Jay graduated from college with honors and went on to secure a job with a prestigious accounting practice. Now he works days, nights, and weekends just to keep his head above water. Jay has noticed that his colleagues don’t seem to be putting in the hours he is in order to manage their workloads. Instead, they seem to be able to complete their projects and still have free time outside of the office. What is Jay doing wrong?
Most likely, Jay isn’t intentionally doing anything wrong in his work. Instead, he just doesn’t have the proper tools and techniques under his belt to truly work smarter. There are a number of ways for Jay to manage and boost his performance to become more successful in the workplace and spend fewer hours at his job—and they all start with learning.
Learning Leads to Performance
Performance is an end result sought from some meaningful activity, so it makes sense that performance won’t happen without learning. Learning allows us to acquire the skills and knowledge to perform our job and generate ideas that can improve our firm or company as a whole.
In Jay’s case, it could be that he lacks the necessary training to perform effectively and get his work done in a timely manner. Training that focuses on building solid time management skills and goal-setting would help Jay prioritize his projects. Such training would also help him establish boundaries on behaviors that keep him from completing tasks, such as multitasking, disorganization, and the inability to delegate.
However, training isn’t the only answer. Having good tools and practicing good work techniques can go a long way in boosting performance and cutting down the hours needed to get the work done. Let’s look at some ways in which we can all improve our ability to get more done in less time on the job.
Steer Clear of the Multitasking Trap
It may come as no surprise that so-called “multitasking” can actually make us less effective at our jobs. A study by psychologists at the University of Michigan demonstrated that the human brain needs time to shift gears between tasks. The more switching back and forth you do—between, say, talking on the phone, responding to emails, and preparing for your next meeting, all while scarfing down a sandwich at your desk—the less proficiently you will tackle any of it.
The "time cost" of refocusing your attention may be only a few seconds with each switch, but the psychologists found that, over time, efficiency reduced from 40% to 20%.
Change Your Outlook With Outlook
A better solution for getting work done than trying to constantly multitask would be to make sure you are working on the right things at the right time. Do you really need to chat with your cube neighbors when you should be getting your notes together for your next meeting?
Spend some time at the beginning of each week to plan your work schedule. Taking the extra time to do this will help increase your productivity and balance your important long-term projects with your more urgent tasks. All you need is 15 to 30 minutes each week for your planning session.
Outlook or, if you’re on a Mac, the Mail program, can be your best friend when you’re trying to prioritize tasks. Try these Outlook tools and features to help you stay focused and manage your time:
- Categorize. Set up categories and folders in your Inbox to easily locate mail from your manager or teammates, and identify items requiring action or follow up.
- Flag. Flagging an email message makes it appear as a task in your To-Do list and marks it as “important” for today, tomorrow, or whenever so you know what needs a response or action and when that action is needed.
- Set reminders. Put a due date on a task by setting a reminder next to the email message containing information about the task.
- Schedule on your Calendar. If you want to schedule time to work on a specific project or task, use the Calendar so you receive a notification in advance to begin working on the project. This way it won’t slip your mind. Your Calendar is also a good place to make notes about project discussions that have taken place and related action items, so they are saved and documented.
For Outlook help and how-tos, visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help.
Clean Up, Clean Out
We could all probably use a little lesson in how to get better organized, right? Now that we’ve got our email messages in order, what about our work files? It’s hard to concentrate on work when you’ve got a mound of papers sitting on your desk or file after file taking up valuable disk space on your computer.
It’s easy to get organized online. Delete files you don’t need any more, and place like-subject files together in folders on your computer or flash drive. If your firm or company hasn’t gone completely paperless—and chances are it hasn’t—organize paper files by priority and keep the most important ones within arm’s reach. Other paper files should be stored away to reduce clutter in your workspace. Spend 15 minutes at the end of each day clearing your desk and 15 minutes the next morning planning for your day’s activities. If you have a game plan, you’ll be better able to meet any challenges that might arise head-on. You will have your plan written down where you can quickly refer to it throughout the day. It also helps to incorporate 10 to 15 minutes of “down time” into your plan for little surprises.
Note: Be sure to follow your employer’s protocol regarding archives and storage; you might check with your manager or human resource rep if necessary.
Just Say “No”
Many people become overloaded with too much work because they overcommit and under-delegate; they say “yes” when they really should be saying “no.” Learn to say no to low priority requests and you will free up time to spend on things that are more important—and activities that are probably more interesting. Before committing to a new task, take time to think about it before you give your answer. This will prevent you from taking on too much. When you do take on a new task, remember to do your most challenging work when your energy is at its highest. Save less demanding work for other times.
Collaborate or assign tasks to others when the task is not on your level of expertise. Recognizing the strengths and talents of your colleagues will work to everyone’s advantage. You perform the tasks that are most suited to you and others perform the tasks that are most in their realm of expertise. The work will get done well and get done on time.
Work to Your Potential
Plan to spend time learning new things, and develop your natural talents and abilities. Outside of your required CPE, you could take a class, attend a training program, or read up on topics relevant to your work. Continuously improving your knowledge and skills increases your marketability helps boost your career, and is the most reliable path to better productivity.
Stay focused, but be flexible in the workplace. From time to time, new projects will undoubtedly threaten to throw you into a tailspin. Remember to turn to your Outlook, organize as you go, and delegate when you can. You’ll work smarter without working too much.