This is a guest post by John Mak from Simply1Software.com
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If you’re like a lot of working people your work day goes by at a harried and hectic pace. You eat breakfast on the fly, multi-task at the office, work through lunch, rush to meetings and stay late at your desk.
You’re really busy, but are you productive? Are you getting results or are you just really good at being busy?
I’m a big believer in leading a balanced life and allowing work to become such a burden is both unnecessary and counterproductive to the actual purpose of work, which is to get results. I’d like to explore the three most important things you can do to get your work life under control, achieve more and have more time to pursue your interests.
Out With Multi-tasking
I believe the biggest obstacle to being more productive is the whole concept of multi-tasking. This is where you juggle many different tasks at the same time in the mistaken notion that you will be able to get them done faster and more efficiently. This sounds good in theory, but in reality you can only concentrate fully on one task at a time. So, instead of doing a thorough job on one task you do a substandard job on many tasks.
Being on the phone getting instructions on how to run a new software program, while at the same time trying to organize your files, does not allow you to give enough attention to either activity. The end result is that you will probably make mistakes that wind up costing you more time (and maybe money) to correct than if you had just focused on one task at a time.
In a recent L.A. Times article, former Chief Information Officer at Google Inc., Douglas Merrill, noted that, “the brain is inept at memorizing bits of information.” He notes that our short-term memory can only handle five to nine things at a time.” Beyond that, we start to forget and make mistakes.
One of the best ways to avoid multi-tasking is do prioritize well. Plan to do your most important activities first and focus on each one until it’s complete before starting another one. If some problem arises and you can’t finish without help, put the task completely aside and move on. If you leave the work open on your desk your attention will be divided while working on your next task.
You Can’t Do It All Yourself
Out of a sincere desire to do a good job or be a team player you may just be taking on too much work. If you say yes to every request you will have no shortage of people looking to dump projects on you instead of doing it themselves or finding someone else. I think everyone should have a clear objective of what they need to accomplish in order to do their job well. This gets back to the issue of prioritizing. If the project does not fit in with that objective, then don’t take it on. This will allow you to focus on your priorities and be more efficient and productive with less stress.
When you get your priorities in order, you will most likely find that you don’t have to work through lunch and stay late at night to get your work done. In 2009 the Harvard Business Review published a four-year study that looked at what would happen if consultants were forced to take more time off. The results were that their productivity increased because they were forced to use their time more effectively by better planning and organizing their activities.
If you’re self-employed the best way to free up more of your time is to delegate, or outsource, mundane tasks to someone else. This is one of the big secrets to the success of Tim Ferris, author of the “4-Hour Workweek”. Ferris advocates hiring someone to answer phone calls and emails and to perform clerical tasks that are low-cost. This will allow you to spend the time that you do have on activities that will increase revenue. The cost will be minimal by comparison.
Taming the Email Monster
How many times a day do you check your email? I check mine constantly and most of it is usually something that could wait until later or something I just delete right away. In another 2009 Harvard Business Review article, a study was referenced that noted it took people an average of 25 minutes to return to their current task after switching to read an email. Just imagine what that does to your productivity over the course of days or weeks?
One solution may be to discipline yourself to only check your email at set times every day. If you check email first when you arrive at work, just before leaving for lunch and once just before leaving for the day you won’t waste time getting back to your task since you weren’t already working on something when you opened it.
It’s my belief that multi-tasking, taking on too much work and checking email too frequently are the biggest time wasters and productivity killers in the workplace. This is certainly not an exhaustive list so I’d like to hear what you have to say.