When you have a project you really need to get out by the end of the day, what do you do? Shut the office door, set the phone to DND, close your browser and focus on that one thing? Probably not, even though you know that switching from project to project reduces your productivity, not to mention drives you crazy.
You need to get things done … but you’re busy. No one else can do the things you do, but generally, it takes a crisis to help you focus and to be productive. Why is that?
Somehow, our world conspires to prevent us from finding focus. Team members ask seemingly trivial questions all day long. Emails and voicemails keep piling up – someone needs to return them! Some days, you look at the clock at 4:30 and realize you haven’t gotten one thing done that you wanted to do. Your priorities have been hijacked.
Here are a few things you can do to become more productive.
Your brain switches from one mode to another when you get interrupted. So, every time someone walks into your office, you reach for the phone or you check your email, your brain is switching gears, and it’s costing you time and productivity. Instead, do what you can to eliminate distractions.
- Schedule “office hours” when employees are free to come and ask questions, then tell them to leave you alone outside of those hours. You’d be surprised how employees will realize that their “urgent” questions aren’t that urgent and can wait.
- Only check your email 2 – 3 times a day. Shut it down in between so you don’t look at it. Silence your Blackberry, iPhone, etc.
- Schedule time to work on important tasks, don’t you dare give that time away. You are just as busy in that time as you would be if you were in a meeting (and likely more productive) so don’t give it up.
Think first. Then act.
David Allen, one of the premier productivity gurus of our time, says that one of the keys to productivity is to regularly review all the things you are committed to accomplishing and set some priorities around them. Or, if they have deadlines, schedule their completion. Then, you work through your thought-out plan. The challenge is that things change quickly, and priorities or schedules need to be constantly reworked. It can seem futile to set priorities only to find that in two hours they don’t make sense anymore. Still, if you aren’t intentional about what you are giving focus to, you don’t have a focus.
- Create a list of 3 – 5 things that are your priority each day. Create the list while looking at your calendar so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Then make sure you get those things done first before you go on to any other tasks.
- Have a longer list of to-dos that you select from each day. When a new task comes up, add it to the longer list so you don’t forget it, but it stays outside your focus until you have the time to do it.
- Schedule time on a weekly or monthly basis to review your projects and priorities so that you can look at the forest, not the trees. Is this everything I’m committed to? Is there someone else who can do this instead of me?
Make your work count toward a higher goal.
The people I find who are most unhappy with their work are those who feel like they are on a hamster run. They keep running and running, but never get anywhere. In most cases, it’s because they never decided where they wanted to go. What difference do you want your work to make in the world? How can you tell if you are making progress toward that goal?
- Create a purpose statement for your company. Why do you exist? What are you working for that’s more important than money?
- Determine how you measure your progress or results. How will you know you are doing a good job at your purpose?
- Celebrate your successes as a team. When you see progress, when your organization has completed a project or assignment that really made a difference, celebrate it. Throw a party, buy ice cream bars, or put it on the refrigerator. Don’t make it about money or bonuses; make it about success and progress.
Time is running out of the hourglass that is 2011. Wouldn’t it be great to end this year on a positive note? Get to work. Delegate when and where you can. Make this your best year. It’s not too late.
Photo credit: Michael Dales