Knowing good work habits is only half the battle; you also have to apply what you know in order to achieve the desired outcome. Here are more ways to work smarter.
1. Break inertia
Have you ever seen a freight train start to move? That first forward jolt takes the most energy; keeping the train rolling is much easier. Do some small things to get rolling on getting caught up at the beginning. Then pace yourself. You’ll probably find it’s much easier to keep rolling along at a comfortable clip. We build up such a sense of dread that what we have to do seems insurmountable.
Once you get started with something small and manageable, you almost always realize, “Hey, this isn’t so tough after all.” And soon you find that you’re making real progress – and it feels good.
2. Take technology shortcuts
As an executive performance coach, I watch people work for up to two days at a time. Once, I observed a client was spending more than 3 hours each week organizing her emails into the 300+ folders she had down the left-hand column of her Microsoft Outlook. And those 3 hours didn’t include the time she knew she’d have to spend catching up – when I worked with her, she had more than 7,000 emails in her Inbox. I shared just two specific – and very different – features (rules and search folders) of Microsoft Outlook that would enable her to cut down considerably the time she spent organizing her emails. These features are explained in detail here.
After about a month, she was down to spending less than an hour a week filing her message. And while an email system is what worked for her, practically every kind of software you use daily has tricks and shortcuts that once implemented could save you a lot of time. Sit down with those who can teach you more about these systems. The more you fully understand the tools you use, the easier it will be to learn even more about their features and how to use them to your advantage.
3. Always be prepared for “bonus time”
This is a great strategy for increasing productivity throughout the year, but it will be especially helpful in the days following your holiday vacation (or any break). Bring small chunks of work with you wherever you go.
Then, while waiting for a meeting to start or for a delayed flight to depart – I call these unexpected blocks of free time “bonus time”– you’ll be able to reply to an email or make a phone call. In other instances, you might have enough time to review materials for another meeting or project you are working on. If you’re prepared, you can also confirm appointments, draft responses, or map out a project outline. I can promise you that sometime during the next month, someone is going to arrive late for a meeting with you, cancel a meeting, or otherwise keep you waiting. When that inevitably happens, you can look over your to-do list and pick something – anything – to work on.