Print

A Tap on the Glass - Vol. 109 - Working Smart

It's something we're all looking for - that perfect solution that will minimize our work life while still getting the stuff done that we need to get done.

Well, that one solution doesn't exist. I looked and looked. But, I think that with a combination of strategies, and someone diligently scouring the Internet for you finding these tips, you can get to where you want to be.

Now, none of these tips are going to turn your life around. It’s the Internet. Some of you need the Bible. You know who you are….

But they can make a big difference, and when used together, your work life might be just a bit more enjoyable, productive, low-stress and high fun. And these tips won't work for everyone. They're not meant to be used as a step-by-step guide. It's a list of strategies that work -- choose your favorites and give them a try. These are gleaned from several sources as well as many of my own tips. Use ‘em. Abuse ‘em. It’s your choice.

1. One goal. Set a single goal that you want to accomplish this year -- I know that we probably want to do 12 different goals, but it's too difficult to maintain your focus on more than one goal, and it diffuses your energy. Pick one goal for the next 12 months, and then a single 3-6 month goal that will lead to your 12-month goal. Then choose something you can accomplish within the next 1-2 weeks that will lead to the 3-6 month goal. Now focus on that short-term goal, giving it all your energy, and when it's achieved, set your next short-term goal until you've accomplished your medium-term goal. Hey, it works.
2. Find your passion. All the rest of these tips are just a bunch of worthless window dressing if you find work you're passionate about. Make this your One Goal for this year, and it could turn out to be your best year ever.
3. Come in early. Try getting to work 30-60 minutes before the rest of the crowd. Or even more. This might require you to learn to wake up early, but the benefits are many: you skip the morning traffic, you can work without distractions until the rest of your coworkers come in, you can get a jump start on your day, you can be ahead of the crowd and get more done. Getting an early start is a great way to start your work day and to become more productive.
4. MITs. Each day, make a list with only three items: the three Most Important Tasks you want to accomplish today. Make at least one of them related to your One Goal. The others might be something you've been procrastinating on, or a big project that's due today, or something similar. Ideally, these MITs are really important tasks -- ones that will gain you longer-term recognition or income. Now focus on these, making sure to accomplish them. It's best to do your MITs first thing in the morning, before you get interrupted by a bunch of other things. If you do only three things today (you could choose more or less than three MITs, but I've found that three works for me).
5. Batch process. There are usually a bunch of smaller tasks that we have to do that aren't that important. Email, paperwork, phone calls, things like that. Instead of doing those little things throughout the day, giving you busywork to interrupt and distract you from your important tasks, batch them together and do them at one set time each day. Write these tasks down on a small list, and with an hour left in your work day (or whatever works for you), start processing them as quickly as possible, ticking them off your list. You’ll get an amazing feeling of satisfaction from that and it promotes continuing the process till it becomes a habit. Not all habits are bad. Some are good. This is one of them.
6. Brown bag it. This isn't life-changing, but I take my lunch to work every day -- leftovers or a sandwich, usually, with snacks such as fruits on the side. How does this help? Well, it saves me a lot of money (a few thousand a year) and it allows me to work through lunch, or perhaps allowing you to leave work early. Even more importantly, a snack in the morning and one in the afternoon helps balance your blood sugar and keeps your metabolism on track. You’ll find you have more energy, will think clearer and find it easier to keep your focus and your demeanor on track. Again, it works for me. It may not work for you.
7. Cycle to work. Again, not necessarily life-changing, but if you can commute even just a couple times a week by bike, you will save money on gas, reduce the stress of rush-hour traffic, and get your daily exercise done at the same time.
8. Take high-profile projects. If you just take the grunt work, your boss might or might not appreciate it, but it certainly won't make you a star and you won't go very far. Instead, volunteer for the big projects, the ones that will make a name for both you and your company. If there aren't any available, make your own. Be sure you can do them well, but if you do, these projects will have a huge impact on your life. The tasks on these projects should be your MITs every day. If you take on high-impact projects, you can be more productive working a half day than if you worked 10 hours a day on tasks that won't matter next week.
9. Clear your desk. A messy desk might be the sign of a creative mind, but in my experience (I've tried both messy and now clean desks), having a desk that's clean is much more calming, much more productive, and more organized. Most importantly, it reduces visual clutter and allows you to focus on the task at hand, increasing your productivity. Clearing your desk can take a chunk of time, but it's worth it: take all your papers (everything!) and put them in your inbox, or in a pile if they don't fit. Now process through them, one at a time, from top to bottom, filing, acting upon, delegating, trashing each document or noting tasks on a to-do list for later (and filing the to-be-acted-upon documents in an action folder). Remove other knick knacks and put any office supplies or tools in a drawer (and empty out your drawers while you're at it). From here on out, everything goes in your inbox, and you process it to empty every day using the steps outlined here.
10. Granularize. I know it’s not a real word, but I like it. If a project or task seems too intimidating, split it into smaller tasks, and just focus on the first task you need to do. For example, instead of "Research report", just find three sources on the Internet. You can read each of these sources and take notes after that.
11. Delegate. Get out of the habit of thinking you need to do everything yourself. Relinquish control and learn to trust others. If you don't think a person can handle a task, take the time to train them to do so. It will save you tons of time and headaches later. And by delegating, you empower others while shrinking your to-do list, leaving you to focus on what's really important.
12. Eliminate. This has nothing to do with extended time in the restroom. Your to-do list is a mile long. You'll never be able to do all those things. Cut it in half by crossing out stuff that doesn't really need to be done, or delegating others. And from that list, just choose the three most important things that you need to do today. Get in the habit of eliminating as many of the tasks and processes you normally do as possible, and your work life will be greatly simplified.
13. Clear distractions. In addition to clearing your desk, you can allow yourself to focus more by eliminating all distractions: email or IM alerts, Twitter, other websites (in fact, turn off the Internet), phones, visual clutter around you or on your walls. Wear headphones so your coworkers interrupt you less, or let them know that you're not available right now. Focus more, and you'll get more done.
14. Kill meetings. One of the biggest time-wasters in our work lives. Most of the time, a meeting could have been accomplished with an email or a phone call. Beg out of meetings (or if you're the boss, eliminate them) by claiming you have a project due that you need to work on. Then be very productive during the time you would be at the meeting, and show your boss how much you got done. The one exception to this is a Team meeting, where key staff meet regularly to work out problems, improve performance and streamline operations. These meetings save everyone time in the long run. Keep your boss in the loop for feedback and direction and deal with the problems as a team. Your teammates will appreciate the focused effort and your boss will be able to focus on other things once in awhile!

2 or 3 of the tips above are going to make a big difference in your outlook and your performance. 5-10 tips will have people furrowing their brows and trying to figure out how you’re doing so well. Master all of these and you will be far better than the average bear, for sure!
Thanks for reading.