Change your habits and improve productivity in 2012
- January 27, 2012
For many of us, the new year means setting new goals and objectives, both personally and professionally. We start off the year with high expectations for ourselves and for all the things we are going to accomplish. We get off to a fast start, and then … life happens! The constant noise of each new day and the unforeseen circumstances and events of life cause us to lose focus and set aside all of those things that we said we wanted to accomplish.
Before you know it, a year has gone by and very few, if any, of those initial goals or objectives are checked off as “done.” That is if you can actually find the original goal sheet in your cube or office! Sound familiar?
Well, this is a new year and a new opportunity to not let that happen. It also is a new opportunity to change your habits, become more disciplined and hold yourself accountable for achieving your goals. The key to all of this is managing your time more effectively. Below are a few tips and techniques to help you get better control of your time so you can accomplish more and meet your goals.
Create your own strategy map
Although this is not a traditional time management tip, it is critical to shape everything you do. When you create a strategy map, you define your MVVs (mission, vision and values.) This can be personal or career-based. Staying true to your MVVs and determine your strategic goals for the year. I would recommend only four or five. Once you have these goals, determine the activities you need to engage in to achieve those goals. Lastly, translate those activities into measures and have targets for those measures so you can hold yourself accountable.
The result of this exercise will be a one-page diagram that summarizes what you are doing, why you are doing it, how you’re going to do it and how you’re going to measure it. I have my strategy map as my background on my laptop so that every morning it’s the first thing I see. This helps me to focus my day immediately on the things that matter most.
For a sample strategy map, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you one as well as directions on how to complete it.
Break down activities into smaller chunks
One reason we don’t achieve our goals is they are too big, so we don’t even try. For instance, if my goal is to write a book this year, that goal may feel overwhelming on the surface. If I break down that goal into writing one page a day, it seems much more doable. If I do this, I will have a 365-page book written by year-end. The key is to break large goals into smaller ones. This gets you started on a positive note, which creates momentum along with the desire to continue.
Manage two of your biggest time wasters
Easily two of the biggest time wasters in the workplace are email and meetings. Look at your emails and ask yourself, “Did I really need to receive this email?” or “Does this email help me achieve my goals?” If not, start the purging process. Ask to be removed from unnecessary distribution lists and tell people to copy you only on things that require your attention. Also, remove yourself from newsletters, etc., that distract you from your stated goals. At the very least, route those messages into a folder, “To Be Read Later.” Over time, you will greatly reduce the volume of email, freeing up time to do more important things.
Meetings are an even a bigger waste of time, in most cases. If a meeting does not connect to your job duties or goals, don’t go. There is nothing wrong with refusing to be in meetings that are not productive. At a minimum, it may spark a discussion to change a meeting to become more relevant. You may not be able to get rid of all your unproductive meetings, but you will be surprised at how many you can get out of that are not worthwhile, freeing up time to do other things that align with your strategic goals.
Return to batch processing
This may sound counterintuitive in today’s real-time environment, but studies have shown that what we think of as multitasking at work is actually switch-tasking, meaning that we are switching our attention back and forth between different things. There is a cost each time we switch. There are many exercises available that prove this theory. So instead of switching back and forth from answering email, doing research, answering the phone and instant messaging, turn everything off but one task and focus on that until it is done. Then move on to the next thing and completely focus on that. You will get more done, faster and with higher quality.
Some people have mastered this by answering email only at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The rest of the day, email is shut down. They answer messages in batches and are much more productive than switching back and forth between different tasks. This also applies to the phone. Forward your phone to voice mail and answer messages at certain times of the day. You will be amazed how much more productive you will be.
Plan for tomorrow at the end of today
One simple yet powerful technique is to plan out tomorrow’s work before you leave today or before you go to sleep at night. You will think more clearly than the next morning when the noise of the day can get to you even before you start. Planning the night before with a clear head will greatly improve productivity tomorrow.
My challenge to you
Some of you may think these suggestions are crazy or unrealistic in today’s fast-paced world. In some cases that may be true, but for the vast majority I bet that is not. My challenge to you is to just try them and see what happens. Even though you probably can’t eliminate all worthless meetings, the effort at least may help to eliminate one or two from your calendar. Wouldn’t that be worth a try?
Maybe you can’t answer email only at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., but why not shut it off for an hour and focus on only one thing and do it well. My guess is that the world will not explode if you aren’t on email for one hour.
How about breaking big goals into smaller ones that can be done in one day? Isn’t that worth a shot?
Please send me a note to let me know how these tips have helped you become more productive and focused. Just know I won’t respond until 10 a.m. or 3 p.m.!!
Derrick Strand is principal of leadership and organizational development at the Titan Group in Richmond. For more information contact him at email@example.com.