When we can’t get our work done in 40 hours, too often we start working harder and longer rather than smarter and more efficiently. This solution is unsustainable and has a tendency to spiral out of control. Tacking on hours puts us in reactive mode. We then focus too heavily on putting out fires—we tackle what is urgent and in our face. The result? We are stressed and we neglect strategic, real, important work.
Shift to a Proactive Mindset
Think about how you spend the majority of your time on most of your days. Does work come to you? Do you get called into meetings? Are you constantly answering emails? Are you answering many questions and responding to endless requests? Do you leave things until the last minute? If this sounds like your day, you are working in reactive mode, which is stressful and inefficient. Reactive mode does not allow you to prioritize critical work.
When you don’t respect and protect your own time, it teaches people they don’t need to either. Check and answer email twice a day (for example) instead being on call and tending to it as it comes in. Fill your calendar a few days out and put essential independent work on your calendar just as if it was a team meeting.
Moreover, spending time on important, but less urgent work actually decreases the amount of “urgent” requests that come your way over time. For example, when you take time to anticipate questions and create an FAQ resource now, you’ll get less requests for more information later. And kill that procrastination habit; if you know about an upcoming project, lay the groundwork for it now.
Make Your Mornings Productive
Pay special attention to your mindset at the beginning and end of the day. How do you start your day? Do you wander in, daydreaming, then proceed to sift through your email as you wait for your coffee to kick in? How do you end your day? Do you suddenly look at the clock and realize it’s 5:00, wondering where the time went?
At the end of each day, make a to-do list for tomorrow (or Monday). Take a look at your calendar to see what you can realistically accomplish and make a rough plan for what you will tackle first. At the start of each day, tackle that first item. Do the important thing first. Your emails will still be there at 10:00 am.
Know How to Exit a Conversation
How much time do you spend talking to people? Generally, getting to know the people you work with on a personal level and having theoretical or idealistic conversations with them is a good thing. Conversing with colleagues builds relationships and expands and strengthens your network. It’s also how great collaborations tend to happen. But be mindful of how much time this takes up. Notice whether the conversations are five minutes or fifty-five.
Know how to bow out of a conversation when you are in a time crunch or have a deadline looming. Exactly how you do it will depend on your communication style and the situation, but here are a few ideas. Set an expectation up front that you have a deadline or meeting or that you only have two minutes to chat. When it’s time, shift your non-verbals first: stand up, look at the clock, or pick up a pile of papers. Use a concluding statement that is either relevant to your conversation or creates a follow-up commitment: “I’ll send you a meeting planner,” or “I hope your son’s soccer game goes well.” This keeps the collaboration going or the personal connection alive without the other person feeling like they’ve been cut off. They’ll immediately understand that you interested in discussing things like this, just not now. If you have been directing the conversation, you can leave a long pause, and end with “Thank you.” On the other hand, if you are with someone long-winded, interrupt with consideration and empathy; take control of the conversation by asking a question and then end it, or simply interrupt, apologize, and explain your time constraint.
Are there any other hacks that you’ve used to improve productivity? Post them to the comment section below.