December 24, 2010
Work smarter, not longer -- and ignore your e-mail (at least for now)
The Associated Press
Jessica Kizorek used to start her day by reading and responding to e-mail until she noticed she wasn’t getting to the priorities on her to-do list. “Half the day had gone by and e-mail had sucked the juice out of me,” she says.
To break the habit, Kizorek, founder of BadassBusinessWomen.org, challenged herself to be more productive, cutting back to only four work hours a day. “It’s amazing when you see what you can cut out, what doesn’t go directly into making you money,” she says. “You only see that when you force yourself to work smarter, not longer.”
During our workdays, we’re answering e-mails, responding to text messages, chatting with co-workers, blogging and tweeting.
“We’re focusing on the urgent at the expense of the important,” says Dan Markovitz, president of TimeBack Management. “People feel overwhelmed. Some is real, some is psychological. They never feel like they are caught up because they aren’t getting to the important stuff.”
Experts say the biggest mistake most workers make is starting the day reading e-mail. Instead, do the important to-dos in the first hour.
Identify priorities. Productivity expert Michelle Villalobos suggests you write down daily the one thing that would make a big difference in your career. Do that task first.
Create deadlines. Villalobos says you are more likely to stay focused if you have a set amount of time to finish a task.
Manage interruptions. Determine what or who is interrupting you. Is it your co-worker? Instant messages? Figure out how you can stop them.
Designate e-mail time. Author Tim Ferriss says people often assume their boss wants an immediate response. He found that most executives appreciate when workers limit e-mail use to certain times of the day to be more productive.
Streamline tasks. Amy Morris, founder of GotFamilyGetOrganized.com, stays productive by lumping errands together by location. She also sets a block of time for phone calls and another for paperwork.
“Ask yourself, ‘If that’s the only thing I accomplish, will I be satisfied with my day?’ ” says Timothy Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek.” He says that what’s most important, typically, is the task you’re most uncomfortable doing, such as having a conversation with your boss or a challenging customer.
Experts say the secret to being productive is to track how you spend your day. One woman I know tracked her hours for a week to figure out why she was busy but not making money. She discovered she was spending 10 hours a week driving to see clients. She hadn’t been billing them for drive time.
“It doesn’t have to be a monumental analysis,” Markovitz says. “It doesn’t even have to be consecutive days. You just need five or six days of data.”
The next step is asking why you are spending time on each task and getting rid of what isn’t working. Time-management software such as RescueTime can track how you spend your time.
After assessing your time, decide how you should be allocating it. This often requires a talk with the boss for guidance. Once that’s clear, you’ll want to make those tasks visible — perhaps as a sticky note on your computer screen.
The biggest challenge is to avoid distraction and stay focused. Ferriss suggests sticking to set times to read e-mail.
The key to improvement, he says, is to ask yourself why you want to be more productive. “Do you want more income? More time with the kids?” Ferris says. “If you are doing something and you are having fun, you’re not wasting time.”
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