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7 Productivity Tips: How to Work Smarter and Not Just Harder

Source | LinkedIn : By Jessica DiLullo Herrin

Learning to master my time wasn’t easy, but it was essential for my success. As the CEO of a start-up and a mother of two daughters, I have rigorously focused on honing my productivity to get the most important things done every day – without running myself ragged. After all – we each get the same 24 hours, 7 days a week. It’s how we spend those hours that determines the joy and value we create for ourselves and others in our lives.

While there are some days I don’t follow my own advice, in general, these are the productivity tips that have worked for me:

HAVE A DAILY 15 MINUTE CHECK-IN WITH YOURSELF: It’s easy to be ‘crazy busy’ without making real progress on important goals.  To combat this, I use a morning check-in meeting with myself to reflect on what priorities I will tackle that day. What will matter a year from now? Regularly review and focus on the written quarterly and annual goals you set. If your day does not align with your goals, how can you best redirect your time? If you can’t impact today, what can you plan today to impact this week, this month and this quarter? This will be your most productive meeting of the day, I promise.

PLAN YOUR CALENDAR BEFORE OTHERS PLAN IT FOR YOU. Do you get home each night exhausted with more work to do, wondering what you really accomplished? You may be suffering from meeting overload. Here’s the cure. Don’t treat your calendar like it’s an open sign-up sheet.  Block 3 hours of no meeting time, in one-hour increments, throughout your day. This allows you to get important things done without a conference room summit. And when you are ready to tackle a bigger project, reserve ample chunks of time to focus and truly get it done. Don’t amorphously work on a project a little bit here and there.  You’re likely to be inefficient and spend even more overall time completing the task.

MAKE SURE EVERY MEETING YOU ATTEND IS ESSENTIAL. Regularly prune your calendar of recurring meetings that are no longer necessary. Right next to the “Accept” button there is a “Decline” button. Always question – Is this the best way I can add value to the most important initiatives in the company? Be bold and decline, just explain why.

When you do attend meetings, even if you didn’t organize it, help guide the meeting to productivity if necessary. Be sure all meetings have a clear, focused agenda. If the purpose is not stated at the outset, try saying, “What are we here to accomplish today?” When you hear a general decision made, drive it to conclusion and action. Try saying, “Ok, to clarify – Who is going to do what by when?”  If you notice no one is appointed to send out wrap-up notes, volunteer to do so. Sending out a clear summary with appointed tasks and due dates ensures action from attendees. Sound bold? Yes, being productive takes leadership. Just remember other people hate wasting time too. Just be direct, kind and even throw in some humor. Others will thank you for it.

TALK IN-PERSON INSTEAD OF ORGANIZING A MEETING OR EMAILING. Don’t let email dictate your priorities or substitute for direct communication. I greatly prefer in-person conversation than scheduled meetings, email or instant message. Talking to people, face-to-face, avoids confusion and quickens problem solving. That is why time when you are physically present in the office, without a meeting planned, is essential. When you do email, be concise to avoid back and forth. Think of yourself like a call center agent who prides themselves on first-time contact resolution. Better yet, try eliminating email for one week and see what happens. You might surprise yourself with what you get done.

AVOID TIME TRAPS. Once you take care of your calendar, be sure to focus on the task at hand. Are you constantly checking social media, email, and Slack, switching between windows and tabs on all your devices? You are paying for it in switching costs, which lowers your productivity. Self discipline is essential to maximize your time. Focus on one thing at a time and complete tasks before you look at something else. Limit screen wandering to 5 minutes, 3 times a day (maximum!) after matters of substance are accomplished. Do not check your email during meetings, and turn off as many desktop notifications as you can. If it’s not required that you’re paying attention, why are you in that meeting at all?

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