Planning for Higher Productivity

What are you going to do at work tomorrow — specifically? This sounds like an easy question, but how much thought do you really put into planning your days? How much time could you be wasting? According to Jeffrey J. Mayer in his book Time Management for Dummies, the secret to high productivity at work is simple: Make a list of your unfinished projects and spend the majority of your time on the highest-priority, largest-pay-off items. Although this sounds basic, it is not a common practice. According to Mayer, researchers found that most people spend only 20 percent of their time on these high-priority, large-pay-off items. Where is the other 80 percent of their time being spent? Most of this time is spent on miscellaneous items such as returning emails and telephone calls, but there are ways to gain more time to work on your important projects. Following are some suggestions.

1. Do your difficult tasks first

Don’t spend all of your time trying to complete all of the easy tasks first. While it may feel good to cross these things off your list, by using the majority of your valuable time and energy on low-return projects, you’re often left with little to give to the important ones. Make the first hour of your work day the most productive by going after your most difficult projects first.

2. Take a break with easy projects

Complete your easy tasks while taking a break from the important ones. Most high-priority projects take a large amount of time and cannot be completed in one sitting. When you have had enough of the large project, take a break with an easy task.

3. Inventory your efficiency

Set aside time for your most important projects when you are at your personal best. To some, this may be after a lunch workout or just before scheduled meetings. Your self-inventory can be very simple. Keep a log for at least one month to determine what parts of your day are most productive. For most people, productivity is high in the first few hours of the morning, but you will also find other times during the day when you can accomplish more than usual.

4. Avoid interruptions

Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted by the phone, email, voice mail or regular mail. If you are in the middle of a high-return task, don’t allow your momentum to be broken by the beeps and flashing lights of communication technologies. Granted, some issues and calls must be dealt with immediately, but the majority of interruptions can wait. As an example, many dentists only take and return telephone calls and answer email during a designated time, unless the call is an emergency.

5. Flexibility is key

Always allow at least 10 percent more time for a project than it should take, and never plan more than 75 percent of your work day. Always allow time to deal with the unexpected.

6. Plan ahead

Review tomorrow’s schedule before leaving work for the evening. You will then know what to begin working on first thing in the morning. Another tip: Plan out your first day back from a vacation or a long weekend. That way you won’t waste time trying to remember what you were thinking about days or weeks ago.

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