8 Steps to Increased Productivity

Mary Kutheis

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“Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. That means that only 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful manner. ” This, according to Dr. Heike Bruch and Dr. Sumantra Ghoshal, who wrote “Beware the Busy Manager” for the Harvard Business Review. Pretty sure you are in that 10%? Great. If not, read on for some productivity-enhancing ideas you can put into practice today.

1. Have a plan. We all know about long-range and short-range planning. But having a “mini-plan” can significantly decrease the amount of time you spend in meetings or on the phone. Go into meetings with a written agenda – taking care of the important matters first. Before you pick up the phone, know precisely what you want to accomplish on the call. A planned call takes 7 minutes. An unplanned call takes 12 minutes. Enough said.

2. Have a reference filing system you can trust. According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, an average organization spends $120 in labor searching for lost documents and loses one out of every 20 documents. Further, if you really need that lost document, $250 in labor is spent recreating it. You can see how quickly an inefficient system can erode profits. If you don’t have a system you can trust you are less likely to file papers and will be unlikely to find them when you do file them.

3. It’s not about touching a piece of paper once. The average office worker handles a piece of paper 30-40 times before they act on it – and that’s because day after day it’s in a pile on the desk along with other papers that need attention. The first time you handle the paper you need to determine when you need to take the next action with that item and have a foolproof system for being able to find it and retrieve it at that time.

4. Take the day off. People who boast about forgoing vacations or working 80 hours a week aren’t impressive. They are prime candidates for burnout, have completely missed the “lifebalance” boat, and in fact are more than likely less productive and inspired than their 50-hour per week colleagues who take regular vacations. We have to use our energy wisely to function effectively. To read more about being a “corporate athlete”, pick up The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

5. When it gets frantic, stop and re-set. Anxiety instigates action and frantic action limits clear thinking. So when you think things are snowballing toward disaster and you are scrambling to stop the avalanche, stop and assess the situation before you act. Even doctors responding to mass casualties take time to triage the wounded to make certain they are prioritizing effectively. The lesson we can take away is that if people in life and death situations step back in order to make effective assessments, so can we.

6. Back off of e-mail - both sending and reading. How many times has it taken 5 or 6 e-mail exchanges to accomplish what could have been handled in one phone call? It seems e-mail has convinced us that using the phone, or even face-to-face conversations, are lesser options. Use one e-mail to schedule the call or visit. And if you’ve developed a plan for that call or visit, (see #1 above) you’re that much further ahead of the pack. Likewise, checking e-mail every 30 minutes is a huge time waster. Rare is the job that actually hinges on responding to e-mails that quickly. Check it 2 or 3 times each day. . . maximum.

7. Proactively limit interruptions. If someone needs your assistance several times a day, ask them to gather their questions in a folder and then schedule a morning and/or afternoon meeting to cover everything. If you have a co-worker that regularly stops by to chat, throwing off your schedule, head them off at the pass by letting them know you only have “3 minutes before you have to make a call”. When the 3 minutes are up, thank them for stopping by and make the call – even if it’s to check the weather!

8. Focus? Good. Multi-Tasking? Not so much. According to NeuroImage, A Journal of Brain Function, managing two mental tasks at once reduces the brainpower available for either task. Our brain simply cannot do two things at once. What we are actually doing then is switching back and forth from one task to another, sometimes rather quickly. But research proves that it takes less time to complete each task individually than to complete both tasks by alternating between the two. As someone who used to pride myself on being a multi-tasker – I am now reformed.

As most of us who have ever made a New Year’s resolution can attest, broad, sweeping change is hard to maintain. I suggest you tackle one of these ideas a month and internalize it until it becomes second nature. By the end of 2005 you’ll be a paragon of productivity and should be seeing results in both bottom line profitability and your personal well-being.

Mary Kutheis (kooth-ice) helps her clients create productive workplaces by focusing on time management, reasonable productivity, paper management and effective use of space. 17 years in the corporate world working with major corporations provided a critical base of knowledge to put to work in helping individuals and companies get better results through increased organization and productivity. She has appeared on television, radio and in print as a workplace productivity expert. Visit http://www.openspaces4me.com for more tips and resources to become more focused, organized and productive.


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