It's a fairly common saying, "you should work smarter, not harder", one you're probably tired of hearing. But maybe the reason this phrase won't go away is because of its undeniable truth. As our daily routines only get busier by the day and employees continue to suffer from burnout, there have to be actionable steps we can take to better manage our time, while staying sane in the process. Here are a few workplace hacks, taken from a few brilliant sources, which have worked for me.
Check Your Email First Thing, and Then Leave it Alone
Dealing with important issues that come up first thing leaves your mind free to focus on other projects. So when you get to the office, check all of your email, respond - and then leave it alone. Seriously. All day. Unless something comes up as urgent, let it sit, and schedule one more time during the day to check it again and repeat the process.
Unless you're the emergency contact for your workplace, those emails can stand to wait until your next scheduled break. Why does this method work? Fragmenting our daily tasks may seem like we're getting more done, but in fact were doing less. The tricky thing about the brain is that it is terrible at switching from one task to another. Studies show "performance during task switching is inferior compared with performance during task repetition." Devoting yourself completely to one task, like email, at a time makes you more productive at that specific task.
Stop Multitasking During Your Workday
This brings us to our next hack: stopping the multitasking madness. It might seem easy to juggle multiple things at once, you might even think you're really good at it. But the truth is you're not. No one is. Only 2.5% of the population can multitask and not lose productivity. Multitasking simply doesn't work, and it's actually increasing your stress and decreasing your productivity simultaneously. "When people multitask, often they do multiple things badly,” says David Sanbonmatsu, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. However, don't beat yourself up over it. The tendency to multitask is actually genetic. Since humans were designed to recognize new information, like the rustling footsteps of a predator, as potential danger, we seek out new information as it comes to us.
Some ways to help kick the habit? Remove the temptation. If you often check your Slack during meetings, don't bring your phone into the conference room. It's also helpful to keep your mind anchored to one task so you can reward your brain with checking it off your to-do list.
Categorize Your To-Do Lists
A colleague of mine once commented on my consistent habit of creating a simple to-do list, something I have done daily for years. While this "hack" isn't exactly groundbreaking, I have found it's the way the list is categorized that helps me check most things off each day. I was inspired by an article from Fast Company, written by Michael Grothaus, who actually breaks this method down. First, you create three or four categories for your to-do list items to fall under. In the article, the author broke his day down to:
- digital quickies
- real world
The digital quickies tab was designated for responding to emails, making lunch reservations or following up with people at work. The work tab housed actual duties that would take more time, such as writing an article or scheduled meetings. The real world tab was meant for other daily chores he needed to address.
There is actual science behind why this method works beyond the traditional to-do list. Your brain loves structure and despises uncertainty or unfinished business. Just the simple action of making a list can rid you of the anxiety that comes from knowing you have something to do - which can hinder productivity. However it's also the categories which organize the importance of your tasks which makes the brain feel accomplished and focused during each session. Even if you don't get to everything on your list, the simple act of creating one can make you more productive.
Take Advantage of Workplace Technology
As a remote worker, I've found that proper workplace technology is critical to my success when working out of the office. Internal communication platforms like Slack help eliminate cluttering your colleague's inbox and help bridge communication gaps that can happen when you're working away from your team.
When scheduling meetings or calls with colleagues, its helpful to use calendar management tools like Calendly or iCal that can house all employee schedules, and that can make suggestions on when you should have meetings based on everyone's availability. It definitely helps if you're in a sales position, so potential clients can make meetings with you without the dreaded "when are you available" email train.
If your office provides employee engagement solutions like wayfinding or room reservation systems, be sure you're taking advantage of them! It's wasteful to spend 30 minutes of your day looking for colleagues or meeting space or waiting around for a conference room to open up. These tools are meant to help make your life easier, and once you start - you may wonder how you ever got along without them.