I’m not the queen of organization and efficiency. I have friends who are. They color coordinate their closets, carry portable file folders, and schedule November activities in January. I envy those women.
My lessons in this arena were mostly learned by trial and error and from sage advice from mentors and colleagues. Nothing has made me more efficient at work, however, than the desire to come home to baby boy. Here are some of the things I learned so far:
1. Free up brain space by developing mad calendar skills.
My mentor taught me this huge life lesson early on. I used to assume that I would just remember where and when I needed to be at all times. Of course, this worked well when I was not a grown-up. Nowadays, this memory feat is simply impossible. To keep it all together, I keep everything on a master calendar, from work meetings and doctor appointments to dinner with friends. It takes away the guessing, allows me to see the big picture of all my responsibilities, and frees my brain to be stuffed with other useful information, such when the new season of Nashville begins.
2. Keep a manually refreshed running list all of your to-dos.
I like an old-fashioned paper and pen list, but the electronic device of your choice will work nicely as well, as long as tasks don’t auto-populate. My list is divided by categories of hats that I wear at work so that I can look at my tasks in a sensible fashion. When something goes on my list, it’s never taken off until it’s complete. Because I use paper and pen, I often have to rewrite my tasks as things get checked off and added. This forces me to consider my barriers to getting something done every time I have to put it on the list again. The rewriting process keeps tasks from ever getting completely ignored unless I am making a conscious choice to do so.
3. Get up and move.
We all need to take mental breaks sometimes. Since many of us work at a desk with a computer, it’s easy to go to your favorite sports page or do a little online shopping to refresh yourself. Unfortunately, the Internet is a time sucker, and before you know it, you’ve just wasted an hour looking at those beautiful Italian leather shoes that cost half of your paycheck. If you really need a break, get up and take a walk. If it’s pretty outside, get some fresh air. You’ll get back to your work more quickly and more refreshed. For me, five minutes of activity clears my mind way more than 30 minutes of surfing the web. Plus, it’s healthier too.
4. Make appointments with yourself and keep them.
Tackling big long-term projects can be difficult when more seemingly urgent tasks keep getting in the way, making us vulnerable to procrastination. To guard from this happening, make appointments with yourself on your master calendar to work on the big project. More importantly, keep them. Don’t sell your time short; don’t make these times less important.
5. Do the harder tasks during the most productive times of your workday.
Depending on the job, this can’t always be easily done. But if your job allows for it, think about when you have the greatest energy, and tackle the most taxing things then. Leave your low energy times for mindless tasks, such as cleaning out your inbox or reorganizing your desktop.
6. Set boundaries.
It can be hard to say no to colleagues, but it can be crucial to your sanity and balance. Learn the art of saying no gently and kindly. If it’s a boss that is pilling on the work, have your list of projects ready, and ask her to help you prioritize what she wants you to do first.
7. Prioritize tasks.
There is a great tool out there called the Eisenhower Matrix. It breaks tasks into 4 categories: important/urgent, important/not urgent, not important/urgent, and not important/not urgent. An important task adds to a vision, a passion, or a long-term goal. An urgent task begs to be done, well, urgently. Some important tasks are urgent, but not all urgent tasks are important. Therein lies the crux of many productivity problems, according to author Stephen Covey. Covey says that most of us spend our time in this not-important-but-urgent quadrant. Unfortunately, spending time here makes us feel productive because we are putting out tiny fires, but in reality, we aren’t getting very far with our goals and dreams. Think through your tasks, and do what’s important first.