This week’s guest post comes from Nicole Barbuto of our sister program CEB Marketing. It makes a great follow-up to our most popular post from last week: Increase Your Productivity: Think Strategically About Time Spend.
We’ve all fallen victim to procrastination at one point or another. In fact, I will admit I fell victim to it writing this blog post (the irony is overwhelming!). In any role at any company, tasks zip in from so many different channels and at times, you find yourself unable to work on something for longer than 15 minutes without an email coming through to distract you. Personal productivity is something to be learned and here at CEB, we offer a class for our employees to learn this valuable trait. I’m going to share a few key tips with you and I hope they help!
Sometimes we busy ourselves with menial tasks to avoid working on some more important project but still feel as though we’re doing something productive. All of a sudden, the deadline is looming but your inbox looks great. Use this matrix to help prioritize your responsibilities.
Examples of tasks that could fall in each category are listed below:
Important Goals: high level things like relationship building or outside reading about your industry
Important Tasks: both immediate and important things like tight deadlines
Distractions: time consuming things that can misdirect your focus such as “white noise” emails or frequent coffee breaks
False Accomplishment: things that can feel productive but really aren’t, such as expense submissions
Print it out and hang it up! I promise it helps to think of your short-term and long-term tasks this way and prioritize accordingly.
Do you know you should create “to-do” lists but never do? Do you always say “yes” to requests even when you don’t have time? Are you always up for a coffee break or a long lunch? Do you have one giant inbox folder and that’s it? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you have a problem structuring your time. Preparation is a struggle for you. You have no idea how to reduce your workload. You’re an email-hoarder because you never know when you might need that response from two years ago. Don’t worry! There’s help for you yet:
- The 2-minute rule: When an email comes through, do it if it takes less than 2 minutes. Delete it if it’s not important (it’s okay, I promise). Delegate it if it should go to someone else. If it takes more than 2 minutes, flag it or create an “Action Required” folder and file it away for later.
- Be realistic about To-Do Lists: Start making them! Then, when you’re done listing everything out, ask yourself, “What’s not going to get done?” and cross them off. Ambition is a virtue but practicality prevails here.
Do you put things off and wait until the last minute? Do you find yourself burnt-out at the end of every work day? Are you doing too many things at once? Are you easily distracted? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you have a problem focusing. Your best friend is iwastesomuchtime.com. You’re only reading this blog because you don’t feel like starting that project. Or you have the opposite problem and think every single thing needs to be done at this exact moment. You’re the guy with his headphones in who eats lunch at his desk and only gets up to use the restroom. Neither profile is healthy! Here are some tips to help:
- Block off time on your calendar: Work in 50 minute work blocks (uninterrupted) and then use 10 minutes to address emails, take a break, etc. Then start another 50 minute work block and repeat the process. Too much multi-tasking can reduce quality of work so staying focused on one thing for 50 minutes should help overcome this.
- Create your ideal work environment: In college, I’m sure you figured out what study space worked best for you during final exam week. Do it again now! Go to an empty conference room. Head to a Starbucks for a little while. Create a “work” playlist. Whichever environment you work best in, do it again now. Some people don’t function well staring at a computer screen for 9 hours a day.
Do you feel hurried, rushed, or tense most of the time? Do you displace your stress and frustration onto your coworkers? Are you sleepy during the day? Do you still have 14 days of vacation time left? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you have a balancing problem. No one on their death bed says, “I wish I had been at the office more”—I’m sorry but it’s the truth. Make sure you achieve a healthy work-life balance:
- Schedule exercise/sleep/breaks: Sounds ridiculous but actually scheduling something tricks your brain into actually committing to it instead of viewing it as this lofty ideal. Block time on your calendar for exercising, 1-2 nights a week to go to bed early, and a few minutes a day to just walk around the office. If you can walk to/from work, walk at lunch, or take the stairs instead of the elevator then even better!
- Get help: if there’s a particularly busy time of year, consider getting outside help. Splurge on dry cleaning instead of doing the laundry yourself. Invest in a grocery delivery service—many offer a 30-day free trial. Outsource your stress!
I hope these tips help you to be more productive. I know they helped me. Share in the comments other tips you have that could be helpful; we’d love to hear them!