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• One last piece of advice about e-mails: Forget instant messaging! According to the New York Times, a quarter of American employees use instant messaging at work. “It’s free and easy to download,” proclaims the article. “The most productive thing I’ve ever seen,” rejoices one executive interviewed by the paper. Instant messaging is great if your primary goal at work is to waste
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as much of your time as possible. By allowing your workday to be interrupted constantly by friends and colleagues out there on the Web, you can be assured you will never spend any great length of time focusing. “Clients appreciate receiving an instant reply to a question,” the executive cited above said. Maybe. But they might not like it so much if the replies were honest, such as “I don’t have an answer for you on that now since I’m too busy answering instant messages.”
Productivity Secret No. 2: Attack Similar Tasks in Blocks
Whether you have to answer 25 e-mails, make nine phone calls, or write three memos, you’ll easily save yourself an hour a day just by lumping like tasks together and blocking out time in your schedule to tackle them all at once.
Assembling common tasks makes you much more efficient. So group them into one category on your daily to-do list and allot them a specific amount of time in your schedule.
And while you’re at it, block out some time for yourself as well. Full schedules without relaxation lead to burnout. So along with the various and sundry tasks you have to accomplish, you need to give yourself a few 5-minute, 10-minute, and 15-minute blocks of “me” time each day.
You might enjoy a walk in the sun. Or a crossword puzzle and a cup of coffee. I have three routines I like right now. When I’m a bit pressed, I retire to a table and chair outside my office and read correspondence and other business papers while I enjoy a nice Dominican robusto. When I need to have a casual conversation with someone, I do it over a rack of pool (with cigar smoke mandatory). When I’m not overwhelmed by work, I smoke a cigar and read a poem.
Productivity Secret No. 3:Take Control of Your Schedule with This Simple Device
Do you start your day with the best of intentions—organize your schedule, block out your time, highlight important goals, and vow to stick to it today—only to find your good intentions shot to hell by noon?
It’s hard to keep track of the time. You bury yourself in work and the next time you look up, three hours have passed and you don’t have half the things done you’d planned.
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I’ve solved that problem with an electric egg timer. It looks like the conventional, windup kind but runs on batteries. When I begin a project, I allot it a certain amount of time. When that time expires, the timer signals me with an ascending scale of louder and louder beeps.
I keep the timer at the far end of the office so that I can’t just reach over and turn it off. I have to get out of my chair and cross the room. Then, instead of returning to my desk to start a new task, I leave the office to take a brief, one-minute walk or stretch. This gives me a breather and helps me switch tracks to the next project.
Another way your timer can help you control your schedule is when someone comes into your office and says, “I have a quick question. Got a minute?” Say “sure,” and set your egg timer for a minute.
Productivity Secret No. 4:
Get Company Meetings under Control
I believe wholeheartedly in limiting company meetings. Too much time gets wasted in daily meetings that stretch on for an hour and two hours without accomplishing anything of significant value for anyone there.
Whether or not you’re leading the meeting, you should always have a plan before attending. Your plan should include a specific personal agenda (e.g., “I will leave the meeting with an agreement from Jeff on the new product”) as well as ideas about how to attain that goal (e.g., “I’ll make him a quick, logical argument—and if he doesn’t go for that, I’ll remind him of the favor he owes me”).
Obviously, you can’t just stop having meetings altogether. You can, however, reduce both the number held each week and the time they take. That leaves an extra hour or more of productive work to advance your company’s objectives as well as your own career and personal goals.
The biggest challenge with meetings is to start them on time and keep them short and on point. It’s aggravating when people walk in 10 minutes late and disrupt the flow of ideas in order to be brought up to speed. It’s even more aggravating when the meeting then drags on, chewing up an hour or more of your time without accomplishing the things it was meant to.
If you find that the usual weekly meetings are starting late and going too long, you may want to try this: Rather than meeting for an hour every week, meet for 10 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
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With only 10 minutes available, the meeting will have to start on time. You will find—as I have found—that more gets done because you’re forced to focus on the most important issues right away. You will save a half hour per week (three full days a year). And latecomers will learn a valuable lesson about punctuality: There’s no time to bring them up to speed in a 10-minute meeting, so they will have to catch up on their own time—and will likely show up when they’re supposed to next time.