What’s been distracting you today? The relentless ping of emails arriving in your in-box? A constantly-ringing telephone? Or maybe colleagues intent on regaling you with the details of their plans for the weekend?
A recent article in People Management suggests that if we could banish unproductive days in the office, the economy would be £250 million better off each year. Reporting on a survey of 2,000 office-based Samsung staff, the article reveals that loud talking, ringing phones, and unnecessary meetings are our top time robbers, followed by too many emails, doing the tea round, and engaging in office gossip.
It’s an issue that HR professionals can’t ignore – both from a personal perspective, as well as in terms of supporting employees in being as productive as possible. HR people need to be able to demonstrate the bottom-line business value of their department, including its ability to meet tough goals and rigid deadlines. But they can also help to equip employees with the right tools and techniques to manage their time effectively, make the most of their day, and achieve important business goals.
In a talk at last week’s CIPD Learning and Development show, Richard Abraham of TLC International Development gave delegates some quick-fire advice on how to work smarter, break bad habits and boost their personal productivity. As his tips (outlined below) show, it’s not always about making huge changes – even small steps can lead to improvements in the way you spend your time. And once you start to see the results of more focused activity, you will be encouraged to keep taking those steps to get even better results!
Identify the leaks
Take a step back and think about what exactly robs your time and stops you achieving your daily goals. Is it people barging into your space for unscheduled discussions? Or maybe having phones and tablets ‘always on’ is leading to an onslaught of emails, texts and instant messages, making it difficult for you to concentrate. If you can identify where the leaks in your time management are, you can start to put steps in place to combat them.
We’ve been led to believe that the ability to juggle numerous balls at once is a positive thing. But in fact multi-tasking is not a productive approach – it means you are spending energy and brain power spiralling off in different directions instead of focussing on doing one thing well. The latest research and thinking suggests that highly productive people only work on one task at time.
Move the big rocks first
How often have you looked at your to-do list and picked off the quickest and easiest things to do first. Then before you know it, it’s late in the day and you haven’t even started the biggest task with the most pressing deadline. It’s human nature to want to go for the low-hanging fruit and gain the satisfaction of ticking lots of tasks off the list, but it’s not productive if the jobs you are doing are not the most important ones. As Richard Abraham said: “If you have ever tried to push a big rock up the hill at the end of the day, you’ll know it’s not as easy as doing it at the beginning.” So tackle the biggest tasks first, when you have the most energy and focus.
Block time out
You wouldn’t think twice about blocking time out for a meeting in your diary – but how often do you block time out to work on a particular project or task? The truth is that if you allocate time in your calendar to work on something specific you are much more likely to get it done than if you just add it to your to do list. Working in blocks of time can also be helpful. Try setting the alarm on your phone for 50 minutes, then shut the door, turn off your email or anything else likely to distract you, and focus on that piece of work you really need to get done. When the alarm goes off you’ll be surprised at how much you’ve managed to achieve. Set it again for a further 10 minutes to get you across (or at least nearer to) the finishing line on that particular project.
Have a productivity plan
To-do lists are a helpful guide in terms of remembering what it is you have to do, but the problem is they get longer and longer as the day goes on. Everything that’s left undone then just gets transferred over to the next day, leaving you still feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. Richard Abraham advocates using a one page productivity plan instead. This allows you to narrow down to the most important things you absolutely have to do the next day in order to move a project forward and to identify the people you really have to make contact with. Complete one of these at the end of each day and make it the first thing you pick up when you hit your desk the next morning. Make sure you focus on those priorities before you even open your inbox so that you don’t get swept away on a tide of other, less crucial activities.
Try just a few of these tips and you will soon find your productivity starting to increase. To improve your motivation still further, try rewarding yourself with something you really enjoy when you have successfully completed a project or task in the best way possible (a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit works for me!).
One action to take this week: Identify the person you think is the most productive in your workplace and ask yourself what it is they are doing to help them achieve at that level? Use them as your role model – and then think about what you could do to make yourself 10 per cent better than them.
Time management tips taken from Richard Abraham presentation at CIPD L&D show, author of The Fire Free Workday: How to get more done, have more fun and take control of your time today.