We’re in the sweet spot. It’s that wonderful time of year after Spring Break and winter holidays, but before Memorial Day and the start of summer vacation. You know, when you can actually get work done.
With that in mind, let’s talk about how to be more productive so you can make the best use of your time.
This includes knowing whom to ignore, writes Ed Batista in the Harvard Business Review. “The key is recognizing that prioritization is necessary but insufficient. The critical next step is triage,” he writes. “Triage entails not just focusing on the items that are most important and deferring those that are less important until ‘later,’ but actively ignoring the vast number of items whose importance falls below a certain threshold.” [Emphasis his]
Similarly, while working through your to-do list, make sure you also follow your don’t-do list of things you should stop doing to make yourself more productive. What low-priority (even if they’re satisfying) work items can you give up or put off until later?
Studies have shown that it can take people as long as 17 minutes to get back into the “flow” of work after an interruption, and that even interruptions of just a few seconds can cause people to make two to three times as many errors.
“First, when you’re processing an interruption, you’re focusing on info irrelevant to your primary task,” writes Aja Frost in the Muse. “Second, being interrupted messes up your ‘flow’ of understanding, so when you turn back to what you were doing, it’s way harder to make the mental leap from one concept to the next. Third—and this is the biggie—interruptions mess up your ‘retrieval accuracy.’ In other words, your ability to remember things correctly goes way down.”
You might think that multitasking makes you more efficient and productive, but that’s actually not true. “A study from the Ohio State University found those who multitask feel better—not because they got more done (their performance was actually impaired) but because they perceived they were getting more done,” writes Frost.
Are you multitasking because you have so many things to do that you can’t decide which one is more important and, like your computer’s memory, “thrash” from one to the other? Just pick one. It doesn’t matter which. Pick one and finish it, writes Belle Beth Cooper.
“Necessary tasks in my workload that are small in themselves are sometimes the best ones to start with,” she advises. “I can use that rolling momentum from each small task to build up to tackling bigger tasks that are really overwhelming me.”
Write more effective email
Despite all the talk about companies eliminating email, chances are that email is going to stay with us for a long time, according to the Pew Research Center. In a recent survey, 61 percent of respondents rated email as very important to their job—a figure that’s unchanged from 2002.
“Technologist Clay Shirky argues that information overload isn’t the problem tech journalism makes it out to be: it’s really a failure of information filters,” writes Lifehacker. So look into tools that help you reduce the amount of information you have to deal with. Look at ways to re-engineer business processes to reduce steps—or at least the steps that involve you—and reduce duplication of effort. And, of course, we’re always fond of eliminating paper.
At the same time, it’s easy to get sucked into a whole morass of tools and tricks that not only don’t help your productivity but actually result in getting less done, writes Frost in Muse. So just try one new thing at a time, and stick with things that are similar to what you already do rather than upending your life.
“Instead of spending valuable energy on a strategy I know won’t work, I choose to only take productivity advice I know I can realistically implement,” he writes.
Don’t do these things
While you’re at it, be sure to keep track of what not to do. Don’t overload on caffeine, skip meals, or avoid exercise, writes Cooper. “The easiest things for me to overlook when I’m overwhelmed with work are exercise time, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep,” she writes. “Unfortunately, those aren’t things I can easily give up if I want to keep functioning at my best.”
Also, it’s not productive to spend hours with your email at night playing catch up. In fact, a recent study finds that people receiving work-related emails after work hours often get angry about it—meaning they’ll be less receptive to your ideas.
Finally, don’t lose this article. September and October—the next sweet spot, between summer vacation and the fall holidays—will be here before you know it.
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