It’s a tough time to be productive. Globalization, increased competition and the jarring immediacy of technology have made it difficult for modern employees to stay on top of their growing workloads while maintaining a good work-life balance. Fortunately, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal, experts say small adjustments to how employees think about work can have a big impact on their workplace efficiency.
Kelly Sortino, for example, had a tough time recalling what she’d accomplished at the end of each hectic workday. Her job as head of the upper school for the Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, Calif., often required working 12-hour days, including weekends and evenings. She enjoyed the work but worried that she wasn’t accomplishing everything she needed to.
“I felt like I was mostly putting out fires,” Sortino told the newspaper. “I felt as if I wasn’t really having the time to do more of the strategic and visioning work to make those larger changes at the school.”
She decided to take a workshop at Stanford University on how to simplify work processes and reduce waste. She learned, for example, to block out her time more efficiently and minimize distractions. She also committed herself to systematically completing, without procrastination, her daily task list and to completely clearing her email inbox and workspace on a regular basis.
The changes produced a marked improvement in her time management, the article pointed out. Sortino gained a better sense of her daily routine, and she’s been able to start long-term projects. She still works on weekends, but only as needed.
Clearly, such adjustments as learning to prioritize and committing oneself to work in uninterrupted blocks of time are among the most important when trying to simplify work processes. Other key ones noted in the article are single-tasking instead of multi-tasking and scheduling specific times for checking email and texts as opposed to reading then as received.
A Stanford University study, in fact, found that multi-tasking is less productive than single-tasking, noting that many self-proclaimed multi-taskers have difficulty filtering out irrelevant information. Concerning e-mail and texting, the article pointed out that taking time to respond can reset co-worker expectations. To make sure you don’t miss anything important, you can flag emails from certain senders such as your boss.
Many people have been conditioned to expect an immediate response to email and text, which is unrealistic and unproductive, said Daniel Markovitz, a consultant from Corte Madera, Calif.
“And if you don’t respond,” he told the newspaper, “you’ll get additional email or a call from the co-worker three minutes later asking, ‘Hey, did you get my email?’ You then have to deal with two or three frantic emails and a voice mail from that one person.” Dealing with dozens of people who place unreasonable demands on your time can diminish your availability to do other things.”
Here are some other tips from the article aimed at increasing your productivity:
- Be open to dropping tools that impede understanding between co-workers. If you can’t explain yourself in a single e-mail, consider calling, texting or meeting in person instead.
- Try to understand what your co-workers do and what their motivations are, because this can be the root of many office conflicts that complicate people’s lives, said Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting Group and author of “Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated.”
- Understand what motivates the decisions your boss makes. Most subordinates have an employee-centric view of their managers, which tends not to be accurate. A better understanding of your boss can help you to sell process changes that can benefit the department and company.
- Work with your boss to prioritize important work and eliminate unproductive tasks.
- Get clarification before you start on new projects and while you have the attention of you manager or co-workers.
- Make it a practice not to tackle tough problems alone or stew if you can’t handle specific tasks. Rather, enlist co-workers and start a discussion, approaching it like a support group and breaking unproductive patterns that create a culture of complexity. In other words, cooperate with co-workers to streamline processes.