Don't Kid Yourself - There Are Enough Hours in the Day

Don Tennant
Slide Show

10 Steps to Improve Productivity

Tips to help improve your productivity while reducing your stress.

You just never know what's going to get people riled up. One of my posts last week, "Let's Recognize Smoking as the Workplace Enemy It Is," sent a lot of people into a frenzy. I learned that expressing a viewpoint that the pro-smoking crowd doesn't like will get you labeled as a hater and lumped into a category of people that includes Nazis and proponents of forced sterilization. I'm not making that up.


One of the views I expressed that caused the big uproar is that people who smoke waste too much time huddling outside smoking cigarettes, and I raised the issues of lost productivity and the unfairness to people who don't smoke, and who therefore don't waste time huddling outside smoking cigarettes. Among the more reasonable views that were expressed by readers in response to that was that people waste time in the workplace with any number of trivial pursuits, like playing on social media sites, so coming down so hard on people who take smoke breaks was out of line. After all, the reasoning goes, people who take smoke breaks may well be more hardworking and diligent than their coworkers who don't take smoke breaks, and may well be more productive.


Fair enough. So let me extend an olive branch to those I riled up, and make it very clear that taking smoke breaks is hardly the biggest productivity inhibitor that organizations are dealing with. Far more time is wasted, for example, as a consequence of our collective inability to manage our time. We say there aren't enough hours in a day to get everything done that we need to get done, but from what I've seen - and I've been around a while - more often than not, the day has plenty of hours. We just need to figure out how to use them more efficiently.


The fact is, a huge chunk of the time we waste is the result of spending too much time on things that don't require it; we would waste far less time if we would just learn to recognize when whatever we're doing is finished. I wish I could take credit for recognizing that myself, but I can't. I got it from Jason Womack, a workplace performance expert, executive coach and author of the book, "Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More."


In a post earlier this year, "Nine Tips to Help You Overcome Workplace Overload," I shared some of Womack's other time-management advice. Here are five more tips that focus on learning to know when you're done with a project or task:


  • Stop majoring in the minors. Many of us spend a lot of time on those projects and tasks that are easy for us. Then, we convince ourselves that we just didn't have enough time to get to the harder stuff. But when it comes to knowing when you're done and freeing up time during your day, completing these easy tasks quickly and efficiently is essential. Before you start your work day, think about what your high-leverage activities are and what your low-leverage activities are. Force yourself to move through the low-leverage activities as quickly as possible. With these tasks - for example, writing an email to a colleague - perfection isn't necessary, and there's no need to waste time wringing your hands over every word. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you'll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice.
  • Don't overwrite emails. Much of your time - probably too much - each day gets eaten up by email. Make a conscious effort to keep your emails as short and sweet as possible. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened. And while long emails waste the time it takes you to write them, keep in mind that the person receiving the email doesn't want to have to spend so much time reading it, either. Chances are your boss doesn't want or need a three-paragraph rundown of how your client meeting went. He just wants to know if the client is happy and continuing business with you.
  • Quit over-staying at meetings and on conference calls. Often meetings and conference calls will take as long as you've allotted for them. Set an hour for a meeting and you're sure to go the full hour. Pay close attention to how much of your meeting is actually spent focused on the important stuff. If you spend 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning or end of the meeting discussing your coworker's golf game, then next time reduce the amount of time allotted for the meeting. And always know the objectives of the meeting or call before you begin. That way you can get to them right away.
  • Set your own deadlines and stick to them. It's very easy to get distracted or sidetracked by things you think you should do or things others think you should do. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions. If a colleague calls you about a non-urgent task, you can let him know you've got a 3:00 p.m. deadline that you have to meet. There's no need for him to know that it's self-imposed. And then as 3:00 p.m. draws near, start wrapping up that particular task.
  • Know when it's time to ask for help. Have you ever been stumped by a certain project or task? Did you walk away from it for a while and then come back to it, hoping you'd suddenly know what to do? Sometimes knowing when you're done is knowing when you, specifically, can't take a project any further. You simply might not have the right expertise to completely finish a certain project. And that's OK. Wasting time on something you're never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 1, 2012 7:46 AM cp cp  says:

What a wonderful post with such useful self-help tips. Unfortunately, the small fanatical army of anti-Infosys folks who desperately wait for your next instalment to spew more venom on top of venom is ignoring good, positive stuff like this, which probably explains why this post has zero comments while the Infosys ones have 50-150 comments typically. So I thought I'll add the first one here, though I don't comment often.

One suggestion: perhaps you should separate your blogs into two categories - one for the Infosys topic whose sensationalism I don't agree to & its just my opinion and a second one for the workplace causes, which are all quite delightful to read. I personally like this stuff far more. In terms of the productivity topic per se, in the end, its all about conscious practice to get there in and be more productive. Theory is just the useful first step. We all need to continuously watch ourselves on how we spend our 10 hours in office.

May 1, 2012 8:24 AM Don Tennant Don Tennant  says: in response to cp

Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it. Might I suggest you just skip over any post with "Infosys" in the headline?

May 1, 2012 11:06 AM Tim Burris Tim Burris  says:

Excellent post and ideas, no doubt sometimes break increases our outcome. Managing a time within or outside a workplace is very much important. Making sticky notes/short notes and arranging preplanned meetings works a lot.

Starting a new task is always interesting unless you are running away from your task. Running away from task shows your less interest and lack of confidence. You should overcome this anxiety by learning or by concerning your managers, senior staff, co-workers e.t.c.

May 21, 2012 6:09 AM Monalisa Bekham Monalisa Bekham  says: in response to Tim Burris

Actually some few websites are posting these types of valuable information's, because more intelligent peoples are finding these types of blogs for increasing their more out knowledge's. So thank you very much for sharing this good stuff.

dwyane wade

Sep 28, 2012 12:10 AM clark clark  says:
Nice post with such valuable information and tips. A good argument is produced over smoking at workplace. I think this might be a reason that has some impact on productivity. Lastly i would like to thank for the tips. If implemented then it will certainly produce good results. Tremx Reply

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