“I can never get anything done,” was the comment of a colleague recently. Complaints about burgeoning workloads, increasing client demands and the non-stop pace at which emails, phone calls and texts come in our 24/7 world make it all overwhelming. She simply feels like she is drowning in the modern workplace and, in some ways, she is. It is difficult to balance the demands of a digital world and remain productive; but it can be done.
While I am by no means an expert on personal productivity, I’d like to think I’ve learned how to create a manageable level of balance with a few good habits I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Set aside some non-traditional work time for the important stuff. Like it or not, the traditional 9-5 hours are not your most productive hours. Too many calls and interruptions come that break the focus and concentration needed to give the critical stuff your best. I am up at it in my home office each day by 5:00 a.m. to crank out my blog, personal emails and clear critical tasks that I know need my complete concentration. I’ve learned early morning is when my brain is at its best and that is when I hit it hard!
2. Make a list and set daily priorities. There’s a saying that reminds us “if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there” and a daily list of tasks is your path. Start your day with a plan; you may not get to check everything off the list, but if you start knowing what you need to accomplish and which tasks are most important, you will have the focus and time management needed to set out on your day. When obstacles and distractions come, you’ll be making educated decisions about how to handle them. When the end of the day comes, even knowing you’ve checked off one item will give you a sense of accomplishment!
3. Do similar work in groups. My husband and I disagree on whether or not multi-tasking is a useful work habit; I embrace it wholeheartedly while he thinks it results in one giving multiple tasks “diminished focus simultaneously.” Personal choice, perhaps, but when you can find similar work and group it together and – better yet – tackle the trivial stuff at the same time, I say go for it! Sorting expense report receipts and clearing out “FYI” emails that are cluttering your in-box during a conference call that marginally applies to you is time well spent. Research says it takes your brain 20-30 minutes to adjust to a new task, so if you are going to shift gears from one task to another, make sure you are giving it the time and attention needed to allow your brain to fully engage and focus.
4. Turn off the distractions. In this wonderful world of digital messaging and instant news, music and updates, the constant barrage of
mental stimulation distraction coming into our day is endless. You cannot do good work and focus if you are constantly being interrupted. Just as much as I hate having someone burst into my office in the middle of a private meeting, I cannot stand having an email pop-up in the middle of an intense moment of focus staring at a budget spreadsheet or presentation I am working on. Turn off the distractions if you really want to focus and concentrate. Those texts and emails will still be there for you later.
5. Set aside time for personal connectivity to your world. Keeping your work world and your personal world separate is a good idea if you are easily prone to distractions. One colleague I know keeps two browsers on his desktop: one has all his work-related bookmarks and links and the other is his doorway to his personal pages and sites. Find your own way to make work time about work and personal time your time for yourself; the two rarely mix to enable productivity.
6. Get away for it all. Silence is truly golden and there is nothing more refreshing than a moment of complete disengagement from it all. The mini-recharge your brain and energy level gets from a 10-minute respite is powerful. When the urge comes to take a break from the project that has you stressed out and you are tempted to jump on Facebook or check your personal e-mail for a quick break, try standing up and doing a few stretches instead. Better yet, leave your smart phone behind and take a short walk. Nothing strenuous, just a short leg-stretching / mind-waking stroll to rest your eyes, renew your mental acuity and catch a second wind. Without the distractions of a phone call or background music, you will allow yourself to find a moment of balance and be restored.
Being productive doesn’t come from working harder; it comes from working smarter. Today’s technology can be a friend or a foe, depending on how you use it and put it to work for you. Privacy buttons and ‘do not disturb’ settings are on smart phone for a reason; use them! Calls, texts and emails do not have to be immediately taken just because they arrive. Setting priorities and boundaries for work and personal life and necessary for personal health and quality of life. Being organized and productive during work hours are equally essential for career success and professional survival.
Take the time to figure out what is weighing down your productivity and set the boundaries, priorities and work habits in motion to take control. It is your life. Own it!