When it comes to accomplishing tasks or projects at work, people tend to believe that multitasking is the key to success. Moreover, everyone has that one colleague who brags about being able to multitask or having to multitask. When actually, multitasking can reduce productivity and thus even minimize your results. Productivity is about the ability to focus and to work without giving in to distractions, whereas multitasking does the opposite. Also, consider that the most productive people in history i.e. Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison have communicated that mastery cannot be achieved with multitasking and only through deep focus. This article is about helping you, become more productive in the modern world and less distracted, by all the noise that is out there while you are working.
1) Automate everything you can
When you have a job where your inbox piles up easily, things can get messy very quickly and you don’t want to be known as the person who forgets to reply to a call-to-action email. Thankfully, Outlook and Gmail are so advanced nowadays that you can apply automatic rules to your inbox. Either by moving emails to specific folders based on certain subject lines or based on email authors (MW Tip for Outlook: Home > Rules > Create Rule). Applying automated rules to my inbox has helped me become more organized and allowed me to save valuable time. This tip is especially great if project management is part of your profession.
Additionally, automation is also how people that manage multiple social media channels survive. As someone who is creating daily social media content, people may think that I sit in front of my PC while a post, video, or story goes live. When actually, I create and write all my content days in advance and auto-schedule when a certain post needs to go public. This goes also for this website, I automate when an article or blog goes live, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to manage multiple jobs and my social media channels. There are so many great tools out there that you can leverage for this (MW Tip posting schedule tools: Hootsuite, Buffer, SocialBee). Just because people are more online now, it doesn’t mean that you have to be online 24/7 as well. Finding the right balance between automation and direct publishing takes trial and error. While automation has made things easier for me, I still advise not to automate everything, especially when you converse with your community, you still want to be authentic and build real relationships.
2) Block your focus hours
With all the obligations at work, attending meetings, answering calls/emails, and also including the responsibilities at home, it’s difficult to push through your to-do-list. Like you block hours for meetings, block hours for deep focus in your Outlook/Google calendar. When you block focus hours in your calendar, you will also try not to schedule any appointments during the same time. There is absolutely no need to feel guilty about having to schedule concentration minutes, especially if being in solitude allows you to be a better employer or employee. You have to view these hours as “hours of development”, this is when you get to improve, learn new skills, and add value.
If you are someone who receives a lot of emails I would even advise you to block every morning just for emails, an email focus hour before you tackle your to-do-list. The greatest leaders and managers I have talked to, throughout my career, have made it a habit not to attend or hold meetings before 10 am. This way they do not only get to answer urgent matters but also their team is given some time to plan their day. During my morning email focus hour, I only immediately reply to emails, if I know I can answer the question or do the to-do within the next 15 minutes after reading the mail. If answering a single email takes longer than that, I will get back to the email later in the day.
3) Turn off notifications
Every email that enters your inbox and chat notification can be a big distraction, particularly if you are attending a meeting or just want to concentrate. Turn application notifications off, trust me, you don’t need to answer every email or chat message immediately. If it is truly urgent, that person will call you and if you don’t receive a call, I’m sure that you can answer 15 minutes later and no harm will be done. Additionally, you can also turn off pop-up windows. If you need to be more drastic, you can also enable the “Do not disturb.” feature in Skype/TEAMS, when your contacts use the same communication platform, they will notice that you are unavailable as well.
4) Reduce meeting minutes
Elon Musk is famous for leaving meetings if he cannot add any value. Most of us don’t have the privilege like him and cannot just leave a meeting. However, if you are the owner of a meeting you get to decide the length of your meeting and that is itself already a great advantage. If you know that a meeting can be finished in 20 minutes, then also make the effort to end the meeting within the given time frame. Efficient managers and employees hold on to their schedule, they don’t allow anyone to overrun meetings because they respect everyone’s time, they know more time in meetings leads to less output. Either one leaves the meeting, or everyone else will be late for their next meetings, or some may not be able to finish important tasks. If any further follow-up meetings are necessary you can still plan one and make a Q&A meeting.
5) Encourage team rules
Every team member has a private life besides their professional life and one can only be productive if one truly takes real breaks. If you want to support your team, also acknowledge their private life. Communicate that you discourage receiving meetings late in the evening and also communicate that you won’t ask them to attend meetings right before their workday ends, unless it is really urgent. Of course, how this rule is initiated by the team highly depends on your working culture and on who communicates this silent rule. Simple rules like no meetings after 5:30 pm and no replies after 6 pm are easier initiated if being communicated by the upper management. Keep in mind though that everyone gets to decide whether working late is beneficial or not. Always remember, if you can leave it until tomorrow morning without causing any harm, it is absolutely fine not to work late in the evening.
Without the above 5 tips, I wouldn’t be able to focus when I work. For me, productivity is not only crucial for success but also paramount to my health and well-being. Try the above out during your next workday, adjust and tweak the tips based on what works best for you. With everything happening in the world now and more blurred lines in everyone’s work-life balance, it is also the time to make meaningful changes in how you work.
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