It’s 8:00 a.m. Another day is starting. Are you refreshed and ready to leap into a day full of accomplishments? Or is your desk filled with leftover tasks, unanswered memos and unread professional journals? Walking in to an unplanned workday can make you feel defeated before you even get started. Here’s how to make every moment of your workday count!
Clear your desk, clear your mind
Good news! You don’t have to become completely organized overnight. Your desk doesn’t need to be completely clear. What you need is a plan that works for you. There are many organizational tools out there; find one that works for you. Controlling the clutter, even if you can just create “priority piles” of paper, helps you dig in to work with a plan.
Track your time
This is a great investment of time and effort as you reflect on your own productivity. Once again, there are many online tools to help you find out where your time goes. A legal pad with time increments of 15 minutes also works just fine. During every interval you choose (most recommendations are for 15 or 30 minutes) write down everything you do. Email, phone calls, chats around the copier in the hall. Don’t make judgments or change your daily routine—you are gathering data! At the end of two weeks, review your results. What timewasters jump out at you? What simple changes can you make?
Multitasking is not the answer
For years, management gurus encouraged multitasking, or working on more than one task at a time. Everyone was doing it—until we found that most work activities require more concentration and while sheer volume might increase, quality suffers. Have you ever heard someone tap tapping on their computer while supposedly talking to you? Yeah, it’s like that. Set times during the day to return calls and emails, and other times to work on projects that need more in-depth attention. Try to limit visitors and electronic notifications while working on those projects.
“The Good Enough Job”
Are you a perfectionist? Many organizational leaders are! But doing everything perfectly can be overkill, and a big waste of time. Not every activity needs to be done at 100%. If a routine email has a typo or two, is it worth the extra editing time to find and correct it? Nope. However, if you are turning in a grant proposal to a potential funder, be aware that presentation counts. You should not only edit yourself, but let someone else review it with a fresh set of eyes. Look at each of your tasks, and make a realistic judgment of how “perfect” it needs to be.
Eat lunch and take breaks
It is way too easy for a hard worker to fall into the trap of working without breaks or meal times. It’s easy to say “I’m too busy for breaks, and I can grab a bite at my desk”. It may sound counterintuitive, but taking regular breaks and mealtimes can actually improve your productivity. At some point, constant attention to tasks reaches a point of diminishing returns, affecting both your quality of work and your personal well-being. Take a quick break in the morning and afternoon; if possible, take a quick walk around your building to reinvigorate your mind and body. Eat lunch away from your desk if possible. If this seems impossible to build into your day, invite a coworker to join you so it is on your calendar!
Take 10 minutes
At the end of each workday, do yourself a big favor. Spend the last ten minutes of your day setting the stage for tomorrow. Clear your desk of unneeded clutter. Check to see that your calendar is up to date on meetings and time commitments. Have your daily projects in folders (or whatever format works for you) so that you are ready to begin as soon as your reach your desk. Then go home, ready to relax without worry about looming office projects.