Feature Article: New Year Resolution: Take a Fresh Look at Your Productivity Habits

The end of the year is a classic opportunity to look back over how things have been going and look forward to see how they could improve. January brings that fresh start that we all long for – let’s make the most of it! 

Think of all the things that drive you crazy – the biggest obstacles to your personal and professional productivity. For sanity’s sake, you might have chosen to pick your battles and resigned yourself to some pretty ridiculous productivity drains over the years.

Maybe you decided that a staff meeting at work will always be a waste of time and have given up the good fight on making it better. Or it might be as simple as giving up on making it out the door with a decent breakfast in your belly.

Not this year! Let’s take 2008 by storm and reexamine the way we get things done. Who knows? You just might make some headway on an issue that you thought was a lost cause years ago. Here are some things to think about as you consider how to make 2008 your most productive year ever.

Challenge the status quo. Does it have to be done like this? Many people don’t like change. You might not be particularly fond of it yourself. But that’s no reason to stay stuck in an unproductive rut. All too often, we resign ourselves that it’s “good enough” and get hung up on a really mediocre way of doing something.

Is there a recurring meeting at work that makes everyone groan and hasn’t been worth the hour that it eats up for as long as you can remember?

Maybe it is time to reconsider the way that time is spent. If you have any say in how the meeting is run, perhaps your group’s resolution should be to get the thing back on target. Or maybe it’s simply time to get rid of the meeting altogether and give everyone involved a little extra time in their day – a precious thing indeed. 

There are lots of examples of this sort of thing: status reports that no one reads, useless reports, inefficient paperwork, and time-tracking techniques that never see the light of day. Things like this point to an underlying problem: no one steps up to say “why are we doing this?!?!”

Take a risk. Try something different. Speak up. Especially when it comes to projects that are very large or very critical, people can get uneasy about changing a process. After all, there is a lot at stake and the old way has never failed before. The result can be a clunky, overly-complicated process that has grown into something more difficult and stressful than it needs to be. 

Don’t be afraid to take a risk and challenge the old way of doing things. It may be more stressful this time around, but you just might work your way towards a new system that will save tons of time and aggravation later on. Don’t be the one who suffers in silence out of fear of “rocking the boat.” Make some waves!

Work backwards. When you’re reevaluating a process that seems overly complicated, consider working backwards to find a better solution. When you begin at step one, it is too easy to fall right back into familiar patterns and miss the point of what you’re trying to do. 

Instead, begin at the end and look back. Start with the final result you would like to achieve and build a new process from there. You’ll be much more likely to discover steps that could be either tweaked or axed altogether. Get your team together armed with pads of sticky notes and challenge yourselves to eliminate several steps.

Structure is your friend. Many of us have jobs that are so process-heavy we forget that having a defined procedure in place is, in the best of circumstances, a really good thing. 

Make sure that when you are dealing with a task or an assignment that needs to be done on a recurring basis, you find a way to put a system in place. Especially if you are working in a group, it is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page in terms of who is responsible for what – and when.

A checklist can be a great asset here. Simply list everything that needs to be accomplished and who is responsible for doing it. If your process stalls, you should have no problem figuring out where the problem is.

Measure! If you go on a New Year’s diet, at some point you’re going to step on the scale for an objective look at how things are going. Without a no-nonsense measurement, it is very difficult to gauge your success or failure. It’s hard to improve what you can’t measure. So how would you know if you’ve succeeded? 

This is particularly true when it comes to tweaking or creating processes. Keep track of the changes you make and evaluate how they have improved productivity. Did you make the process faster? Does it involve fewer people? Did the quality of the work improve?

These are the questions you’ll want to ask whenever you change something that has been in place for any period of time. If you keep these questions in mind before you make any changes at all, so it can help guide your decision making.

Go for it. It’s going to be a new year, everybody! Let’s not be afraid to take the bull by the horns and tackle the issues that stand between you and your personal or professional productivity. 

Make it a productive day! ™

(C) Copyright 2007 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. 

This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: “© 2007 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.” The link to Laura’s website must be active, or the article may not be used.