You only have 86,400 seconds in a day to accomplish your goals. Most of us need to sleep roughly 7 hours each night. That leaves you with 61,200 seconds to work with. Then there is eating, getting ready for work, family time and a thousand other important non-work related things that chip away your capacity for each and every day. The reality is that the more successful you become, the more commitments you have that are not directly related to your work (e.g. leadership positions on Boards and volunteer organizations). Your hard work is rewarded by commitments that detract from the time to have available to get your job done. You work harder and longer to try and offset the price of your success. But, you feel more tired and even further behind each and every day.
The trick is to stop trying to solve the problem by working harder. The only way to become more productive and handle the increased responsibility you have earned is to work smarter.
Here are six tips to help you work smarter. Now I know you are going to continue to work harder anyway. But, by incorporating these tips into your daily routine maybe you will be able to give your heart a break from all the stress you feel.
Six Heart Saving Tips
De-clutter Your Life
I used to tell myself that I maintained an open source filing system and I knew where every piece of paper was on the top of my desk. But, in reality it always took me an inordinate amount of time to find what I wanted and as a consequence I was actually stealing precious seconds that I could have better invested in getting work done.
My epiphany came when I was blessed to get a crackerjack Administrative Assistant who organized all of my files and helped me clean up my work environment. I found that being organized actually made me more efficient. And with about a year of pointed coaching (read as yelling at me when I got sloppy), my behavior changed so being organized became my preferred approach to work. I also found that when people came into my office to discuss a project, they had more confidence that I was not out of control. A cluttered office or workspace sends a very negative message to people who are working with and/or observing you.
Another trick she taught me was to be disciplined in handling emails and paper. I remember her counsel clearly – “touch and finish or touch and trash”. I didn’t think it was possible to follow her rule, but with diligence it came more naturally. My in basket (physical and on my computer) became far more manageable. It forced me to deal with things rather than postpone them until they reached a crisis. It also forced me to let people who were flooding me with information know that I would prefer it if they sent one comprehensive email than a number of piecemeal messages. I found a lot of coaching moments that helped shape the behavior of people I worked with and enrolled them in improving my efficiencies. It also helped me eliminate a lot of emails where I was copied out of courtesy rather than necessity.
There is nothing like quiet time to help you concentrate and actually move the needle forward on your projects. But, with everybody constantly interrupting you, how do you find quiet time in the heat of a busy day?
One of my managers early in my career opened my eyes. I was having trouble authoring a summary report of a particularly complex market research study because I was constantly being brought into conversations about other projects. He said – “I pay you to get the job done. I don’t pay you to sit at a desk.” His advice was to go someplace quiet and concentrate on the work I wanted to complete. From that day forward, I have always made a point of leaving my office and finding a quiet place where I could think whenever I had a challenging report or problem to deal with. The impact on my work was transformational. I suddenly was able to get more work done and it was of a higher quality. The reason was I was able to take the time to think with minimal distraction. I always informed my Administrative Assistant of where I would be, but other than he coming to get me I completely unplugged so I could concentrate on the task at hand.
If you have something important to get done, go hide. Find a quiet spot in your building or try the local library. Wherever you go, be sure you allocate enough time to get the task completed. You may be amazed at what you will accomplish.
Most people find this one hard at first. You have a natural tendency to want to be helpful and please people. But, you are essentially undermining your capacity to meet your own work commitments. Never have I had or conducted a performance review where the excuse that somebody was helping other people meet their goals ever be accepted for missing targets. Remember the calculation of how many seconds you have in a day to be productive. Don’t give up any of those precious seconds without careful thought.
You need to learn how to say no in a non-confrontational way. And, if it is something you feel you need to help with, then, you need to learn how to negotiate new deadlines and reset expectations for the completion of your own work. Failure to do so will lead to being labeled as non-productive and/or not trustworthy. You won’t believe you deserve either label, but the truth is you actually do.
Don’t Always Multi-Task
You are not going to believe me, so let’s take a look at what the scientists are saying about the effect of multitasking on productivity.
Multitasking can actually kill you. (Sorry, I felt compelled to put this study in about multitasking and driving just to make the point.)
Ask For Help
Do you ever find yourself spinning your wheels on a particularly challenging problem? Maybe you are missing information, or have no idea how to even begin organizing your thoughts so you can tackle it. These are situations when you should stop, take a deep breath and reach out for help. You will be surprised at how many experts you have access to that can provide you critical information and/or insight that can help you form a game plan for successfully tackling the issue.
Over the years I have learned the power of reaching out to others for help. So much so, I have a mantra that I teach – “OPM-OPK-OPR” which translates to other people’s money, other people’s knowledge, and other people’s resources. You get them working in your favor and there are few problems/challenges that you cannot find a solution to. Harnessing the power of other people to help you meet your goals is a key criterion for successful leadership.
Next time you feel like you are under water, just reach out your hand for help. There is no reason to be stubborn or afraid and drown.
Learn From Others
This is probably the simplest yet least used tip. If you have somebody you admire and feel is highly productive, study how he/she approaches work and emulate it.
We think nothing of studying the moves of great athletes and trying to copy them to help improve our performance. Yet, when it comes to work we try to figure it out on our own. If you want to get more organized, study somebody you think is well organized and learn his/her secrets. Take the best of what you learn and make it your own.
If you want to learn from one of the best, pick up the book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People [http://www.amazon.com/The-Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0743269519]. You can actually get the paperback version for under $10.00. Stephen Covey (1932 – 2012) provides amazing insight into the behaviors that can help you reach your full potential. Unfortunately Stephen passed away recently, but fortunately his counsel will live on.
Hopefully you find value in the tips provided and the supplemental reading references. Personal productivity is mandatory for success in any career. I have shared just a few tips that I have collected over my career. Please take some time and share a tip or two from your own experience. That way we can all benefit from having as robust a list as possible. Remember, none of us is as smart as all of us.
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