You know that feeling at the end of the day, when you've worked and worked and have nothing solid to show for it?
Let's get rid of that feeling.
Here are seven simple but powerful techniques to help you stay on track, focused, and organized at work.
1. Limit Your To-Do List
An overwhelming amount of tasks waiting for you has a negative effect on your productivity. It tends to, well, be overwhelming.
We see the whole long list as one big, intimidating project, and it's difficult to get started on something intimidating. So rather than produce, we procrastinate. We're overwhelmed and intimidated by the volume and confusion, so we shy away from dealing with it.
Severely limit the size and scope of your daily task list. Focus on one to three important things per day. Allow minor tasks to fill the in-between times, and don't worry about the rest.
2. Work in Time Segments and Take Breaks
You can find a dozen suggestions for the optimum "time segment" you should work.
It really doesn't matter.
The point is to use a timer. Set it for a designated number of minutes. Choose one item from your (short) task list, start the timer, and do nothing but work on that item until the time is out. Then stand up, stretch, walk around. Take a break for five to fifteen minutes.
Come back, reset your timer, and then either a) resume work on that task or b) if the previous task is complete, choose a new task from your list.
3. Create a Space-Use Hierarchy for Your Stuff
Here's how it works: the stuff you use most often should be closest to you, preferably within arm's reach. But how often does that work out?
It's time to arrange your workspace to match how you actually work.
Think of your workspace as a series of concentric circles. Three, to be exact.
- Put the stuff you use daily closest to you, in that first, center ring.
Put the stuff you use weekly in the next ring.
Put the stuff you use monthly in the third, final ring.
Anything else? The stuff you use annually, or every few months, or never? It goes right out the door. Get rid of it, or store it elsewh ere.
4. Use Containers and Labels
Follow this simple rule for any physical item you keep in your workspace: put it in a container and label.
Group small items together. Maybe you'll get a set of those plastic drawers, stick them in the closet, and label them: paper and printing supplies, reference materials, so on.
Label things that you file. They go into a container (a folder in the file drawer) and that folder has a label.
Label things that you save digitally. They go into a container (a folder in your digital filing system, or your digital inbox) and they get a label (a tag, a color code, or a label via the file name itself).
5. The Inbox Habit and the 2-Minute Rule
The inbox habit works like this: Designate two important inboxes. One is physical and one is digital.
Take all inputs - whether it's mail, information, your own notes, voicemail, email, business cards - and you put them in the appropriate inbox.
Physical stuff goes in the physical inbox, digital stuff in the digital inbox.
Set a regular time to go through your inboxes. This is a great practice for low-energy times.
To keep your inbox stuff from piling up, employ the 2-minute rule.
When something comes in, glance at it; if it takes 2 minutes or less, then do it, answer it, schedule it, delegate it, or delete it right away. It doesn't even need to go into your inbox.
6. Assign Days to Particular Projects or Areas
Perhaps you have three big projects currently going. Plus you have all the regular, non-project stuff, like keeping up with communication, team meetings, client follow-up, and maintenance work.
Assign a particular day to a particular areas, something like this:
- Monday is for planning and Project #1.
Tuesday is for communicating and Project #2.
Wednesday is for meetings and Project #3.
Thursday is for client follow-up and non-project work.
Friday is for maintenance, plus wrapping up whatever didn't quite get done on the other four days.
Assigning a day a particular focus will give you an automatic filter for what should get your attention on that day and what should wait.
7. Identify and Control Your Distractions
There are two primary types of distractions: external and internal.
The external distractions are the ones you don't directly cause; they are people-powered interruptions.
The internal distractions are the ones you cause yourself: the internal voices that cause you to procrastinate, the piles of disorganized clutter that drive you crazy, the Internet addictions like social media and mindless surfing.
For external distractions, follow your inbox and 2-minute protocol for most inputs. For the people interruptions, it helps a lot to be using time segments. When someone pops during your work time, just say, "I've got to work on this for the next [x] minutes and then I'll be happy to chat."
For internal distractions, either designate a time to deal with it (clutter) or implement a lim it on it (installing a blocker software that keeps you from social sites during certain hours of your day).
As you start using these techniques in your work day, you will see a difference. Remember that the first few days are the most difficult. Stick with it, and you will build productive habits that will save you from the frustration of wasted time and lost opportunities.