We’re nothing if not bright and motivated workers, right? But sometimes we get caught up in working hard instead of working smart. By adopting some disciplines of efficiency, we can rocket through the workday and still have time for side projects, relationships and general merrymaking.
It’s good to stay focused, but mental health is the most important. Try to abide by these simple tips to get through your day with as little stress as possible, and more productivity than you thought you were capable of.
1. Use one post-it note per day. Follow Mark McGuiness’s method of limiting your to-do list to one post-it note per day. “I got more done,” he says, “by making my to-do list shorter.” This is a scary discipline because it requires you to learn the difference between urgent and important.
2. Write two-sentence e-mails . E-mail is a great way to triage tasks, but you often waste a lot of time either composing e-mails or waiting for others to respond to them. You’d be surprised how much you can say in two sentences and how much more likely you are to get a response when your e-mail is short and to the point.
3. Check your e-mail twice per day. A co-worker of mine limits how often he checks e-mail because, he says, he prefers to devote his whole attention to the project at hand. I quickly learned that if I really need him, I have to walk up to his desk. Now I stop to consider whether my demands are worth interrupting his concentration.
4. Assign “points.” To avoid becoming a workaholic, assign equally weighted value to both personal and professional accomplishments (a tip I learned from Gallup’s StrengthsFinder). Doing so will help you avoid feeling guilty when you aren’t working (or applying to jobs), and you’ll finally cross off those to-dos that keep getting bumped from week to week.
5. Know when you’re most productive. I work best before noon, but I hate getting out of bed. So I established a morning routine that I could look forward to. I now wake between 6am and 7am instead of 9am and 10am. I adapted my routine from zenhabits’ sit/read/write, but what’s important is that it works for me. If you work best late at night but work a traditional nine-to-five, figure out a way to creatively position yourself in flow during the right hours.
6. Unclutter. Clutter — both physical and digital — might be productivity’s biggest enemy. Don’t let stray notes-to-self or Banana Republic e-newsletters intrude on your work. Make your desk (and desktop) pleasant and calming by clearing it at the end of each day. And develop organizational systems that are aesthetically appealing so that you’ll actually use them.
7. Be intentional with your time. Don’t lose countless hours to Facebook or television. Neither activity is bad in and of itself, but if you only have a few hours of “free” time during the day, you’d probably rather spend it getting a beer with a friend. Try tracking your time one day: write down what you do every half hour, and at the end of the exercise, evaluate where you think time was “wasted.” If you find yourself browsing the internet when you’d rather be reading a book, it might be time to cancel wireless at your house, or at least turn off your phone’s Twitter alerts.
8. Say no. When people start to see you as a person who gets things done, they will naturally approach you when (wait for it) they need something done. Learn to accept only the proposals you consider worthwhile and say no politely. Even at the workplace, if you’re asked to take charge of a project that you could care less about, feel out management and, if it seems safe, politely express that your interest lies elsewhere. Your co-worker may be dying to plan the spring fundraiser, and saying no could put that task in the hands of someone better suited for it while keeping you free for a project down the road.
9. Make more decisions. Tape this Seth Godin mantra on your monitor and start chipping away at the paralysis of decision-making. Spinach omelet or biscuit and gravy? Professional life or grad school? Hey — both options are pretty good. And if the one you pick turns out not to be so great, at least you made a choice. Because as Seth says, “Not deciding is usually the wrong decision.”
At first your productive disciplines may seem strange and even rude to friends and coworkers. But if you take the time to explain your practices in a non-patronizing way, they’ll likely understand and perhaps even follow suit.