Ever wonder why you don’t get more done every day? You might be trying to do too much, and competing demands in the office aren’t making it any easier to accomplish what you set out to do. One interesting study showed that after an interruption, it took office workers an average of more than 23 minutes to get back to the original task they were working on. With multiple projects, open offices, and smartphone and desktop notifications popping up all over the place, it’s amazing that anything actually gets done in the office anymore.
The good news is that there are ways to make life easier. I’ve you’ve ever thought “how am I supposed to do all of this??” this list is for you.
1. The email just keeps on coming. It seems like every minute of every day, there’s another email in your inbox.
Solution: Turn off desktop notifications of incoming email. Just turn them off! The email will be there when you’re ready for it, but that little box popping up won’t continually remind you of everything you’re not getting to. If you share an inbox with other people (like a lot of sales or customer service teams do), a tool like Email Center Pro can help you handle your email more efficiently so it doesn’t take up half your day.
2. Too many meetings. When you spend all your time sitting in meetings talking about new projects, when are you ever supposed to actually do the work?
Solution: If you and your colleagues use shared calendars for meetings, schedule yourself blocks of time that you’ll simply be unavailable. In Google calendars you can mark events as private (your co-workers will just see that you’re busy). Tada! Now you have the time you need to concentrate on tasks you have to accomplish.
3. It’s hard to keep track of everything. It’s easy for projects to drop off your radar when you’re juggling a lot of work.
Solution: A task list. I use Wunderlist, which is a free service you can either download to your desktop, use online, or on your smartphone (they sync automatically, so you can use all three!). Wunderlist lets you create multiple lists, quickly enter in tasks or projects you need to work on, and assign dates. When you finish a task, cross it off and watch your list get a little smaller. You can also share lists with anyone who needs to know what you’re working on. Other similar free apps include Remember The Milk, Tadalist, and Google Tasks.
4. Your to-do list is so long, you’re practically immoblized. Great, now that you’ve got a task list you’re more overwhelmed by the work you have in front of you and don’t know where to start.
Solution: Be SMART when you schedule your tasks. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely. Typically used for behavior modification goal setting, it’s useful for getting yourself on track. Each morning, really think about what you can achieve in the day. “Work on X project” isn’t specific or measurable or timely, for instance, but “Spend two hours on the preliminary report for X” is all three. Use the SMART criteria to figure out what should take top priority (those would be the Timely items), what is reasonable to set out to achieve, and get to work. This will help you set deadlines, stick to deadlines, or realize ahead of time if you’re not going to make a deadline.
5. Constant interruptions. A co-worker stops by with a quick question. Then the phone rings. You get off the phone and decide to check your email. All of a sudden it’s lunch time and you haven’t gotten back to whatever you were originally working on.
Solution: Ignore ignore ignore. Okay, you can’t ignore the person standing next to you. But you can encourage your office to start using instant messaging (if you’re not already) and then set your status as “away” so people won’t bother you while you’re trying to work on something. There are tons of chat and instant message clients to chose from – Trillian and Yahoo! Messenger are two free downloadable applications, and if your office uses Gmail, you can use Google Chat that’s right in your inbox. And you definitely can ignore the phone or even turn off the ringer during times you need to really concentrate.
6. Trying to do too many things all at once. A recent article on the Harvard Business Review blog says between 25-50% of people feel burned out work because they spend too many hours juggling too many tasks at the same time.
Solution: Multi-tasking sounds like a good idea, but know when to say when. If you are checking email during a conference call, eating lunch at your desk while trying to work, or catching up on your blog reading during meetings, everything you do takes longer, the quality of your work suffers, and your stress level rises. Every task you do deserves your full attention – if it doesn’t, then you might want to consider whether that task is even necessary in the first place.
7. The little things keep getting in the way of the big things. As a copy writer, I frequently get random requests from coworkers for “just a few sentences” about this or that. If I have a bunch of bigger things to work on, it can be easier to just bang out those few sentences first, then dig into the big project. The problem is that the little things add up, and suddenly I’m wayyyy behind on the big things.
Solution: Do the big stuff first. I get into work about an hour earlier than the rest of the office and get a jump on the major things I need to work on. I know I’ll be able to work uninterrupted until my office mates show up, so I use the time wisely. When the office starts buzzing, I often will switch over to smaller tasks that won’t get derailed by a frequent distractions.
What other problems keep you from getting everything done? What solutions have you found to be more productive? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.