Here’s how to make sure all those productivity tools that are supposed to make you more efficient actually do.
Believe it or not, Mondays are more productive than they used to be. At least according to the boss.
A new Accountemps survey of more than 300 hiring managers at U.S. companies with at least 20 employees found 24 percent believe Mondays are the most productive day for their workers. In 2008, just 12 percent of senior executives thought so.
Nowadays, 39 percent believe Tuesday is the big day. Another 14 percent swear it’s Wednesday, and an equal number say there’s no particularly productive day of the week. Then there’s the deluded 3 percent of managers who believe Friday is when we really get things done.
What’s the deal with Mondays? Well, according to Accountemps chairman Max Messmer, “In addition to serving as a ‘catch-up’ day after the weekend, Monday is when many regularly scheduled meetings occur.” I think those meetings started piling up on Mondays around the time bosses realized people weren’t exactly gung-ho at 8 a.m. after the weekend.
Of course, meetings — like most things designed to boost productivity — can end up part of the problem instead of the solution. They can be an agenda-setting time saver or an interruption to your workflow. Here’s how to turn those time traps into tools…
1. Meditate on meetings
If your meetings seem like an unnecessary time-suck, it’s time to analyze them. Do they always run longer than scheduled? Are they redundant? If they’re routine, have they outlived their purpose?
Make sure everyone is bringing the information needed for a productive discussion. Actually, back up. Make sure everyone know the point of the meeting in advance so they can bring that information.
Some other questions to ask: Is there too much socializing and banter? Too much attention on smartphones? Are there people that really don’t need to be there? (Are there people you need to buy this poster for?)
2. Empty your email
If you’re like me, your inbox is an ever-growing to-do list. Messages are reminders, and things you don’t get to end up buried and forgotten. Besides creating a creeping sense of guilt, it becomes a nightmare to dig through.
I’ve gradually learned to take what I need out of an email to make a note for myself, and then immediately delete or archive it. Having an uncluttered inbox — even if you don’t make it to the promised land of Inbox Zero — feels good.
It’s never too late to fix. You can declare email bankruptcy — delete all messages older than a certain date — to give yourself a manageable load. Anybody who needs a response will email you again, although you could also send a message to people you care about and let them know the situation so they don’t feel ignored.
3. Simplify your schedule
Whatever you use to set up tasks, make sure to move your long-term goals to a separate place. Items that sit on a short-term list for days or weeks can be discouraging.
If it’s convenient, try setting up your schedule to handle similar tasks — phone calls or paperwork, for instance — in one batch. If it all requires the same frame of mind, maybe you can knock it out quicker without switching gears.
On the other hand, any time you get stuck and can’t focus on something might be a good time to switch things up. Instead of beating your head against the wall, switch to a lighter task to clear your mind while you keep getting stuff done. This isn’t multitasking — it’s still one job at a time, alternating when it makes sense.
4. Topple tough to-do lists
There are tons of programs and apps designed to get you organized, but don’t get bogged down in productivity solutions. That would be ironic, and also bad.
Find what works for you and use it. Maybe you like sticky notes, a notepad, a certain text editor, an outliner like Fargo, or a productivity suite like Evernote. But the point is to save time, not waste it — you shouldn’t have to become a power user of some new software to get things done.
There are some advantages to going at least minimally digital, though. Your notes become searchable, you can move things around without rewriting them, you can set up automatic reminders, and you’ve got a cleaner record of what you’ve accomplished.
As you compile your list, break down Herculean tasks into smaller ones suited to mortals like us. Instead of “Build Rome,” try “Ask the Greeks how this stuff works, mark some boundaries, gather some stone,” and so on. If you have no idea how long something will take to finish, odds are breaking it down further will help. You’ll also be able to check off pieces and see your progress.