By Jason Womack
If being connected 24/7 was supposed to make our lives easier, the business world didn’t get the memo. Many workers just can’t shake the end-of-the-day feeling that they didn’t get enough done. So day after day, they find themselves responding to work email on their smartphone right up until their head hits the pillow. But this and other habits can actually diminish our productivity. By implementing a few small changes, you can get more done in less time, which not only staves off burnout but also leaves more time for doing what you love. To get a bigger return on the effort you invest, adopt these four essential good habits, excerpted from Your Best Just Got Better:
Keep your BlackBerry out of bed
Many people check their email as part of their daily morning routine before even getting to the office, sometimes before even getting out of bed. Often, we can’t do anything about those emails until we get to the office or until business hours start so we can talk to others. Defer checking your email until you are ready to take action on it. You will be less stressed and more focused instead of starting your day feeling stressed about things you can’t yet act on.
Be prepared for “bonus time”
Bring small chunks of work with you wherever you go. While waiting for a meeting to start or for a delayed flight to depart you will be able to reply to an email or make a phone call. In other instances, you might have enough time to review materials for another meeting or project you are working on. If you’re prepared, you can also confirm appointments, draft responses or map out a project outline.
Change how you manage email
The moment you click your inbox, your focus goes and your stress grows as you proceed to delete, respond, forward and file the messages you find there. You see names and subject lines and suddenly your mind starts racing; all you can think of are the latest projects, the “loudest” issues, and the high-priority work that shows up. If you’re not careful, all you will do all day is manage your email. Rather than simply flag emails that require action, use the subject lines to catalog and organize them. For example, you might put “Follow-up Call” in the subject line of an email. When you go through your email, use subject lines to catalog the messages and organize them so that you can easily go back to less urgent emails later on.
Identify verbs needing attention
Organize your to-do list by verbs to manage your productivity in terms of action. Actions such as call, draft, review and invite are things that you can do generally in one sitting. If your to-do list has “big” verbs such as plan, discuss, create or implement, these tend to be more mentally demanding or longer term in nature. Break them down and replace them with smaller verbs describing tasks that are easier to start and faster to finish.
Jason W. Womack, M.Ed., M.A., provides practical methods to maximize tools, systems and processes to achieve quality work-life balance. Author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More, Womack shows that working longer hours doesn’t make up for a flawed approach to productivity and performance.