We face distractions everywhere, but the seemingly endless time-wasters at work can affect not only productivity, but one’s reputation and self-esteem. To put forth your best effort on the job, it’s vital to know the difference between easily fixable distractions and activities or perceptions whose impact on productivity can be misunderstood.
One of the greatest potential obstacles to productivity is your work environment. To address distracting noise, including conversations, music and presentations, consider masking it with professional-grade headphones or by placing a white noise machine in the vicinity of the sounds.
In the pre-Internet era, talking on the phone at work was a necessity. That’s no longer true for everyone. Even though it might seem like a convenient way to complete some office tasks, answering non-urgent calls sets you up to be interrupted and delayed. Set specific time periods during which you don’t take calls unless they are truly urgent. Indicate this on your voicemail greeting, letting callers know when they can reach you or when you will be able to get back to them. When you must take phone calls, stand while talking on the phone. It will shorten the length of the conversation.
Though phone calls eat up time unnecessarily, embracing social media to share ideas with colleagues ultimately can help you become more productive. While it may sound counter-intuitive, one ASU management professor says technology can bolster personal relationships with telecommuting workers, part-time employees and staffers who work in satellite offices. The professor says that social networking sites nurture casual and candid rapport and can be an important ingredient in building links between coworkers.
Myths about effective work habits can actually reduce your efficiency if you buy into them. For example, multi-tasking doesn’t necessarily boost efficiency. Rather, multi-tasking may be a sign that you can’t commit. Cognitive research has revealed that “every shift in direction, every switch in tasks…costs.”
The phrase “time management” doesn’t make sense because time cannot be managed. We can’t manufacture time or manipulate it. Focusing language on “time” rather than on “priorities” results in avoiding responsibilities. It justifies sitting in a time management course rather than completing a task. We can manage priorities, but not time itself.
It’s also a myth that the most productive people are the busiest. If productivity means acting on priorities, then reflection, assessment, conversation and planning are required for real productivity.
The bottom line is that understanding what constitutes a needless distraction and what can translate into helpful collaboration or “priority management” can lead to a superior work product. Minimizing true distractions and maximizing opportunities to connect with colleagues is the essence of real productivity.
To learn more about eliminating time-wasters, listen to Take Control of Your Time audio.
What are your biggest time wasters? Is it all those interruptions – people stopping by your desk seeking assistance… or just to chat? Do you find yourself getting mired in email? Or what about those meetings where you don’t seem to accomplish anything? Based upon ten years of coaching professionals to be more productive and make better use of their time, here are the top 7 time wasters I hear from clients. I’ve also given suggestions for how to combat these time wasters.
- Interruptions – When someone stops by your desk to talk, and seems to be rambling, ask, “How can I help you?” This helps him get to the point quickly. If he just wants to chat, let him know you’re working on an important project, and ask if you can talk later.
- Being distracted by email – Turn off your email notification which indicates new email. This way you won’t be distracted by it. Rather than continuously checking email throughout the day, set aside a few times each day to check email, so you can focus on the task at hand.
- Unproductive meetings – Set an agenda and stick to it; avoid going off on tangents. Assign a time keeper to help ensure you cover the important topics.
- Being tied to the phone – Have others screen your calls. Or if you don’t have an assistant, then forward your phone to voicemail when working on important projects. Schedule a telephone hour to return calls.
- Not wanting to say “no” to requests – You can’t say “yes” to everything without getting in over your head. Decide what you must do – and what you want to do – and say “no” to all other requests.
- Being afraid to delegate – It’s not necessary to do everything yourself. You’ll be more productive if you delegate. Let go of control and trust others to do the job.
- Procrastinating – Tackle the unpleasant tasks first – if they’re important. Divide large projects into smaller tasks so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Reward yourself when you accomplish a project.
For more suggestions on how to better manage your time, listen to “Take Control of your Time” audio CD.
Do you feel overwhelmed with your workload? Maybe your employer expects you to do more than is humanly possible. But just maybe you’re not utilizing your time effectively. If so, you may be prone to making these common mistakes.
- Lack of objectives, priorities and planning. Plan your week and your day rather than just react to what comes at you throughout the day. Know your priorities and focus on the most important first.
- Attempting too much! When planning your day, come up with a realistic “to-do” list. Otherwise, you’ll feel overwhelmed and can become paralyzed into taking no action.
- Not managing interruptions well. The average employee is interrupted every eight minutes – by the phone ringing, co-workers or others stopping by their desk. Limit these interruptions by screening your visitors, closing the door to your office, conferring while standing up, or setting a time limit for a meeting.
- Being disorganized. Establish a clear and understandable filing system so you can find information quickly and easily. Keep up with your filing to clear the clutter from your desk.
- Participating in ineffective meetings. All meetings should have a clear objective. Always ask for an agenda before the meeting. The most important agenda item should be covered first. Help control the discussion to keep it on topic.
- Procrastinating. Sometimes we procrastinate because we’re overwhelmed with a large project. If so, then break up the project into several smaller steps. If you procrastinate because a task is unpleasant, then tackle that task first, and then reward yourself with something you enjoy like a café latte.
- Always saying yes. If you cannot say no, then you’ll end up overloaded, overwhelmed and unable to complete your work on time. Determine what’s important and necessary and then say no to the rest. Learn to say no tactfully by ending on a positive note. For example, when asked to work on a task force, you might say, “That sounds interesting and I’d like to help, but my ‘plate is full’. Let me know when another opportunity comes up.”
For more tips on managing your time, listen to “Take Control of your Time” audio CD.
There’s never enough time! That’s a common complaint I hear from my coaching clients. They tell me there’s never enough time to do all the things they want to do. Time management is critical to our success. But how do you manage time? Well actually, that’s a misnomer. You cannot manage time. But you can manage yourself and how you spend your time.
Sometimes all we need is a little perspective. Here are some of my favorite quotes on time management. Hopefully, they’ll give you some perspective. Pick out a favorite quote and review it often to remind yourself of its truth.
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown
“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” – M. Scott Peck
“It’s how we spend our time here and now, that really matters. If you are fed up with the way you have come to interact with time, change it.” – Marcia Wieder
“A wise person does at once, what a fool does at last. Both do the same thing; only at different times.” – Baltasar Gracian
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” – Michael Altshuler
What is your favorite time management quote? Please share with other readers.
How can you make the most of each day? Start by taking five minutes in the morning to plan your day. Planning will help you identify what’s most important for you to focus on today. Investing just a few minutes at the beginning of each day can make a significant difference in your productivity.
Each morning list your tasks and activities that you want to accomplish that day. Be realistic about what you can and cannot accomplish in the given time. Once you’ve listed your tasks, then prioritize them. Prioritize them according to importance (A, B, or C). “A” priorities are those things you must get done today or there will be a negative consequence. For example, let’s say you have a report that’s due today. Your boss needs this information for an important customer meeting tomorrow morning. If you don’t get it done, it will negatively impact the outcome of the meeting and your boss’ perception of your performance. “B” priorities are those things that are important, but not necessarily urgent. And “C” priorities are those that you would like to accomplish (such as filing or updating records); however there’s no real consequence if they don’t get done today.
The biggest mistake people make is labeling too many tasks as “A” priorities. Ask yourself, “Do I absolutely have to get this done today?” and “What is the consequence of not completing this task today?” These questions will help you determine if it’s truly an “A” priority. Another mistake people often make is trying to do too much (myself included). Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. When you estimate the time it will take to complete a task, it’s a good practice to double the time. Also allow for interruptions and the unexpected. You never know when something important will come up. When things come up, be flexible and willing to modify your priorities as needed.
Once you’ve prioritized your list, you’re ready to get started. Start by completing your “A” priorities and then move on to your “B” priorities. Once you complete a task, put a checkmark next to it. If you’re like me, you’ll gain satisfaction just by checking it off your list. By following these tips for planning your day, you’ll be more productive, effective, and satisfied!