One of the most popular and frequently overused phrases around time management is ‘Work smarter not harder’. The reality is that we all have the same 24 hours in the day and the truth is, it's your relationship to those 24 hours that will dictate the level and list of your daily accomplishments especially in the workplace. The good news is that being more productive at work will allow you more time for others aspects of your life so you can live a balanced and happy life. Here are 25 #ProductivityHacks to start working towards that balance.
- Touch inbox items only once.– This one is difficult for most people, but it really makes a difference. For new email or other communications, look over it and decide what to do with it right away: archive, respond, flag for follow-up, etc. Regardless of how you process communications, just make sure you deal with them once rather than wasting time by looking at them without taking decisive action.
- Hire someone.– Sometimes it makes more sense to hire someone to do something (if applicable), especially if your time is worth more money than you’re paying that person. Anything where doing it yourself isn’t cost-effective, consider an assistant or intern for additional support.
- Write things down.– Nobody’s memory is perfect. If you don’t take notes and setup to-do lists for yourself you will end up wasting several minutes of time every day trying to remember things that would have taken you seconds to write down. These minutes add up fast.
- Stop mindlessly browsing online.– Web browsing is one of the immense black holes in time spending. Before you realize it, you may have spent hours browsing while generating very little value. Limit your online adventures to your lunch time when and/if applicable.
- Ask more questions.– The trial and error process can be a huge waste of time. Often people view asking questions and relying on others as a weakness, but they are sadly mistaken. Asking legitimate questions will bring you closer to the people around you and likely save you a huge chunk of time. A Win-win.
- Handle 2-minute tasks immediately.– “The 2 Minute Rule” is a common and great concept (cited in the book "Getting Things Done"). If you roughly estimate that a task is going to take you less than two minutes to accomplish, do it right now. It’s a waste of time and energy to keep small tasks like this on your to-do list and renting space in the back of your mind.
- Productively use waiting time.– Waiting time does not have to be wasted time. When you are waiting for a meeting to start either on the phone or in person, think about what simple tasks could you complete while you wait? How about sorting through and replying to emails or reviewing/edit your to-do lists, etc.
- Organize your space.– How much time do you think the average person wastefully spends searching for items they’ve misplaced? The answer is a lot. Keeping both your living and working spaces organized will undoubtedly allow you to get thing done more efficiently and effectively.
- Plan ahead and start early.– 10 minutes of dedicated time planning each evening will save you from 30 minutes of ad-hoc preparation each morning. Likewise, starting your morning on purpose 30 minutes early will likely inject at least 60 additional productive minutes into your day. Think about it and practice it.
- Eliminate all distractions for a set time.– Distractions are everywhere. They arrive via email, cell phone, coworker inquiry, etc. Cutting out all distractions for a set time is one of the most effective ways to get things done in less time. Find a quiet place to retreat to when you know your workload and deadlines are time sensitive.
- Pay attention and get it right the first time.– The better listener you are, the more you will learn. The more you learn now, the fewer questions you will have later, and the less time you will spend searching for answers.
- Use technology to automate tasks.– From creating email filters to automatically backing-up your hard drive. The more you automate, the more you can get done without with the same level of effort. Just remember to ensure that what you automate has some form of checklist involved to avoid only having a human go back and have to redo the original task.
- Pick-up the phone.– We’ve become so accustomed to communicating digitally, sending emails, IM's and texts, etc. that we forget we can get some tasks accomplished in a fraction of the time with one or two quick phone calls.
- Create and refer to a TO-DON’T list.– A to-don’t is a list of things not to do. It might sound funny, but it’s useful for keeping track of unproductive habits, like playing online games, checking Facebook, etc.
- Focus on high impact tasks.– Figure out what will have the greatest impact today, and make sure you address the most important stuff first. Don’t get caught up in odd jobs, even those that seem urgent, unless they are also important.
- Do what you don’t want to do first.– If you handle the toughest tasks first when your mind is fresh, you’ll get done quicker and make the rest of the day more enjoyable.
- Group similar tasks back-to-back.– Switching gears between different types of tasks can be tough. It takes most people several minutes to get into a productive mental groove geared for a specific type of task. Therefore, it makes sense to group similar tasks in an effort to minimize the number of rough patches, and thus wasted time, between task orders.
- Make better usage of commute times.– Listen to audio books, make calls, do some proactive time planning, etc. There are many programs out there to capture tons of ideas and thoughts while commuting and traveling to the office and walking around the office.
- Exercise daily.– I know it sounds counter-intuitive. You have to spend time exercising. But exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity. In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after seven hours, while those who didn’t saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing.
- Just say NO!– While saying yes can take us down some wonderful roads, there’s also a ton of value in saying “no.” We’re only given a certain amount of hours in our lives; do you really want to give yours away so easily? If you don’t have to time to commit to a new project, complete a favor, or sit in on another meeting, it’s a good idea to just say “no.” Start with "no, not now but..." and then make a counter offer. The goal is to create some space and boundaries for you while not alienating others.
- Use time multipliers.– Effective delegation of lower priority tasks is a time multiplier. Eliminating time wasting activities is a time multiplier. Screening phone calls is a time multiplier. By practicing creative procrastination on anything that doesn’t propel you toward your goals can multiply the amount of time you have to achieve those goals.
- Focus your attention on one thing at a time.– Sounds obvious but we all suffer from the shiny object syndrome. Cutting out multitasking leaves you to focus more intently on one task and finish it to completion, rather than having many tasks started and nothing finished.
- Create productivity triggers for yourself.– You need to create triggers to help you out. A simple example would be packing your gym bag the night before to keep you from having an excuse not to go to the gym. Or put the books you need to take back to the office in front of the door, so you can’t leave the house without seeing them and remembering they need to be returned.
- Avoid meetings.– Not all meetings are a waste of time, but some can be. If you frequently spend time in meetings, but would rather be doing your actual work instead of listening to other people talk about things they could have sent you in an email, see if your attendance is mandatory for those meetings. Just make sure you use that time wisely if you get a pass.
- Practice the 80/20 rule.– Generally speaking, the 80/20 Rule states that 80% of our results come from 20% our actual work, and conversely, that we spend most of our energy doing things that aren’t important. Figure out what that 20% is comprised of and focus as much of your energy as you can on it.
Don’t confuse being busy with being productive. – Stop and ask yourself if what you’re working on is worth the effort. Is it bringing you in the same direction as your goals? I am aware that there are hundreds of tips and hacks to becoming more productive in the workplace but the above twenty five hit upon all the topics needed to win back your day and hopefully win over your boss.