And chances are that you and your company have already made the big, tough decisions needed to streamline operations. But what about the little things?
You can still boost both personal and team productivity in lots of smaller ways that are easy to implement and provide immediate results. Read on for quick tips on getting more done.
1. Hit the ground running. Don’t waste the first hour of the day. As soon as you arrive, focus on getting something done before you even think about checking Facebook or dropping in on a coworker.
2. Decline a meeting. Meetings are necessary. Every meeting is not. Don’t automatically accept every meeting invitation you receive, especially if there is no clear agenda or outcome.
3. Close your e-mail. Do you drop what you’re doing every time you hear the new e-mail sound or see that little envelope icon in your system tray? Close Outlook and focus on the task at hand. Better yet, turn off the alerts and notifications in your email program.
4. Use voicemail. An always ringing phone is a productivity killer. If something is worth your time, the caller will leave a message. Let it go to voicemail when you’re focused.
5. Institute office hours. If you have a constant stream of people dropping by, consider setting up regular hours of daily availability. Then stick to it.
6. Say “no.” As companies try to do more with less, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to cut back on lower-value activities. Don’t be afraid to decline tasks that aren’t a good use of your time. (The first time you do this will be the hardest.)
7. Keep a time log. Do you have a good idea of how you spend your time each day? If you don’t, use a paper time log or track your time in Outlook so you know how your precious minutes and hours are being spent. The Journal is great for this.
8. Help your team prioritize. Make sure they know what’s important so they can allocate their time and energy appropriately. Help them help you.
9. Set goals. Once priorities are crystal-clear, be sure to set some measurable goals. Appropriate, attainable targets will help keep your team moving in the right direction.
10. Take an interest. Doing more with less can lead to less discretionary time and more stress. Show your people that you have an interest in them beyond their role as employee. If they know you care, they’ll be more engaged in what they’re doing.
11. Delegate. Are you the only one capable of doing a given task? If not, consider passing it to someone who’s also able. Your time is too valuable for tasks that don’t require your skills and expertise.
12. Define roles. Make sure everyone on your team knows who is responsible for what. Lack of clarity will lead to diminished productivity.
13. Fail fast. Even when resources are limited, it’s important to continue taking risks. Don’t be afraid to fail, but if something doesn’t work out, be committed to failing quickly and moving on.
14. Look ahead. The higher up in an organization you are, the more you should be looking ahead. If you are dwelling on the past or bogged down in the details of the day, you won’t plan effectively for what’s down the road.
15. Question everything. Rethink tasks, big and small. Don’t just assume that because it’s on your list it needs to be done. If cuts can be made, make them.
16. Think bottom line. In the simplest terms, there are really two sides to a successful business: saving money and making money. If what you are doing doesn’t help your company do one or the other, give some serious thought to whether it’s a good use of your time.
17. Provide options. When dealing with your peers or higher-ups in your organization, don’t just point out problems. Today’s businesses need solutions. If you’re going to bring up a problem, bring a few possible solutions and recommendations along as well.
18. Be available. With heavy workloads and economic anxiety, your people are under considerable stress. Make sure they know you can be reached to discuss any issues they might have…large or small.
19. Segment tasks. If a project is too big to get your head around, make a list of the first few steps to get you started.
20. Defend your time. We’re all getting good at managing shrinking budgets, but why aren’t we more protective of our time? Don’t just give yourself away to anyone that asks. Be selective.
21. Train on the cheap. A three-day trip out of state for a seminar or conference might not be in the budget this year, but you still don’t want people getting rusty. Keep an eye out for less expensive, less time-consuming training activities like conference calls and webinars.
22. Train each other. Instead of relying on traditional, formal training methods, consider tapping your team. Let your people take turns sharing their expertise with the group through an informal presentation. Or tackle a business book together and digest the results afterwards.
23. Use checklists. It’s amazing how a simple checklist can keep a task moving along. Whenever possible, create a list to address recurring needs.
24. Meet smarter. Don’t sit down at a meeting without an agenda. Start on time, end on time, and stay on task in between.
25. Brainstorm smarter. Ever attend a brainstorming session that turned into a lengthy, anything goes free-for-all? If you need to get the creative juices flowing, stay on track by having a clear goal in mind and working towards it consistently throughout the session.
26. Collaborate smarter. Use common sense when collaborating. Don’t wade through a 15-page e-mail string trying to solve a problem that could be addressed with a two-minute phone call or a quick team synch-up.
27. Complete a task terribly. If you’re having a hard time getting started on something—such as writing a letter or drafting a report—take a few minutes and do an absolutely terrible job. Just getting started is half the battle. You’ll find that it is quite easy to transform your shoddy first draft into first-rate work.
28. Expand horizons. A challenging business landscape is the perfect time to improve the capabilities of your team. If someone shows an interest in something beyond their job description, considering finding ways to get that person involved. Give your solid performers the opportunity to knock your socks off.
29. Make a public promise. Sometimes the best way to get something done is to state your goal publicly. If you tell your team you will review their job descriptions by the end of the week, you’ll be less likely to put it on the back burner.
30. Set expectations. When someone requests something of you or your team, agree on a timeframe for completion. It will help you manage your priorities and provide better service if you don’t have a big stack of ASAP projects with unclear deadlines.
31. Help others help themselves. If someone is asking you to do a task that they should be doing on their own, offer support without agreeing to do the work. Tell your requester that you’d be happy to review a draft or weigh in at a team meeting, but that you aren’t available to inherit the project. You might end up with very limited involvement. And sometimes, you’ll find that with the project wasn’t a priority after all (go figure).
32. Consistently work towards the big prize. Sometimes you’ll have a big idea that can never seem to gain traction, thanks to all of the day-to-day issues competing for your attention. Carve out some daily or weekly time to work towards that big goal, whether it’s writing a book, developing a high-profile initiative, or building a tough business case. An hour a week now can add up to big things down the road.
33. Schedule appointments with yourself. Don’t just use Outlook for your daily appointments. If you need to carve out time to work on something specific, put it on your Tasks and block out time just like you would a meeting with a real person. Don’t stand yourself up!
34. Put the economy in perspective. With all the economic doom and gloom in the news these days, a lot of people are carrying around serious financial stress. Help your team understand where your company stands in the scheme of things. A realistic idea of where things stand will mean less nagging anxiety and better productivity.
35. Recognize achievement. Especially when things get hectic, it’s easy to miss opportunities to praise the people on your team. When financial options are limited, a little recognition for a job well done can go a long way.
36. Reward often. Even if it’s just buying a round of morning bagels or dishing out the occasional gift card, look for opportunities to reward achievers, both individually and as a group.
37. Segment tasks. If you can never seem to get the ball rolling on a big project, think of it as a series of smaller tasks. The work will seem less intimidating, and you’ll have a good chunk done before you know it.
38. Stop doing something. Sometimes, serous prioritization means letting go of certain tasks or responsibilities. If something isn’t adding value to the organization, it’s time to let it go.
39. Be in customer service. We tend to think about our work in terms of the things we create – reports, documents, etc. Try to think of yourself as a service provider, focusing on relationships, prompt responses, and strong rapport with others.
40. E-mail efficiently. If you’re getting a ton of e-mails each day, it’s probably killing your productivity. Encourage your team to save their thoughts throughout the day and drop them into a single message. You can answer in one fell swoop instead of 17.
41. Minimize interruptions. Don’t make it a habit to drop everything whenever someone stops by your desk or calls you on the phone. Politely but firmly direct non-urgent issues to a later time when you can give the matter your full attention without compromising what you’re doing. Schedule the meeting while they watch.
42. Eat well. Eating a real breakfast and a healthy lunch will help you feel better and have a more productive day. People who say they don’t have time to eat are full of hooey. You always have time for what you choose to make a priority.
43. Walk around. Human beings weren’t designed to sit at a desk under fluorescent lights all week. Make it a point to get up, walk around, and catch some sunshine throughout the day. You’ll be amazed at how a five-minute stroll can improve your perspective and take a bite out of stress.
44. Batch tasks. Don’t let small, repetitive tasks repeatedly interrupt your day. Carve out a few dedicated minutes each day to handle repetitive tasks like filing, processing mail, or handling invoices. Get things done in batches.
45. Think production, not perfection. Perfectionism can be productivity’s biggest enemy. Sometimes good enough really is good enough. Save your perfection for when it really matters.
46. Be decisive. Don’t waste time with indecision. It will often take less time to correct a mistake than it does to obsess over the decision. Once the decision’s been made, it’s easier to move forward.
47. Be on time. If you want others to respect your time, you need to respect theirs. Plus, being consistently on time sends a message that you are reliable and have your act together.
48. Opt out. That means taking a pass on any clubs, task forces, committees, mailing lists, etc. that are demanding more of your time than they are worth. Don’t feel guilty about it.
49. Avoid toxic people. Some people are never happy and are eager to tell you why. They can occupy your time and drain your energy. Don’t let them.
50. Be healthy. A strong, healthy body is the foundation of productivity. Eat well, get some exercise, and take care of yourself. Better health means more energy. More energy means getting more done.
51. Help your team understand their contribution. Company leadership might talk a lot about corporate goals and objectives, but it isn’t always easy for employees to understand how their contributions influence the big picture. Help them get the idea.
52. Tame technology. Every piece of technology has a point of diminishing returns. If you’re wasting time surfing the internet, obsessing with your BlackBerry, or updating your social networking profiles, take a step back and reassess how you’re using the tools.
53. Burn the midnight oil sparingly. There will ALWAYS be more work to do than time to do it. Putting in long hours at the office or late nights at home should be the exception, not the rule. Focus on getting more done during regular working hours and reclaim your life.
54. Organize your space. Clutter and confusion will not only slow you down, but it will drain your energy as well. Make the effort to get your work area in order and reap the benefits day after day.
55. Uni-task. Multitasking has its place, but the best way to get something done is with uninterrupted focus. Be like a postage stamp…stick to one thing until you get there.
55-1/5. Close out the day. Don’t waste the last few minutes of the day. Make it a priority to close out your day by organizing yourself and setting priorities for the day to come.