If you want to be more effective, don’t be a victim of your calendar.
I’ve learned to limit how many hours I allow myself to be scheduled in a day. If I didn’t, my work life would be a haze of nonstop meetings, with no time to reflect, prepare, strategize, respond to crises or help a team member.
The other benefit of restricting my availability is that it forces me to delegate. So I suppose it’s appropriate that I asked my team to share their own favorite productivity tips. When I reviewed their ideas in the light of my own experience, it was clear that highly productive people are able to discern what matters most. This frees them to set priorities, which is an essential productivity skill.
So take it from my team and me; if you want to be more productive:
Know what matters to you. Respect your work style. I have team members who don’t schedule meetings during the first and last hours of their day, reserving that time for getting organized, responding to emails and generally starting and ending the day well. One person comes in 30 minutes before everyone else, so she has a distraction-free oasis of productivity.
Know what matters most for your role. A colleague has a great tip for managers: “Ask yourself, ‘Do I personally need to do this or is it better to assign to someone on the team?’ Not only does this free up your bandwidth, but it invites ideas from different people and gives you a good sense of your bench strength.”
She advises managers to avoid assigning themselves tasks or projects. “An example of how to put this in action: When you meet with your direct reports, don’t take a pen or paper. The goal is to leave with less work. When you meet with your boss,” she says, “then you take the pen and paper.”
Know what matters most to your organization and boss. This may seem obvious, but if you don’t know, you can’t set priorities, or at least the right ones. If you’re unsure of what your supervisor and company value most, make it your business to find out.
Know what matters most today. Your time and energy are limited. It’s important to know the day’s top three to five priorities. There are many tools and systems to help you with this, including the old-fashioned paper list. And don’t forget that you can veer from a meeting-setting system’s default 30- to 60-minute time setting. A decision may require only a 10- or 15-minute gathering.
All this knowledge can boost your productivity, but here are two other traits of productive people who generally like their work and are enjoyable to be around:
- They step back and reevaluate. One efficient executive suggests reviewing your calendar once in a while. “Or better yet, have a neutral observer look at it,” she says. “Make sure meetings on there are still useful.” Another employee identifies time-wasters with a periodic time log: “Jot down what you’re doing in 30- or even 15-minute increments and tally the time at the end of the week. You might be shocked how much time you spend on things that aren’t helping you reach a goal.” Another colleague says that if he’s carried a task onto the next day’s list for multiple days, it’s time to consider eliminating it.
- They acknowledge accomplishments. Many people keep a daily “done” list so they have the satisfaction of seeing what they achieved. Some teams make a point of celebrating together when one member or the group completes a significant project. When you’ve finished a task, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or a short walk.
I appreciate the Angie’s List employees who offered tips: Shelly Towns, Debra DeCourcy, Dan Smith, Mike Sargent, Whitney Vogel, Bethany Hart, Lesley Spellmeyer, Libby Stickle, Cheryl Reed, Molly Noonan and Andy Klotz.