Even the most productive of us can wonder how we’re going to achieve a seemingly never-ending to-do list at work. With numerous tasks and projects being juggled on a daily basis, many of us can find ourselves tied to our desks long after we should have clocked off and gone home for the day to see loved ones, relax and enjoy a favorite hobby.
But what if I told you that it’s often not the amount of work that’s holding you back, but the little distractions that are sapping your time and preventing you from being your productive best?
Even just a few moments of distraction or not planning your time properly can have a big impact on when you finish work and head home. Try these tips to wave goodbye to those annoying daily time drains and usher in a new, super productive you!
There’s no doubt that digital technology has helped immensely in the workplace, but boy can it be distracting!
From picking up your cell phone every 20 minutes to check for missed calls to swooning over your friend’s latest vacation to Hawaii on social media, these few stolen moments at work can soon add up and leave you wondering why you’ve got so little time to complete the tasks you’ve got lined up for the day.
If missing deadlines and falling behind on your workload is becoming a bit of an issue and you find yourself frequently taking work home with you or eating dinner at your desk each day, it’s time to banish these digital distractions and put those devices we rely on so much back where they belong!
Leaving your cell phone in your purse or bottom desk drawer and out of sight can help you concentrate on the task at hand and not become distracted each time someone responds to your early morning Tweet.
It’s all too easy to reach for the phone as soon as a message or alert pops up on screen, so if you put it somewhere that you can’t see it, then you’re far less likely to stop what you’re doing to respond to time-draining social media posts or pointless messages. Instead, consciously check your phone just every two to four hours if you can’t bear to be completely without your device during the working day. Even this small change will win back precious moments and give you back your productivity.
If you need your cell handy for work calls, at least turn off the alerts from social media, as they can be a massive drain on your day.
Overlooking small chunks of time
If the day ahead feels overwhelming, with lots of meetings, you might get caught up in moving from activity to activity, and overlook the brief moments during which you could address relatively easy tasks on your to-do list.
Instead of thinking that you need big blocks of time to get things done, recognize that you can still be productive during smaller chunks of time. Whether it’s responding to an email, making a quick call, proofing a few pages, or simply prioritizing your load for more efficiency in the future, don’t let those moments go to waste!
Further, for assignments that are amenable to it, you might also break down bigger projects into small bite-sized chunks in a list format. That way, you’ll be able to tackle smaller elements piece by piece, when you can, and stay motivated to get the job done.
Still, when you’re busy, you’ll need to be intentional about how much time you’re spending connecting with others. After all, a quick trip to the lunch room can easily turn into a gripe session that only serves to negatively affect your mood, and waste time.
If you find that you’re prone to being distracted by the latest workplace gossip, then you’ll need to set some boundaries on how often you’re socializing during work hours. To do this, you could close your door or put on headphones when you need to send a signal that you’re focused on getting the job done. Or alternately, you could politely say something like, “I’d love to talk, but I’m swamped! Maybe we can go have lunch later this week.”
By setting boundaries, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of time that you’re distracted by chatty colleagues that are probably putting off doing the work that’s been assigned to them.
Being Unrealistic about Your Natural Rhythms
If you’ve got a task that requires your total attention or is quite technical, you’ll ideally want to schedule it during your most productive times. In his book When: the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, author Daniel Pink argues that individuals vary in terms of our moods and peak hours for cognitive tasks. Still, on a whole, most of us are most effective at analyzing and focusing in the morning, and better at being creative and brainstorming in the afternoon.
To be at your best, therefore, it’s important to figure out your own natural rhythms and schedule your time appropriately. If you’re more productive when you’ve just arrived in the office and had a quick pick me up coffee, then make sure to tackle your big tasks before lunch. Meanwhile, if you’re someone who doesn’t get going until the afternoon, then you’ll want to schedule the important piece of work that demands real brain power and focus accordingly.
Pay attention to your own unique natural rhythms and use them to your advantage as they hold the key to a productive new you.
Being Afraid to delegate
One of the secrets of the most productive people is that they’re able to delegate work to others without going on a big guilt trip about it. Learning how to assign work to others not only shows that you trust in their abilities to do a good job, but it can also lighten your workload and allow you the breathing space to prioritize what you specifically need to get done.
Remember, appropriately giving some of your workload to a colleague or direct report doesn’t mean that you’re unable to complete the task because of a lack of ability, but rather that you have the foresight and skills to see that others are better placed to help you deliver the project as a whole on time.
Watch out for these time saps, and see your efficiency go through the roof!
In this guest post, provides helpful information about the value of sleep for a more greater success at work.
The productivity of your workday is heavily influenced by a huge block of time that takes place outside of work—sleep. During this time, you heal, restore, and prepare for the next day’s challenges – all outside of your awareness. Without at least seven hours of sleep, you’re prone to distraction, poor thinking skills, and problems with inter-office relationships. But, the power to improve your sleep lies within your control.
Critical Thinking and Decision Making Skills
Your critical thinking and decision-making skills are one of your most valuable assets. However, without sleep, you can be seriously compromised. A sleep-deprived brain doesn’t have time to cleanse itself of toxic proteins that accumulate during the day. It also doesn’t spend the necessary time pruning and strengthening the communication pathways that keep your thinking sharp.
The cumulative effect is a dampening of brain cell activity. Neurons in the brain cannot fire at full speed due to the resulting fatigue. Your ability to make those split-second decisions or to critically think through a difficult problem can be seriously hampered.
Concentration and Creativity
You’ve probably experienced how difficult it can be to focus and concentrate when you’re tired. But did you also realize that sleep deprivation can influence your creativity?
During slow wave sleep, the brain replays new information, consolidates memories, and creates and strengthens connections between old and new information. Essentially, your learning ability gets a boost while you sleep. The same holds true for creativity. There’s evidence that more sleep leads to a rise in creative solutions because the brain runs through these possibilities while you sleep.
Emotional Stability and Work Relationships
Working as part of a team relies on your emotional stability and interpersonal relationships with your coworkers. However, lack of sleep causes changes in the emotion and logic centers of the brain. The emotional center becomes oversensitive to anything negative, including common office issues like constructive criticism, technology problems, or issues with a coworker or client. At the same time, the brain’s logic center becomes quiet, exerting less influence over your emotional responses.
The quality (and quantity) of your sleep depends a great deal on your personal habits and behaviors. The good news is, this means you have some control over your sleep outcomes.
Set a Reasonable Bedtime: Bedtime is just as valuable to adults as it is to children, and it performs many of the same functions. The human body depends on patterns of behavior to correctly time cycles that repeat every 24 hours, including the sleep cycle. Consistency allows your body to anticipate when to start the release of sleep hormones.
Cater to Your Comfort Needs: Everyone has different comfort needs and issues. Those with back pain may need a mattress specifically designed for back problems while others may need natural fiber sheets and bedding to allow for maximum breathability. Accommodate your own issues, which may mean a white noise machine, ceiling fan, or automatically timed lights, so you can have the quiet, cool, dark sleep environment you need.
Nap Carefully and Strategically: A quick 10 to 15-minute nap on your lunch break can restore your concentration, focus, and creativity. You don’t want to spend too much time napping as it can interfere with your nightly sleep cycle and, of course, be mindful of your employer’s time. However, if you can slide one in appropriately, you might just find that it recharges you.
Make Time for the Outdoors: Nature can help your sleep cycle by calming the part of the brain responsible for feelings of depression and anxiety. It’s also been found that spending time in nature can restore the brain’s ability to concentrate and focus. One study even found that a short 40-second view of a natural environment boosted attention to facts and details.
The efficiency of your work performance starts long before you sit down at your desk. To truly put your best foot forward, you have to start with a full night’s rest. Therefore, making time for sleep is really making time for the professional success.
For additional tips on improving your sleep, click here.
Lately it seems like we’re hearing a lot about how stressed people are at work. According to the International Labor Organization, workers in developing and developed countries across the world are feeling increased strain in the workplace.
I also hear a lot about on-the-job stress when I’m coaching my clients. And, unfortunately, when they talk about it, they often express a sense of helplessness and resignation. Although they recognize that they should do something about it, they often feel that they can’t do anything about it. Sure, they would love to go to yoga classes, get massages, or go on extended vacations, but they just don’t see how they can make the time to focus on self-care.
Can you relate? Here’s Where to Start
The reality is, stress from the workplace can come from a number of different sources. So, instead of attempting a one-size-fits-all approach to cope with it,begin by conducting a stress inventory. To do this, simply create an exhaustive (no pun intended) list of all of the things about your work that stress you out.
Then, beside each stressor, write down as many ideas as you can think of that could help you to deal with it. Don’t worry if you can’t do anything about some of them immediately (e.g. an irregular work schedule or lengthy commute). By attending to the stressors that you can address, you’ll be empowering yourself to take a stand for your well-being.
Need some help coming up with your list of stressors? Here are some of the common culprits, along with some ideas about what to do about them.
1. Heavy Workload
If you’re like many professionals, your main stressor is the sheer amount of work that you have to do. Between meetings, emails, projects, and other demands, it can feel like you’re swimming upstream to keep up with it all.
If you can relate to this, start by paying attention to how you use your time. Are you really managing it as effectively as you could?
When I ask them to track how they’re using their time, many of my clients are shocked to discover that they’re not actually as efficient as they think they are. In fact, one of the biggest threats to their productivity is their habit of constantly interrupting themselves to multi-task.
Here’s a common scenario: You start writing a report. A few minutes in, you notice an email notification. So, you open it, and begin responding. Mid-email, you remember that you need to pick up bananas at the grocery store, so you open your task list app to make a note of it. While you’re on your phone, you notice a text from your best friend. After finding the appropriate witty GIF to reply, you go back to your report.
Sound familiar at all?
Admittedly, some interruptions are unavoidable. However, by tightening up how you approach your work and how you manage your time, you can enhance your efficiency and get more done. So, develop your time management skills and, if you’re in a position in which you can do so, make sure you’re delegating enough, so that you can further manage your workload.
When you manage your time well, you’ll get your work done in less time. And, when you feel less overwhelmed, your stress level will decrease.
2. Conflict with Co-Workers
If, like most of us, you’re in a job in which you work with other people, you have plenty of opportunities for interpersonal conflict. Whether it’s a critical boss, a dismissive colleague, or peers who make unreasonable last minute demands, your relationships can easily contribute to your stress level.
If you’re someone who hates conflict, you might choose to stay silent about your concerns. However, while this may keep things calm on the surface, on the inside, you may be silently seething with resentment, gritting your teeth, and allowing your stress to eat away at you. A better solution? Commit to learning how to manage conflict and be appropriately assertive. Then, aim to have constructive conversations with the people around you. After all, if you’re not speaking up about your concerns, others may have no idea about what’s going on with you.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone who comes across as argumentative or aggressive, it’s possible that your style may be contributing to your interpersonal difficulties. To upgrade your interactions, develop your emotional intelligence, work on becoming a better listener, and place more of an emphasis on connecting with others. Your improved relationships will not only lessen your stress level, they’ll likely also make you a more effective worker.
3. Your Values Are a Mismatch to Your Company’s Values
You’re competitive and ambitious, but your department is all about collaboration. Or, perhaps you’re motivated by the impact your actions have on society, but your organization is primarily focused on financial gain. If your values are in conflict with the culture of your workplace, you could be fighting an uphill battle.
If you find yourself experiencing this sort of mismatch, start by brainstorming ways to exercise more of your values in the workplace. For example, if giving back is important to you, see if you can get a group of people together to engage in volunteer work. Or, if connecting with others is one of your core values, be intentional about socializing with your colleagues. These sorts of actions can help you to bring a sense of meaning back to your job, and might lessen your stress levels.
However, keep in mind that research shows that if there is too much of a misalignment between your personal values and that of your organization, your risk for burnout increases. Therefore, if there’s too much of a mismatch, you might want to look for work at an organization that’s a better cultural fit for you.
4. You Don’t Have Enough Autonomy
Studies have shown that a lack of autonomy, or not having control over decisions that affect your job, is a leading source of work stress that can affect everything from your job satisfaction to your health. If you feel that you have inadequate autonomy in your job, consider talking your boss about ways that you might be able to have more say at work.
Perhaps you could lead an initiative that’s of interest to you. Perhaps you could influence changes in processes that affect your day-to-day work. Or, perhaps you could talk your boss into allowing you to telecommute every so often. While you’ll obviously need to take the nature of your job into account, there are likely ways that you can have more influence over your work environment. And, with a greater sense of control, your sense of well-being may just increase.
5. You Don’t Give Yourself a Chance to Disconnect
Many clients that I work with talk about how email and mobile devices are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they give you more flexibility so that, theoretically, you can work wherever and whenever you want. However, because you’re always accessible, your employer may have higher expectations about how available you should be at all times. As a result, digital devices can become a major stressor that can interfere with your ability to disconnect and recharge outside of work.
Although there are some fields in which you may need to be on-call at all times, for most of us, that isn’t a necessity. Therefore, if you are stressed out by being available around the clock, experiment by setting some limits for yourself. Commit to stop checking work emails after a certain time each day. Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed. Consider having a conversation with your boss about expectations for responding after hours.
By taking steps to allow yourself to disconnect fully, you’ll likely feel greater autonomy. In turn, this will help you to manage your stress.
6. Your Mindset Contributes to Your Stress
Have you ever noticed how people’s reactions to seemingly stressful situations differ? For example, while one person may feel overwhelmed by work responsibilities, his colleague is able to take it in stride. What’s the difference? It may just have to do with perspective.
In one study, when researchers told participants to think of stress arousal as something that could maximize their performance, they felt more confident and less anxious in pressure-packed situations. In addition, the study participants didn’t experience typical negative physiological reactions in response to stress.
By focusing on how stressful situations may actually help you to grow, you can channel your thoughts in constructive ways. And, if that sounds like too much of a tall order, then developing a mindfulness practice might help you. As you become more mindful, you’ll find that you’ll become more aware of the thoughts that may be contributing to your stress. And, with that awareness, you’ll put yourself in a better position to take a step back, reappraise the situation, and decrease your negative reactions.
Finally, as you’re doing what you can to deal with stressors in the workplace, don’t forget to focus on self-care. Exercise. Eat a balanced diet. Get adequate sleep. Meditate. Treat yourself with compassion. Recognize that self-care isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity for a well-balanced life. So, give yourself full permission to recharge when you need to do so. You’ll not only better manage your stress, you’ll become more productive in the long-run.
Need additional help managing your work stress? Click here.
If you’re like most of my friends and clients, you feel like you have a lot to do, but just don’t have enough time to do it all. “If only there were more hours in the day, I might be able to make my dreams a reality,” you lament, wishing that you could magically slow down the clock.
I’ve got some news for you. The problem might not be a lack of time — the problem might actually be you.
Could You Be the Problem?
How familiar does this sound?
You sit down to work on a project, study for an exam, or write the next Oscar-winning screenplay. Fifteen minutes later, you realize that all that you’ve accomplished has been to post a picture of your latte on instagram, send five texts, and take a random quiz that informs you that you should actually be living in Bora Bora.
Research suggests that we are often our own worst enemies when it comes to accomplishing our goals. Although we might think that we’re using our time effectively, in reality, many of us are interrupting ourselves so often that we simply can’t get anything done.
For instance, one study followed adults across 300 hours. The subjects were outfitted with biometric belts to gauge their emotional engagement, along with glasses with cameras embedded in them so the researchers could see how they were spending their time. During the study, it was found that younger adults switched from task to task once every one to two minutes, while older adults switched tasks once every three to four minutes.
In other words, people were switching from task to task anywhere from 17–27 times per hour!
If you work in an office, this research might be exactly what you would expect. After all, I’ve heard many clients complain about how impossible it is to get work done when they’re around other people. Co-workers are always dropping by their desks unannounced. Other people’s emergencies cause them to have to shift priorities on a dime. Bosses continuously add more and more to the demanding workloads that they already have. As a result, it can be really difficult to get into a flow.
Another study, which followed employees at a telecom company, confirmed the idea that people are always getting interrupted. In fact, the data in this study suggested that employees spent only about half of their workdays engaging in behavior related to work. The average length of time that employees spent on any particular task, before switching to something else? A mere three minutes!
However, before you go blaming your co-workers, you might be interested to learn that this same study indicated that almost two-thirds of the work interruptions were initiated by the workers themselves. And, most of these interruptions involved a technological device such as a smartphone and a computer.
To add insult to injury, the study also found that most of those distractions didn’t come as a result of a notification or incoming alert. Instead, it was simply as a result of the workers checking their devices to make sure that they hadn’t missed anything.
In other words, most of the time, the workers had no one to blame for their interruptions but themselves.
Why We’re So Tied to Our Devices
So why are we so tied to our devices?
Part of it comes down to operant conditioning, psychologist B.F. Skinner’sclassic approach to shaping behavior. As has been proven many times over, when you positively reinforce a behavior, you increase the odds that it will happen again in the future.
How does this relate to your devices?
Every time you check your smartphone or scroll through social media, there’s a possibility that you might get positively reinforced. Sometimes, when you look at your phone, there’s absolutely nothing of interest to you. But, other times, there’s a nugget that gives you a rush of excitement — whether it’s a text from your significant other, the latest bit of celebrity gossip, or an email announcing a flash sale at your favorite store.
In addition, the reinforcement schedule that you’re on for your smartphone (the variable ratio schedule, in case you’re interested), tends to produce very rapid responding. It’s also the reinforcement schedule that tends to create the most consistent behavior that is the most resistant to being extinguished (for reference, slot machines operate on a variable ratio schedule). And so, because you’re reinforced every so often when you look at your phone, you’re being set up to continue that checking behavior over and over.
Another reason we’re so prone to distraction?
Technology is everywhere. As a result, we have all sorts of wonderful opportunities to distract and entertain ourselves sitting, quite literally, at our fingertips. And, when something is easily available to us, we’re more likely to use it.
For example, when you’re aiming to eat healthier, what’s one of the first thing you’re instructed to do? Clear your home of junk food. After all, you’ll be lot less likely to eat a chocolate bar if you have to get in your car and drive to the store, as opposed to reaching into your desk drawer to get one.
But what do you do, if the item you’re trying to avoid is simply one click away, and you have to work on your laptop as a function of your job? Is there any way to combat the lure of the potential delights awaiting you on social media and in your inbox?
How to Get Control
Although it might seems like the odds are stacked against you, there areseveral things that you can do to increase your productivity.
1. Turn Off Your Alerts
Although we often interrupt ourselves without any sort of external stimulus, research also shows that when our notifications do go off, we tend to be easily distracted. For example, one study showed that on average, people waited less than two minutes to open their email messages. Another study showed that 41% of workers responded to emails immediately, while 71% answered their instant messages immediately.
The bottom line? Because notifications can be too enticing to resist, you’ll need to do your best to eliminate the temptation.
If you’re working on your laptop, take your email accounts offline. Mute the notifications on your smartphone. Turn off your social media alerts. Give yourself fewer potential distractions to ignore, and you’ll be making your life a whole lot easier.
2. Create New Habits
To decrease your attachment to your technological devices, you’ll also need to change your relationship with them by creating some new habits. To do this, start by setting up some rules for yourself to govern how you’ll interact with email, social media, and the internet.
For example, if you typically check your smartphone every five minutes, decide that you’ll only allow yourself to check it every quarter hour. To avoid going down the rabbit hole of switching tasks every time a message arrives, set aside designated periods during the day devoted to responding to emails. Do the same with web-surfing or engaging with social media — schedule those times in advance too.
Then, consider these rules set in stone, without any wiggle-room. Although they might feel challenging to stick to at first, across time, they’ll become business as usual. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with more control over your own behavior, along with greater productivity.
3. Set Up Your Environment For Success
To increase your productivity, it’s also critical to set up your environment in a way that will support your efforts. If you’re sitting down to work, don’t put your smartphone on the desk right beside you. Instead, leave it in your bag, or better yet, in another room. (If you’re expecting a call, you’ll still be able to hear the ring). When you’re working on your computer, close any unnecessary browser windows, along with your email.
Remove social media apps from your phone. Or, if you really want to up the ante, deactivate your Facebook account (you can always come back to it later). While these might sound like extreme measures, every single person I’ve spoken to who has tried this out has said that it helped them to see just how much time they were wasting, mindlessly liking photos on instagram or decorating their future dream home on pinterest. And, if you take a hiatus from social media, you just might feel happier — research has suggested that young people who engage on more social media platforms have an increased risk for depression and anxiety.
When you go to bed, turn off your phone or, at the very least, don’t keep it on your nightstand. Getting a good night’s sleep is linked to lower stress and higher productivity. But, if you’re spending your late nights on social media or responding to every text that arrives, you won’t be able to recharge adequately. And, that lack of sleep will carry over into your work day.
4. Practice Mindfulness
Finally, to strengthen your ability to stay focused on one thing at a time, you might want to develop your own mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is defined by the Greater Good Center at the University of Berkeley as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” As a result, mindfulness helps you to better stay in the present, while also being able to respond to situations intentionally, as opposed to reactively.
Mindfulness has been linked to better concentration, decreased stress, increased creativity, improved memory, and a host of other positive outcomes that will help you to be more productive. Furthermore, if you develop your ability to be more mindful, it’ll help you to reduce the number of times that you grab for your smartphone out of habit.
For example, the next time you feel compelled to reach for your phone when you’re in an elevator, waiting in line at the grocery store, or sitting at your desk trying to work, check in with yourself. Think about why you’re reaching for it. Is it to quell anxiety? Is it because it’s something you habitually do? Is it because you’re expecting a text? Once you’re more aware of your behaviors and why you’re doing them, you’ll increase your ability to make informed choices in the moment.
To get started with mindfulness, a simple practice is to observe your breathing. As you notice thoughts coming up, gently notice them, let them go, and resume focusing on your breathing. Repeat this process throughout your practice, and you’ll strengthen your ability to focus. (For information on how to create a more in-depth mindfulness practice, click here).
Changing your behaviors related to technology aren’t necessarily easy. But, with commitment, you can gain control. You’ll be rewarded with more productivity, and greater freedom over your choices.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” ~Colin Powell
Based on my own experience coaching leaders, I definitely agree with this sentiment. The best leaders are the ones who have established regular disciplines to ensure they are regularly attending to the right things. If you strive to be a leader who achieves excellence, then incorporate these seven habits into your work life.
1. Take time to personally connect with your team
There’s no doubt about it, most leaders have a lot to do. As a result, when you have a spare moment, it can be tempting to hole up in your office or cubicle, spending all your time attending to work or getting caught up on emails. However, excellent leaders recognize that if they neglect building relationships with their direct reports, they are missing out on an important opportunity to motivate their people by deepening connections.
While you don’t have to attend daily happy hours with your direct reports, you should, at the very least, make time to walk around and chat. Be genuinely interested in your people, and let them get to know you. You might be surprised how much those personal connections with the boss can make a difference in your team’s level of engagement at work.
2. Determine your top 3-5 priorities for the day
When you’re the boss, time can often get away from you. Aside from dealing with your own workload, it’s not uncommon to deal with employee interruptions, impromptu meetings, and unanticipated crises. To increase the odds that you are able to make the most of each day, as soon as you get into the office in the morning, get into the practice of writing down the 3-5 critical tasks that need to get done. It’s a simple habit, but it can keep you focused so that you can better make decisions about what to attend to when (and which requests can be put off until tomorrow). In turn, this could make the difference between a day that’s productive and proactive, versus one that’s spent responding reactively, with balls dropped or activities falling through the cracks.
Being a leader means dealing with the unexpected, and often having more to do than is humanly possibly. As a result, for most people, there’s simply no way that you can get everything done all on your own, while still maintaining your sanity. Excellent leaders make the best use of their resources by assigning activities to their team. If there are critical priorities that you need to attend to yourself, then delegating less important tasks frees up your time to do so. Alternately, if you need to call in the troops to help you to get an urgent matter completed, delegation (and appropriate oversight) can help you to address it more efficiently.
(Need to be a better delegator? Sign up for my FREE course and learn the 6 step delegation formula).
4. Tie up Loose Ends
Excellent leaders are organized and responsive. Therefore, at the end of the day, make it a habit to tie up any loose ends. Begin by ensuring that you have completed the tasks from your morning priorities. Then, run through your emails to make sure that you have responded to all of the ones that need an immediate response. It can also be a good practice to give status updates to ones that might require additional investigation from you (i.e. “I’ll get you that information by Friday).” Although you might know your intentions, others, might misinterpret your delay as unresponsiveness. Finally, file documents and consolidate your task lists. You’ll return to the office the next day organized, and ready to go!
5. Set aside time to be strategic
With all that’s going on in your world, if you’re not careful, most (if not all) of your time can be spent on immediate activities, at the expense of important but non-urgent ones (as Stephen Covey would categorize them). So, it might not be surprising to hear that a common complaint I hear from leaders is that they don’t have time for strategic thought, planning, and considering the big picture. To guard against this, block out time on your calendar to strategize, read up on industry trends, and generally stay abreast of what’s going on in your field.
During this time, you can also periodically think about how things are functioning in your area. For example, reflect on your processes and their potential inefficiencies. Are there any that are there just because things have always been done that way? Likewise, would the addition of any processes help with workflow? You could also reflect on the effectiveness of your meetings. Do they need more structure? Less? Can any be cancelled?
Taking this time will help you to make sure that you’re keeping an eye on the big picture, which will help you to make sure that you’re consistently doing the right things for the right reasons.
6. Communicate positive feedback
For many leaders, this habit comes naturally – they’re great at rewarding and recognizing their team. However, if you’re the sort of leader who tends to focus on what needs to be improved, you might forget to acknowledge your people for a job well done. While you should obviously be reinforcing good work when you see it, if you’ve gotten to Thursday and you realize that you haven’t said a genuine “thank you” or “great work,” then be intentional about looking for opportunities to validate someone. Staff (and most of us, actually) can be very motivated by knowing that their contributions are valued. So, make sure to reinforce them for when they exhibit great performance.
Monthly or Semi-Monthly
7. Hold regular one-on-ones
Holding regular one-on-one meetings with your team members will help you to cultivate your relationships with them, while also giving you a venue for keeping up with their assignments. The frequency of your one-on-ones will depend on a variety of factors such as your number of direct reports, their level of experience, and the nature of your work. If you have a lot of people reporting up to you, then having very frequent meetings would likely be untenable. However, if you have particular people who are new or inexperienced, then you’ll need to check in with them more often.
While most leaders recognize that these sorts of meetings are beneficial for delegating and checking in regarding progress on tasks, don’t forget to also take time to periodically ask about their career goals. With your employees’ aspirations in mind, you can better provide them with coaching, feedback, and projects that will help them to ready themselves for their next career steps. It’s also a good practice to ask for feedback about how you can support them or be a better boss for them. That way, you can gain a deeper understanding of your people, while also making sure that you’re also continuing to meet their needs and grow as a leader.
Try to incorporate these habits as a regular part of your routine. I’m confident you’ll see a positive difference with respect to your team’s efficiency, productivity, and morale. And that, is what leadership excellence is all about.
Want some additional strategies that will help you to be a more effective leader? Click here.
You’re a human living in 2017, which means you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. Aside from the demands of your work, you’re tending to relationships—with your family members, friends, and/or your significant other. You probably try to work in some time for hobbies, relaxation, and adequate sleep, though sometimes the balance can still be skewed. It’s a challenge to balance it all.
One question I often ask my clients is, “Are you doing too much? After all, feeling overwhelmed most often results from being over-scheduled and spread thin. Perhaps you’re engaging in a lot of tasks out of obligation rather than actual desire. If so, paring things down can be a good place to start.
But other times, feeling overwhelmed is simply a state of being, one in which you let all of your stressors stew in your head gets the better of you. What if you want to make time for all of your recreational activities, while also making sure to feel focused and productive during “to do list” time?
Well then: your other option is to increase your productivity. Easier said than done, I know.
The following suggestions are focused specifically on work, since most of my clients have found that concentrated periods of productivity at the office free up more personal time. Across the board, the key is being more present, and accountable with how you’re spending your time. So let’s get started:
1. Track how you’re using your time.
While these suggestions aren’t exactly in a particular order, but one is a good diagnostic “test.” Unless we have scheduled meetings or phone calls, we tend not to be aware of how exactly we use our time each day. To get a more accurate assessment, start by tracking your use of time for two weeks. Simply create a spreadsheet, and make a note of how much time you spend doing various activities each hour—from responding to emails, to procrastinating on Facebook.
Once you are able to identify your prime time-wasters, you can cut back accordingly, and be more productive
2. Move some stuff off of your plate (if possible).
If you’re a leader, or in a position in which you are able to delegate activities to others, then you might want to do a self-check to see if you are delegating as much as you should. Often, we get overwhelmed because we make too many assumptions about what others expect from us, even what we expect from ourselves. For example, you may think it’s easier for you to copy and collate those slide decks, but perhaps it just feels easier because you’re anxious about relinquishing control of the project. Get curious, and honest, and ask yourself, “Is this really the best use of my time?” You may find that your administrative assistant or colleague could handle it just as easily.
As you are tracking your time (in step 1), keep a list of those activities you are doing that could be delegated to others because (a) it’s their job or (b) it could provide them with an opportunity to learn new skills. Then, dole out the assignments. While you’ll need to check up on progress (and might have to do some training), this will help you to make the best use of your time over time.
3. Commit to doing things at a certain time of day.
Have you ever gotten to the end of the week and realized that too many of the items on your to-do list didn’t get touched?
You may not be intentional enough about scheduling. If you want to get more done, decide inadvance when you’re going to do them, and write it down. Research has found that you’re much more likely to fulfill your commitments to yourself if you take this approach. The other benefit of this exercise is that it can help you re-prioritize or delegate as necessary. You may realize you don’t have time to complete all that you’ve committed to, and that will help you get more realistic about your priorities.
4. Be wary of perfectionism, and rein it in.
If you’re a perfectionist, you’re likely not making the most efficient use of your time. This statement isn’t meant to be critical, but rather to point out one of the ironies of perfectionism—that it makes you waste time and energy on things that can sabotage your productivity, and well-being.
Since you might be striving for perfection on tasks that just don’t warrant it, make a concerted effort to differentiate between the tasks that require “perfection” (e.g. a presentation to a sales prospect), versus those for which “good enough” would suffice (e.g. an email to your mom). Then, spend your time accordingly.
5. Give yourself a break from notifications.
Email is one of the of the biggest time-sucks that I hear about from my clients. Even if they commit to limiting email consumption to certain points during the day, the lure of the notification signal is too much to resist. If you’re in a position in which you don’t need to be responding to emails with immediate urgency (I think most of us are in that camp, regardless of urgent things can feel), then cut back on how often you’re checking them.
Turn off your monitor, mute the notifications, or put your phone in your bag so you won’t be tempted. It might feel hard to do at first, but across time, you’ll get used to it, particularly when you are able to appreciate the benefits of being more productive.
6. Skip the sleep sacrifice.
With all of the competing demands many professionals face, sleep can often be the first to go. If you sleep a little less, you can shove one more activity into your schedule, right? Not exactly.
Research suggests that this is flawed reasoning, as inadequate sleep is linked to fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased productivity. If you’re someone who tends to skimp on sleep, shift your priorities to include rest, and you’ll likely find that you’ll be much more efficient during your waking hours.
7. Procrastinate with intention.
AKA: Take breaks. It may seem like a paradox, but you can actually make better use of your time if you carve out time for intentional “procrastination” (e.g. not working) during the work day.
Breaks have been found to help you to refocus, increase job performance, and even increase your level of satisfaction. During those instances when you feel your energy and concentration waning, don’t try to will yourself through it with a clenched fist! Instead, take a 5-10 minute break. Then get back to work with a renewed sense of energy.