By Laura Stack
This article was originally published on TheProductivityPro.com and is reprinted here with permission.
We’ve all been there. It’s the end of the day. Your schedule was jam-packed. You crossed 27 things off of your to-do list. And still, you have that nagging feeling that the whole day slipped by before you got the chance to really accomplish anything at all.
Being busy is one thing. Being productive is something else.
On the surface, it can be hard to tell the difference. And that’s why it is so easy and tempting to fall into the “busy” trap. In today’s workplace, as much as we supposedly revere productivity, “busy” is the badge of honor. Stacks of papers covering a desk, a frazzled dash to the coffee machine, and all those blue streaks of Outlook (un)availability—wow, you are important. It’s easy to show how busy you are, but productivity is something much more personal—and much more important.
At the end of the day, it’s only productivity that matters. That means you need to be very sure that your time is not only accounted for, but has real value. Nobody cares how many things you crossed off your list. Nobody cares how busy you were last week if key projects are falling through the cracks. Results matter – so think about how you can get the most value out of every day.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Let some tasks go. If you value your time, you can’t spend it doing things that aren’t valuable. Take a step back and make sure that even your lowest priority tasks are worth the time and effort you invest in them. Just because they manage to creep onto your to-do list week after week doesn’t mean they are a good use of time. If it’s an activity you do for someone else, make sure that person still finds it valuable before you spend another second on it. The last thing that you want is to spend time on projects that only shuffle their way through inboxes until they are finally deleted or tucked into some bottomless filing cabinet.
Train someone. Of course, there are plenty of tasks that you’d like to skip permanently, but that isn’t always an option. But maybe you can call in for some backup. Are you the only one capable of getting it done? If so, is there someone that you could train to fill the need? Even if you need to invest some time and energy in bringing someone up to speed, you’ll thank yourself down the road.
Just remember, when delegating tasks like these, you need to let go of your perfectionism. If you are still fretting about things getting done exactly how you were doing them, then you’ll miss out on the point of delegating it out in the first place.
Cancel that meeting. Meetings are important. They allow for the exchange of ideas and play an important role in the dynamics of the workplace. But not all meetings have the same value. With a limited number of hours in the day, you need to pick and choose when a meeting is appropriate and when it isn’t. Always think twice before calling a meeting. If you have the flexibility to choose, you should always think twice about agreeing to attend one, too. If you feel like a good deal of your day is wasted by meetings, consider the following:
- Is the meeting simply to exchange information? If so, an e-mail might do the trick just as well, and save everyone a lot of time.
- Is there travel involved? An elevator ride is one thing. Real travel is quite another. Whether the meeting is going to have attendees from across town or across the country, always stop and consider if a conference call might be just as effective. Sometimes the face-to-face is critical. Other times, it just doesn’t matter, so you must set boundaries to avoid wasting your time or anyone else’s.
- What’s your role? Maybe your place could be taken by an assistant who can take good notes. Just make sure that if decisions need to be made, whoever is taking your place is capable of filling in for you. Others will be quickly annoyed if your absence turns into an inconvenience for them.
If you do need to be there personally, find out exactly what is needed of you. If only one item on a two-hour agenda involves you, perhaps you can handle that matter first and leave the meeting early. Spending half of your day in meetings waiting for your agenda item can be a frustrating time-waster.
Revisit your objectives. When was the last time that you reviewed your job description? As time passes, it is easy to drift away from our formal responsibilities and objectives. This can be bad if you’re doing work you weren’t hired to do, but it can be really bad when it comes time for a performance review. Be aware of what is expected of you and know the criteria on which you are evaluated. Sometimes you’ll need to realign the priorities that have been driving your schedule. Sometimes you and your boss might agree that your job description should be adjusted based on your evolving role in the company.
Improve the process. Quite often, the time traps that drive us crazy are really just because it’s being done inefficiently. This is particularly true when it comes to repetitive tasks that you’ve been engaged in for a long time. We get so set in our ways that we don’t realize there might be a better way to accomplish a task. If you have a similar report or business letter that needs to be written on a regular basis, come up with a template. If you are regularly overwhelmed by your weekly filing, consider handling paperwork as it comes in, before it piles up. If you’re constantly handwriting addresses on envelopes, figure out how to print directly on the envelope or use labels.
The same is true at home. Dinner, laundry, paying bills – developing a system can dramatically reduce the frustration caused by everyday tasks. Even something as simple as a reusable checklist can be enough to keep you moving in the right direction.
Determine the value. Find out exactly what is expected of you. You might be going well above and beyond what is really needed. Perhaps you are preparing an elaborate weekly status report when those that read it are only interested in that chart you always put on page five. If they ignore the rest, just distribute the chart. By getting an idea of what the report is really for, you might turn a two-hour headache into a twenty-minute piece of cake. Perfection has its place, but if the benefits of your work aren’t worth your time, you should reconsider what you’re doing for the sake of personal productivity.
Make it a productive day!™
© Copyright 2011 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.
© Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE, aka The Productivity Pro®, gives speeches and seminars on sales and leadership productivity. For over 25 years, she’s worked with Fortune 1000 clients to reduce inefficiencies, execute more quickly, improve output, and increase profitability. Laura is the author of seven books, including Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time. To invite Laura to speak at your next event, visit TheProductivityPro.com.