Every day, productivity and energy is lost not because people manage their time poorly. Instead, their productivity "habits" slow them down and make things harder than they need to be.
At the end of a typical workday, do you reflect on how much you've accomplished? Or, on how much further you have to go? Of course, there is power in focusing on a goal—on what is not yet finished; athletes and other professionals do it all the time.
However, if you're constantly coming up short or consistently putting things off to the last minute, it may be time to look at your habits and behaviors. That's the place to start if you want to start using your time more effectively.
In our seminars, we flash a slide on the front screen with the following: "Practice makes..." By writing this way—with the blank there—it gives people the opportunity to "fill it in" with a word they have habituated: "Practice makes Perfect," they are tempted to say. Unfortunately, however, practice does not make perfect; practice makes habit.
Around you, you notice other people's productivity habits every day. Some people check their BlackBerry throughout meetings. Others write more down on to-do lists than they can ever do. Still others close their door, or even go to a conference room to get a little space and quiet to get things done.
What are some of the productivity habits you have heard of, read about, or seen in action? Experiment with just two new habits over the next two weeks. Each of these will only take a little bit of time, energy, and focus each day. But, as many of our executive coaching clients have found, regular practice (and ultimate habituation) of these productive behaviors will result in increased productivity and a sustainable work-management style.
1. Get it all down on paper.
In our two-day intensive coaching program, we focus on a few significant principles. One process we facilitate: Creating Your Accountability Inventory. Personally, I keep a printed piece of paper on my desk with a master list of every outcome/project I said "yes" to. Currently, there are 83 things on that list. The purpose of this list is to have a review-able and objective feedback system for managing new and incoming work.
Give yourself five days (or more!) to completely update your inventory. To do this, keep a piece of paper with you at all times. Write down as many of the long-term (work you are managing over the next three or more weeks) projects you have said yes to. Our recommendation is that you not try and prioritize as you make the inventory. Instead, focus on getting the list complete; then, next week, you can take out a different colored pen or highlighter and prioritize the ones that are most important.
Going forward, practice the habit of (1) reviewing this inventory at least weekly, (2) adding to the list when you get a new one, and (3) check something off the list when you complete one.
2. Learn to utilize your technology.
By default, much of our large group presentation and one-on-one coaching involves setting people up to be more productive with their electronic systems including LotusNotes, Microsoft Outlook, BlackBerry, e-mail, voice mail, and even Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. Everyone wonders how to maximize the tools they have, without spending a lot of time going to a course or reading a book about the tools. Our recommendation is to turn the dial on your curiosity meter, and sit down with someone to observe their productivity at work.
Watch...very...carefully. The purpose is not necessarily to "learn" anything from them. Your goal is to practice observation. Watch carefully to notice their habits; what do they do, over and over again, without even thinking, that is tied to their productivity? Samples we have seen over years of coaching:
- Regularly pressing the send/receive, or refresh all button to "check e-mail."
- Looking down at the BlackBerry, or over at the new mail icon, on every message.
- Writing things down on any piece of paper/notebook/sticky note available.
- Responding to every e-mail message received, regardless of importance or priority.
After observing them at work, you'll probably walk away thinking, "Hmmm, I wonder what I could try that could improve my productivity?" Come up with one or two ideas, and try them out for a week. Who knows, you might just pick up a new productivity habit!
Review this article again a month from now (copy the URL above, and paste it into your calendar) and chances are high you'll be doing things differently. It all comes down to experimenting with just a few new processes and really utilizing your own "productivity systems." Just remember, what you repeat will eventually become habit. So, start repeating some of the most productive behaviors you can find!
Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, and Jodi Womack, MA, help professionals enhance their organizational performance through maximizing time, energy, focus, and technology.
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