I find myself falling into a bad habit and I know I'm not alone. Most of us start our work day reading email. A morning glance at my Inbox can turn into several lost hours of what could have been productive work time.
Lately, I have taken a hard look at how I’m spending my time. I feel like I’m putting in more work hours than ever. Yet, I don’t feel like I’m getting that much more accomplished. It’s forced me to ask myself how I can be more productive.
There are lots of reasons why people want to be more productive. Some of us want to make more money, others want to have more free time to spend with family. Some, like me, want both.
I have called in the experts and asked them to share some of their strategies.
Jessica Kizorek, founder of BadassBusinessWomen.org, challenged herself to be more productive, cutting back to only four work hours a day. The rest she allocated to leisure. Instead of planning business meetings at Starbucks, she had phone conversations. “It’s amazing when you see what you can cut out, what doesn’t go directly into making you money. You only see that when you force yourself to work smarter, not longer,” she says
When Carol Greenberg Brooks, arrives at the office, she’s already read her e-mails, flagged the priorities and sent them to her assistant to print out and create a to-do list. As co-founder and president of Continental Real Estate Companies, she walks in to her Coral Gables office focused on what needs to get done. That usually includes delegating and guiding staff on how to spend their time wisely. “I’m a good communicator. I pull myself back from minutiae and give direction.”
Experts believe 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. A friend of mine started tracking her time and realized she was spending two hours a day on Facebook — a few minutes here and there add up.
After assessing how you spend your time, you should decide how you should be allocating it. What tasks are essential to your goals or your organization’s success?
Miami productivity expert Michelle Villalobos suggests you write down each day the one thing that would make a huge difference in your career and do that task first.
Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek says “Ask yourself, if that’s the only thing I accomplish, will I be satisfied with my day?” He says what’s most important, typically, is the task you’re most uncomfortable doing — having a conversation with your boss or a challenging customer. “We need to reprogram ourselves from `more is better’ to making better decisions about how we spend our time.”
Clearly, the biggest challenge is avoiding distractions and staying focused. Productivity expert Dan Markovitz pointed out to me that when people feel overwhelmed, the turn by default to reading emails. Try sticking to set times to read email. A half hour three times a day would be a good goal.
Most of us are so crazed from our desire to be more productive, we are resorting to tricks. One CEO I spoke with felt he was wasting time watching too much TV. He told me he took the batteries out of the remote and will only allow himself to put them back in for a half hour a day. Another executive I know gives himself three chips a day -- each represent a half hour he can spend on email. Several of the book authors I contacted told me they only give interviews to media with a certain size audience to make the best use of their time.
I tackled this topic in much more detail in my Balancing Act column.
Have you resorted to tricks? Is email your biggest time waster or are you distracted by self interruptions? Do you think trying to be more productive stifles creativity?