They say Americans work more hours than workers in other countries. They say we take less vacation. At first blush, one would say we’re a nation of workaholics, but I see a paradox in play among our long-hours, limited-vacation American culture.
We may work a lot, but sometimes I wonder: “Are we really all that productive?” There. I said it. Out loud, sort of. I put it on paper, anyway. Hey, don’t blame the messenger; I’m talking about myself just as much as anyone else. I think it’s a trap we fall into.
For your consideration: do you see yourself at all in these scenarios?
- You’re busy, all right. But sometimes, the stuff you’re working on; it’s just that. Stuff. Here’s one example: many of us could spend our entire day sending and receiving emails. Like a game of ping pong, we volley messages back and forth; we thoughtfully compose our email responses to make sure the tone is appropriate (even when a quick phone call would handle things faster). Maybe we should ask ourselves: Am I working on the right things that will make a difference, or am I doing busy work?
- Your distractions are endless. You sit in a cube environment. You know, those open floor plans that are supposed to encourage collaboration but aren’t conducive to serious contemplation. You’re in nonstop meetings most of the day. Your text, Facebook, Twitter and every other social media account is a constant feeder to take your attention. Should we ask ourselves: If I can’t remove these distractions, how can I manage them better?
- You’ve forgotten balance. You take work home with you regularly; check your email before you go to sleep, then again first thing when the alarm goes off in the morning. You regularly work weekends. Perhaps we should contemplate: When can I unplug so I’ll be better at this tomorrow?
Not easy, is it? Like so many things, much of this boils down to creating new and better habits, so I thought I’d disclose my own bag of tricks. I offer you Gayle’s Personal Rules for Productivity. Selfishly, writing these down is a good reminder to me to stay focused, and it may help you create a new habit or two. Feel free to adopt any that sound good for you.
- I work on the stuff that helps me make progress toward a specific goal, and purge everything else. There are three goals we’re working toward at Clarity Group in 2012, so I know where I should focus my attention.
- Anything that requires brainstorming or creativity must be done before 3:00 in the afternoon. After that, I’m just mental mush.
- Save the routine activities for the end of the day, when my mush-brain won’t be overtaxed.
- Turn off the email when doing head-down thinking, writing, calculating. I’m like Pavlov’s dog; I’m conditioned to respond whenever that email icon appears, so I find it’s best to eliminate the distraction altogether.
- Squeeze in time to work when the rest of the world isn’t. I’m always amazed what I can accomplish when it’s quiet. For me, that’s early morning, before the office gets busy.
- Turn off when I need to. Since I know my brain is lousy later in the day, I turn work off in the evening so that I can hit it fresh the next morning.
Now I ask you to reciprocate. What are your tricks to stay productive? I could use some fresh ideas!