Are you working as optimally as you can be? It’s a question any good employee asks themselves, at least subconsciously. We all strive to use our time most effectively, but your ‘groove’ might not be as efficient as you’d like. Over the next month or so I will be exploring a few ways to increase your productivity. (Look for posts labeled "Work Smarter")
Let’s start with a major point of contention….
Managing Your Calendar!
So many people I talk to wish they had more hours in their day, but working 15 hours a day isn’t the answer! An overburdened schedule leads to burnout and an actual decline in productivity. The solution then, is to use the hours you do have as efficiently as possible.
I like to view my calendar two weeks at a time. Some people do one week, some a month. The time frame will be dictated by what feels comfortable to you, but be cautious of trying to forecast your calendar too far out. You want to be as accurate as humanly possible.
Make a list of all the things you need to accomplish in your time period. Think about every element of your projects. Try to forecast meetings, working time, documentation time, ect. Once you have a pretty full list, prioritize your tasks. Rank them in order of importance.
Now try and put higher priority items on your calendar first. You have to put the important things (e.g. time with family, vacation, strategic sessions, and executive level client meetings) on the calendar straight away, or they risk falling by the wayside to all those little “emergencies”.
Right now, thinking about ignoring your inbox for a few hours may feel like a very daunting task. I will be covering email efficiency later in the month. However, for right now, you’ll just have to trust me when I say that having dedicated time set aside for email is much more productive than pausing every task you start every time your inbox dings at you.
Your personal email schedule will probably be different from mine, but dedicating the time is well worth it. I prefer setting aside one hour in the morning, and about 30 minutes in the afternoon. Blocking yourself off some actual calendar time results in the ability to completely focus on your communication. Everyone likes to think of themselves as multi-tasking masters, but very few people are actually good at it. Reading/ responding to email throughout the day results in splitting your focus and the quality of your work and communication can suffer.
Stack Your Meetings
Like email, I will address making meetings more productive later on this month. That post will address thinning out your meetings, but for right now, just do your best with the stacking.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of spreading your meetings out, but that is very rarely the most productive way to go about your work week. Putting all of your meetings on the same 2-3 days at the beginning of your week results in a couple full days of true work time.
Now, depending on your meeting load, it may be hard to cram them into a couple days. However, don’t try to cram too much. Leave yourself at least 15 minutes between larger meetings, and about 10 between less info heavy sessions. You don't want to make these days too stressful and everyone needs a bit of a buffer to either document info learned or prep for their next sit down.
Build In “Office Hours”
Large chunks of your day are probably spent on dealing with interruptions. Off topic meeting conversations and tangents that stray away from your core meeting purposes take up time. Every time a co-worker or employee just pops in “real quick” shifts your focus. “Just a little advice” or a “quick tip” can evolve into great conversations, but can really detract from any workflow you may have going.
Academics have a long standing tradition of office hours, which really boil down to scheduled interruptions. You’ll never be able to achieve a 100% reduction in distractions, and that’s fine. Some unplanned conversations are incredibly useful. However, if people know you have a deliberately open time slot for all non-meeting worthy conversations, they’re much more likely to respect your heads down time. The assurance that you’ll be available and open for conversation at a specific time also lends itself to a reduction in unnecessary time wasting. Sometimes what a person thinks is super important seems much less so in a few hours.
All of these scheduling tips are just that, tips. You don’t NEED to do any of them, and they are highly dependent on your preferred workflow and office environment. However, even if they seem daunting at the moment, you can always leverage these methods by degree. Maybe you don’t put anything “home” related on your calendar and your prioritization will only include work tasks. Maybe you are in a more emergency prone position and have to check your email constantly. Try flagging things that involve tasks and just scheduling those for “email time”. Maybe you have meetings set by bosses that you can’t possibly move in an effort to stack. It’s all fine.
Even an effort to be a bit more productive is better than throwing up your hands in inefficient frustration.