The quest for better productivity—for making the best possible use of your limited time—can be overwhelming. And the better you get at managing time, the less of it you sometimes feel that you have.
Here’s a familiar story: You’re busy all day responding to people’s requests, working non-stop and against the clock, multitasking in an attempt to get all your tasks done and checked off from your to-do list. As the day comes to a close, you have little to show for all the time, effort, and energy you’ve put into your day’s work.
You shouldn’t live and work like that. The good news is, you can take control and start accomplishing almost everything you set out to do. Just don’t allow these reasons to deny you a productive day (every day) in the office:
1. You Have No Idea How You’re Spending Your Time
Time. It’s arguably your most valuable asset.
We often overlook certain routines. You probably have no idea how much time you spend on a single task every day—and you’d be shocked by how much time you’re actually wasting on tasks that add little or no value to your life and work.
You can take complete control of your time if you can first be mindful of what you’re spending it on.
It pays to single-task—cut, outsource, or delegate anything else that’s in the way, and stop trying to do everything at once. When you’re focused on one thing at a time—accomplishing it, then moving on—you can easily track how much time you spend on each daily activity.
Gary Keller, in his book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, encourages us to use the “one thing” approach to take control of our time. He writes:
If everyone has the same number of hours in the day, why do some people seem to get so much more done than others?...They go small. Going small is ignoring all the things you could do and doing what you should do. It’s recognizing that not all things matter equally and finding the things that matter most. It’s a tighter way to connect what you do with what you want. It’s realizing that extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.
2. You’re Spending Way Too Much Time Checking and Responding to Emails
Many people get into bad habits with email: They check it every few minutes, and most of the time, the messages then stress them out, which impacts how they work on everything else. What’s even worse is that they take little or no action, so they pile up into an even more stress-inducing heap.
Over-reliance on email to collaborate with your team is costing you precious time, and it’s probably contributing to more task-switching than you realize.
An inbox that’s overflowing with actions, urgent calls for responses, and stuff to read is chaos. Here’s a better way to handle your email:
- When you open an email, make a quick decision: delete, archive, or act now. Clarify the action each message requires—a reply, an entry on your to-do list, or just filing it away. If a reply will take less than a minute, go ahead and respond. Otherwise, schedule a time to clear your inbox.
- Stop sending so many emails. The more you send, the more you’ll get. Use it as little as you possibly can. If you send a message that doesn’t require a response, say so.
- Send shorter emails. They’re more likely to get read and acted on, and it’ll take less of your time to write them.
3. Your Goals Aren’t Specific, Attainable, Measurable, and Time-Bound
Goal setting is one of the most fundamental rules of productivity. Goals set the direction of your tasks and determine where you should go and what you should do. But, you have to have guidelines for them.
Entrepreneur James Clear explains in his article “Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals:”
Research has shown that you are 2X to 3X more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: ‘During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].’ Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2X to 3X more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans ‘implementation intentions’...
The best approach for setting and achieving your goals is to not have too many goals at a time. That has the added benefit of allowing you to focus your energies on a small number of things, making you far more effective at them.
4. You Don’t Measure Your Results
If you don’t take the time to assess results and figure out how to do more of what’s working, you’ll be wasting a lot of time on activities that have little impact on your productivity.
Examine your work constantly. Meticulously analyze your inputs and outputs. The overwhelming reality about life is this: We live in a world where a lot of things are taking up most of our time but giving us the least results.
Time your efforts, and document how you’re investing your energy. Are you getting the results you expect or want?
Here are some actionable steps you can take today:
Assess your schedule for the rest of the week and write down how much time you spend on social media, checking work and personal email, writing blogs, meetings, web browsing, news reading.
Then, come up with a percentage of time spent on each activity given the number of hours you’re “at work” per week.
Put the analysis together and you’ll very clearly see your problem areas.
You’ll then know exactly where you need to develop more efficient systems for yourself and areas to cut back so you can focus more on what contributes to your overall productivity.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person working courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.