Neelam Kaul – Global Leadership Coach

We can spend a lot of time being busy but not productive. It is easy to be busy, however to be productive requires much more thought, awareness and work.

You may have heard the expression, “busy fools” and it’s easy to get into a pattern of being busy, but not actually achieve anything. How many times have you been busy all day in the office yet your to-do list hasn’t gotten any smaller? Sound familiar?

We all have the same 24 hours in a day, but how we use this time is the key to a greater work-life balance. After all, if we are productive at work, we will have more time and energy for activities outside work – especially at the weekends without any work hangovers infringing on our free time.

Here are 10 alternative habits that we can develop to be more productive:

1.  Trim your to-do list.

A starting point would be to reduce your to-do list. By taking a “less is more” approach to our to-do lists we actually accomplish things that matter. Concentrate on high value activities, ones where you actually add value.  Activities that move you forward towards your goals, needs and desires. Automate repetitive and recurring tasks by using apps or creating your own system.  When you write down fewer priorities you will achieve more.

2.  Observe the 80/20 rule. (Pareto’s Principle).

80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So, in the workplace 80% of your results come from 20% of your actual work. We can spend most of our time doing things that look important but are actually not that important on reflection. Take a step back, reflect and find your 20% and concentrate on that part.

3.   Learn to say “No”!

Don’t give away your time so easily and agree to do everything that is asked of you. If you don’t have time to commit to a project, attend a meeting or provide your input, explain that you are not available but do consider making a counter-offer and compromise. It is important to set boundaries and manage expectations but still be seen as reasonable and approachable.

4.   Focus on one task.

Focus your attention on completing one thing at a time – less of the multi-tasking. We can sometimes spend all our time zoning in and out of tasks. It is much more productive to start a task and complete it before moving on to the next one. Focus on one task and finish it to completion, rather than having many tasks started and nothing completed. Another tip while you are in this mindset is to group similar tasks together. Maybe time yourself, you will become more aware and more realistic of how long it takes to do particular tasks leading you to be more efficient when planning. Difficult tasks should be handled first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh. Once you have completed it and made progress you will feel motivated to do the next task.

5.  Limit meeting attendance.

Whilst some meetings are mandatory and unavoidable, check if your attendance is actually compulsory. Maybe you can delegate and send other members of your team in your place. Not only does this build trust within the team, they may also enjoy the variety and extra responsibility. Another option is to be included on the circulation of the meeting note so that you do not miss the key issues and action from the meeting. For meetings you must attend or conduct, try and have a written agenda.

6.   Learn to delegate.

Delegation when done in the right way can be very efficient. It is important to know when to delegate, how to delegate and who to delegate to – you can always be on hand to provide support. Also consider reaching out to other members of your team and accept and admit that you have too much on your plate. By reaching out, you are demonstrating to more junior members of your team that it is fine to ask for help and are leading by example.

7.   Cut out distractions.

We are surrounded by technology, whether it is mobile or email as well as co-workers who will have queries. Get into a habit of putting your phone away or at least turning off notifications and just checking from time to time. This will increase your concentration to get on with completing your to-do list. Better still, if you have a time sensitive deadline or project, find a room where you know you can just focus and not be disturbed.

8.   Reduce email notifications.

Check emails at various points throughout the day rather than having them distract you constantly, taking your focus and attention away from your present task. RAFT is a handy acronym many people use, Read, Act, File or Trash. Or the 4 D’s works equally as well. Delete it, Do it, Delegate it or Defer it!

9.  Take regular breaks.

In between tasks, stretch your body, go for a stroll at lunchtime, find a few minutes to socialise and build meaningful relationships with your co workers and team.

10.  Leave the office/Switch off.

You will find some days you are more productive than others. When you find you are really behind, it may be better to go home earlier, take some time to rest and come back energised for the next day. When you limit work hours your focus will improve.

Finally, don’t forget to take all your vacation days. Time away from the office recharges you and gives you a chance to spend time on productivity – boosting activities such as exercising, sleeping, travelling, outdoor activities and socialising.

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