By Barbara Mitchell
Q: I work hard at my job every day, but I rarely leave my office feeling like I’ve accomplished what I wanted or needed to. What can I do to be more productive?
A: You’re certainly not alone. Workplaces are fast-paced these days and workloads are heavy, so it’s not uncommon for people feel as though they never get enough done. But there may be some inefficiencies in the way you work that you can correct so that you’ll be more productive and feel you’ve accomplished more at the end of the day.
Here are a few steps you can take to gain better control of your time and your work:
Track your tasks. Start by keeping a task log for a couple of days so that you have a clearer sense of how you spend your time. To do this right, you have to be honest and track both productive and unproductive time. When you analyze your results, you will probably notice some patterns that you can use to improve your productivity.
You may find that you’re more productive at certain times of day. Great—now you can maximize those times. If you’re a morning person, for example, you might set aside the first hour of your day for tasks that require critical thinking or creativity and schedule more mundane tasks for later, when you tend to be less focused.
Take regular breaks. This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense that if you take a break or go out for a quick walk, you will increase your energy level and be able to accomplish more when you return.
Control your meeting schedule. Are you asked to be in meetings that you really don’t need to attend? If so, consider going to the organizer and making the case for why you don’t need to participate regularly (offer to attend when the agenda includes items specific to your department). Then, use the time you’ve gained wisely!
If you have to attend every meeting, suggest that the group try stand-up meetings. It’s amazing how quickly people can move through an agenda when they’re standing up rather than seated in comfortable conference room chairs. And for meetings that require discussion only, occasionally take them outside and walk around the block as you discuss the topic. You can get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air, and be productive.
If you’re a morning person, you might set aside the first hour of your day for tasks that require critical thinking or creativity and schedule more mundane tasks for later.
Limit distractions. What seem like small distractions can be big time wasters. You may have a coworker who likes to drop by to chat. Without being rude, find ways to cut those visits short. If you have an office door, close it once in a while when you need to concentrate and prevent interruptions.
If you honestly evaluate how you spend your time and try some of these strategies, I’m willing to bet that before long, you’ll feel more accomplished at the end of your day.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer in "Ask the Expert"? Send it to [email protected]