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It seems like there are never enough hours in the day. Whether it’s too many meetings, or too many messages to respond to, or just too many tasks to be managed, why is it so hard to get done what we need to? First of all, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone: Gallup tells us that 61% of American workers feel like they don’t have the time they need to do everything they want to. And according to Time, one third of Millennials feel like finding work-life balance is getting harder. But if you’re not in the place to cut back on hours, you can at least make the hours you’re working more productive—and that translates to good news for your whole team. This week, give some of these productivity hacks a shot. See what it does not only for your workload, but even your attitude towards coming to work. You’ll be surprised at the difference even a few small changes can make.
We live in a more connected world than ever. From a device no bigger than the palm of your hand, you can connect to your bank account, send a note to your boss, and have a face-to-face conversation with a friend across the world. But when you can do all of that at the same time, it means you’re going to be more prone to distraction. So it makes sense that when we try and put our to-do lists on our phones and computers, that they’re naturally not going to be as focused—and we’re not going to be as focused on them. Talking with The Guardian, Nicholas Carr, a technology writer who has studied the effect of computers versus books, says of writing a paper to-do list: “The medium does matter… a book focuses our attention, isolates us from the myriad distractions that fill our everyday lives.” So start your day by writing out your to-do lists on paper. Focus on your long-term goals, need-to-finish tasks, and daily priorities. Instant gratification from crossing off finished tasks aside, you’ll love the difference it makes in feeling organized at the start of each day. This pup knows what’s up –
Now this may be a little bit of yours-truly projecting, but when you don’t have a set time in which to finish a task, it’s a lot easier to let it stretch longer. So if you’ve got five or six big tasks on Monday morning, and none of them are due until Friday afternoon—what’s stopping you from letting them all sit in the queue until the end of the week? If you’ve ever let a week’s worth of projects pile up, then this one is for you: start setting your own deadlines. When you list out your projects for the week, start to estimate how much time you’ll need to spend—and then hold yourself to it. Setting those mini-deadlines will keep you on track and stop the procrastination monster from rearing its ugly head. I’ve seen our sales team firsthand work this productivity hack the best. From setting deadlines for follow-up quotas per day to meetings booked per week, they’re on it. Working their mini-deadlines eventually lead them to meeting better numbers for each sales task, which leads to more deals closed per quarter.
It’s not uncommon to let little follow-up calls slip by as a busy week passes, and equally easy to let the little tasks slip through the cracks. One quick fix is simply to put everything you do in the calendar. Yes: everything. When you owe someone a phone call, put it on the calendar. When you have to follow-up with a supervisor on a deadline, put it in the calendar. (Here’s an awesome tool for syncing appointments to your Google Calendar & more.) When those reminders pop up, it’s as easy as that—follow up. When you’ve got hundreds of things to do in a given week, you shouldn’t leave all details up to your brain to remember. And you don’t have to! Just put it in the calendar.
When you’re bogged down by a ton of tasks, hoping to update that to-do list but not even sure where to start, it’s not a bad idea to call in for backup. When you’re feeling behind, it can be tempting to hold your problems in, and try to work them out before nobody notices. But don’t trust that instinct: open up your lines of communication, raise your hand when you don’t feel like you can get something done, and ask what needs to be put at the top of the list. When we open ourselves up to honest dialogue, it can do a lot to alleviate the stress of a full plate. Christine Reedy at The Muse says it well: “Yes, it can be hard to let go, but it’s always more important to share the workload with the rest of your team and make your deadlines than try to prove that you can handle it all and not quite get there.” An easy and informal way to stay connected within team projects is to create a channel on Slack, “where work happens.” Whether you’re preparing your company for the biggest software tradeshow of the year or working to optimize the ROI on a promotional campaign, simply create a channel (ie, #marketing-events or #promo-campaigns) within Slack and add all the members involved. This has always been a huge time-saver for me. With all my resources kept in one central location, I’m able to get the file I need from our designer, get feature updates from Product, and even give updates on logistics of a particular campaign – all in an instant. Slack helps me to keep organized, on top of my tasks, and update my team on my progress so nothing gets slipped between the cracks.
More than just asking about your own goals, it can be extremely motivating to get the entire team involved. Whether it’s posting daily goals on the screen in the middle of the office, or showing off a leaderboard of who’s getting the most done in a given week—holding yourself accountable to your community can give you that extra push to get done some of those things you’d rather put off until next week. To add a little fun to workplace, create newsflashes that alert the whole team when goals are reached. Nothing like instant recognition to keep the morale up and create a culture of celebration.
Now, at first you may be thinking that all you ever do is make time for email: the endless pop-ups, stupid one-offs, and quick notes that you’d much rather ignore than spend hours responding to. But in this instance, making time for email actually means blocking out a specific time to address your inbox. And once that time is up, just stop. For some, that might mean starting with a block in the morning, and then ending with another chunk of responses at the end of the day. Maybe for you, it would be best to use your lunch hour for email management. The point is: you don’t have to respond to every email as it comes in—and in the long run, those distractions are probably slowing you down more than they’re helping you to get things done.
When you do block out those times to manage your email, don’t be a hoarder: it’s OK to delete an email when you’re done with it. Save the attachments you need to, add requests to your to-do list, and then get rid of pile of kilobytes that’s slowing taking over your entire computer’s storage. When you’ve got a clean inbox, you’ll have a much better scope of what you need to get done as you craft your to-do lists. It will help you to have a clear head, prioritize what really needs a response, and clear out whatever didn’t need to be there in the first place.
If you’re sectioning off time to read emails, and you’re blocking out other hours for heads-down work, do you really need to know when your buddy sends you a snap or that website you visited one time is having another huge sale? Notifications are noise. If something is really a priority in your life, you’ll section off time to address it. Unless it’s a calendar reminder or a company newsflash, it’s probably not something you need to find out in real time.
Studies tell us time and time again that recognition matters. Achievers.com tells us that a lack of recognition is the number one reason why employees quit their jobs. If you’ve been plowing through months of hard work, and you don’t feel like anyone is even recognizing your effort, it may be tempting to think that all that hard work isn’t even worth it—maybe it’s all for nothing. But when we incorporate recognition into our regular cadence as a team, we start to value each other—and we feel valued for going the extra mile. At Hoopla, our platform for broadcasting wins and throwing out newsflashes to the entire company has been a major factor for clients increasing productivity around their offices. It’s not wrong of you to want to feel recognized. And more than that, recognition can be a great way to motivate both yourself and your team. Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
And lastly, get some sleep. No, your mother didn’t write this blog post. The Huffington Post estimates that 83.6 million U.S. adults aren’t getting enough sleep. A lack of sleep affects more than just how you feel at work: it affects your health, your brain function, and even your mood. If you’re not getting those crucial seven hours of sleep every night, how can you expect yourself to bring your A-game every day? Sometimes that “one weird trick” to get more done is little more than taking care of yourself. When you feel your best, you’re going to act your best. At the end of the day, productivity is a decision. And when you give yourself the tools to succeed, you’ll be amazed at the results you can produce.