"Work smarter, not harder" is a cliché that has darted in and out of the workplace for years. But it's still as true as ever. And it's often overlooked advice that truly works. "Working smarter" means think strategically about how to improve your productivity. For starters, think about how you spend a typical day. Then eliminate the time robbers. How? Like this...
1. Discourage excessive visitors. Move the candy dish. Put it far away from your desk. Why? Because food is a friend when you're trying to attract or meet your peers but it's also a foe that cuts into your time. If 12 people stop by your desk for sweets and initiate a five minute chat each, you've lost an hour of your day.
2. Train your family. Set limits on personal calls. I once worked beside an executive assistant who received at least ten calls daily from her teenage daughter. Use the three or five rule for family members who like instant input: Wait until you have at least three (or five) items to discuss with me before calling my workplace, unless your request is an emergency or timely. ('Mom, the sale ends today' falls under neither of these categories).
3. Don't wait for the mail carrier. Do you read every e-mail as it arrives? Stop! "Instead of keeping your email program open and reading messages as they come in, check it only once in the morning and once in the afternoon," advises Janet Barclay, a professional organizer, time management consultant and president of Organized Assistant (www.OrganizedAssistant.com). Shut off the sound too triggered by incoming e-mail so you're not tempted to check it "just this once."
4. Re-deliver your mail. If you must check your e-mail constantly because your boss likes to e-mail you requests and expects you to do so (I've had some do that), immediately sort the excess into electronic categorized folders such as "newsletters" or "invoices due."(Go ahead and create some electronic folders now if you don't have any.) That way every time you check your e-mail for your boss' messages, other e-mails don't continue to attract your curiosity. Then browse the filed e-mails at once later in the day when it's convenient for you, not the sender.
5. Be less than perfect. You can't stop your boss' perfectionist behavior. But you can literally set limits to control your perfectionism. For instance, set short time spans for drafting basic correspondence. Or make it a rule that you'll proofread correspondence just twice before sending it (often best done with a bit of a delay between the two proofreading sessions).
6. Improve your performance. The way to really save time on tasks such as writing and proofreading is to become better at them. Use the 30 minutes you save daily while reducing your perfectionism to read chapters in a grammar book, expand your vocabulary with useful words (forget most of the five syllable ones) or take an online business writing course. Nobody should spend an hour drafting a thank you letter; yet I've seen it happen multiple times in corporate environments at all staff levels.
7. Call while they're out. "When phoning someone to give information, call when you are likely to reach their voicemail," says Barclay. "That way you can quickly leave a message and not get caught up in chitchat."
8. Think realistically. "Don’t focus on 'catching up,'” says Laura Stack, president of "The Productivity Pro"® and author of "Leave the Office Earlier." "You will never catch up. There will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. People have a tendency to create work to fill up any amount of time they have. They’ll accomplish the same amount of work in a 45-minute meeting as a 90-minute meeting. When working late is a habit, you tend to slack off a little. But by being more productive during the day, you’ll get the same amount of work done...and leave earlier," explains Stack.
9. Get ready to go. "Make preparations to leave," says Stack, who teaches seminars about time management, information overload, and personal productivity (Laura@TheProductivityPro.com). "Gather up your coat and put it in a visible spot so others can see you’re closing shop. Close your door a few minutes before quitting time so people will think you’re busy or already gone."
Now leave! Get home earlier today (or at least on time). Then perhaps you'll start the work day tomorrow feeling more refreshed, enabling you to be even more productive utilizing the same amount of hours.
© 2004 Karen Fritscher-Porter
Karen Fritscher-Porter is the publisher and editor of The Effective Admin, a FREE monthly e-zine for administrative support professionals who want practical tips to advance their career and simplify their daily job duties. Learn more about The Effective Admin and sign up today to receive your FREE issues full of helpful career and workplace tips at www.admin-ezine.com.