photo: Jeffrey Beall
In the age of YouTube and Facebook, of endless smartphone apps and modes of communication, being productive has become a daunting task. Procrastination used to be a cigarette, now it’s a four-hour navigation through your ex-girfriend or ex-boyfriend’s “Cancun 2010” photo album while you could be working on much more important tasks.
There are calls to make, reports to build, a loose screw under the sink, and you were supposed to start your Ironman training three months ago. Adrenaline and a couple of energy bars might get you through the last order of business, but for the other tasks, it’s time to buckle down. So, without further ado, here are 10 habits to get you more productive.
No.10 – Keep to-do lists
It sounds a bit juvenile, but so do jokes about flatulence — it doesn’t make them less effective. You can spend an hour trying to recall what it is you had to do. Write a list first thing in the morning or even one for the whole week, and you’ve always got it in front of you. You can even make little check boxes for when you complete the task. And if you’re really doing a great job, you can reward yourself with stickers. That might be taking it too far, but we all have a lot going on in our lives, and it’s the little things that will simplify it.
No.9 – Get enough sleep
Pulling all-nighters and drinking three pots of coffee are great if you’re bringing the NASA shuttle back from orbit, but for most people, you’re better off getting a decent night’s sleep. That’s not an invitation to hibernate through winter so you can be productive in the spring, but never under estimate the rejuvenating powers of a solid sleep. Don’t struggle to stay up and finish a project that might be better suited for the morning. Get your rest, set the alarm and above all, lay off the snooze.
No.8 – Delegate
We don’t all have a team of subordinates taking the menial tasks off our hands — at least, not yet. Just because we’re not staffed like kings doesn’t mean certain jobs can’t be delegated elsewhere. No one can do it all themselves and if they can, ironically, they usually get secretaries. Don’t be too proud to shift certain responsibilities elsewhere. A coworker or a family member might be able to lend a hand in the times of heavy workflow. Be wary, though, “delegating” shouldn’t replace “doing.” It’s simply a matter of tapping into your resources for some assistance.
No.7 – Keep a notepad with you
You might feel like a beat journalist from the ’20s when you’re walking around with a notepad, but there’s no denying you’ll always have your story straight. And if you think a pen and paper are archaic, go electronic; just make sure all your notes are in one central location. You don’t want to be fumbling around a pile of post-its or reading off the palm of your hand when you need to get Jimmy’s quote from the meeting. Jot down actions, ideas, doodle your name in bubble letters — just make sure these items are stored in places other than memory.
No.6 – Set milestones
It’s nice to have grand aspirations and goals in life, but it’s also effective to set milestones along the way. If you’re ever taking on a big project, the idea of completion can be too overwhelming to really be productive. Whether it’s putting together a report to show the bosses you’re not a putz or you’re looking to complete the memoir you’ve always dreamed of writing, your best bet is to set smaller goals within the process. Have the first few slides done by noon, complete three chapters by May — you’ll be done in no time.
No.5 – When stuck, move on to new tasks
It’s easy to become so fixated on a problem that the whole day slips by without anything to show for it. Hours of frustration and three servings of nail biting aren’t a productive use of energy. When that begins to happen, simply move on and find an easy task to check off on your list. A couple of those and the mind is fresh, the confidence is there and you’re a new man. You’ll know when you’re ready to get back on the horse and jump the bigger hurdle. And if you’re not much of an equestrian, just use a different analogy.
No.4 – Block out sections of your calendar for work
You don’t have to be able to see into the future to know how much time a task will take; even Nostradamus couldn’t predict when he’d have time to do something. Schedules fill up fast, and the most effective way to find time for a job is by blocking it out in your calendar. Time is a precious commodity, and no matter how hard you try to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day, it’s not happening. Optimize with what you have, and you’ll manage. Noon-1 p.m., send client e-mails; 1 p.m.-3 p.m., finish report; 4:00 p.m.-4:05 p.m., possible bathroom break.
No.3 – Take necessary breaks
It’s great to stay focused, but a man needs to take a break every once in a while. You can’t sit in one position and finish a big project without getting up to collect yourself. The quality of your work will diminish as fatigue sets in, and then the whole machine breaks down. If you ever find yourself frustrated, like you want to smash your computer into the wall and set the office on fire, take that as the proper time for a sandwich break. You’d be amazed at what a turkey on rye can do to a man’s soul.
No.2 – Schedule e-mail checks
An e-mail inbox can be like your mother’s basement: It just accumulates until one day it’s overloaded with junk and you can’t find your skis. Don’t let the unread count get so high that you become Doc Holliday on the delete trigger — that’s how you miss something. The easiest way to manage the constant influx of mail is by scheduling check-ins. Pick one or two times a day to really clean out your inbox. Respond to the important ones, flag those that need special care and delete the ones for free prescriptions.
No.1 – Don’t wait on others
The waiting game is a productivity killer. Sending out an e-mail and waiting for a response is the perfect excuse to search funny cat videos for the next three hours. Don’t do it (even though those darn cats are cute). You need to be persistent and proactive with your correspondence. If that’s not working, ask yourself, “What can be done in the meantime?” or “How can I work around them?” Don’t allow yourself to rely on their diligence, because the longer you deal with others, the more you realize they just don’t get things done. You have to do it yourself.