(Victor Valley)–If you’re reading this article instead of calling a client or crunching a spreadsheet, chances are you could be more focused at work. You’re not alone.
According to a recent survey by Salary.com, the average employee admits to wasting about two hours of each eight-hour workday, not including lunch or scheduled breaks.
The Internet doesn’t help. Like the college roommate who keeps asking us to hang out when we know we have to study, the Web (and e-mail) provide so much distraction on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis that we can find it nearly impossible to give our full attention to higher-level tasks. And with few defined edges to many projects, we end up living in an endless jumble of work and life. We can book a trip to Turkey while participating in a conference call; we can send work e-mails from a towel on the beach in Cancun.
As the economy ebbs along with our focus, we have more to do and less time to do it. Enter the productivity experts. Their guru is David Allen, author of the 2001 book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to boosting productivity, but Allen and his ilk have some effective tactics you can use right now.
Here are 10 of them. If the economy continues to slump, they may just help you keep your job.
Sounds counterintuitive, right? Truth is, we’d all be more productive if we checked e-mail only a few times a day rather than incessantly, says Allen.
Tame Your In-box
Technology is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Allen says that if replying to or disposing of an e-mail takes less than two minutes, do so right away. Get rid of that annoying alert flashing on your computer every time a new e-mail comes in. Send less to receive less: Keep your e-mails short, and write fewer of them.
Clear Your Mind
You don’t need to sit in the lotus position and chant, but you should take a few minutes, several times a day, to calm and clear your mind. Walking around the block or just stepping away from your computer screen can help you stay much more mentally fresh and focused.
Eliminate Unnecessary Meetings
Face-to-face communication is essential (email is fraught with misinterpretation), but be ruthless about protecting your time. Eschew every meeting request that isn’t truly necessary.
Learn How To Say “No”
It’s only two letters but it can be the hardest word to get out. Again, avoid e-mail. If you can, try to help solve the requester’s problem.
Swear Off Social Media
If you don’t need it for work, save Facebook for home and turn Twitter off during the work day.
Productivity experts tout to-do lists—no more lying awake at night sweating crucial details you’re sure you’ve forgotten. Keep multiple lists: the short-term must-dos and the longer-term items. Also clearly define the tasks that can be delegated, and then actually delegate them! Don’t set yourself up for failure by starting each day with an unrealistically long agenda. (Common sense, perhaps—but how often do we actually bother to do this?)
Set Up A System
More common sense, often ignored. Systems–even the simplest variety–allow projects to move forward while freeing up your mind to relax and dwell on loftier things. “Managing a clear and complete inventory of your commitments brings a great increase in clarity, focus, and control,” says Allen. “And it provides the critical background for making the important distinctions about where you’re going and what’s really important.”
Clear Off Your Desk
Spend the last 15 minutes of each workday cleaning off your desk. Trash what you don’t need and file things once a day. Advises Allen: Touch any piece of paper once. Act on it, and move on.
Bother To Make Use Of The Time You Save
Boosting productivity isn’t just about making sure things get done and feeling more in control along the way. It’s about freeing up time for deeper, creative thinking–perhaps about new products or other ways to generate revenue (or to cut costs). Schedule stretches of creative time throughout the day—mute your phone’s ringer, close your door, avoid e-mail and think.