If you resolved earlier this month to work smarter, stop procrastinating and be more productive, your best intentions may have quickly been subverted by your regularly scheduled work routine.
Workplace performance expert Jason Womack says changing the way we do our work to improve our productivity is hard because our processes have become habit, and in many cases these habits have made us successful (even if they drove us to the edge of sanity in the process).
"A mid-level manager, for example, has probably gotten in the habit of living by the ding of email or the buzz of the BlackBerry," says Womack, and they've probably been rewarded for their responsiveness. "If they haven't addressed that Pavlovian response, it will be difficult for them to shift their habits."
The biggest mistake professionals make when it comes to time management, adds Womack, is continuing to use their time for activities that no longer deserve it.
"They keep going when they should be done," he says. "They keep typing an email when they've already answered a question in the subject line. They keep talking on the phone when they've already addressed the purpose of the call. They stay in the meeting room after the meeting points have been covered."
To prevent you from making those same mistakes, Womack shares six of his most effective time management and productivity boosting tips.
1. Stick to the 15-minute rule. Womack recommends organizing your workday into 15 minute chunks. If you work eight hours a day, you've got 32, 15-minute chunks. A 10-hour workday gives you 40, 15-minute chunks. Womack emphasizes 15 minutes because, he says, it's long enough to get something done and short enough to find in your day.
When you have to schedule a meeting or conference call that would typically take an hour, Womack tells his clients to start it at 15 minutes past the hour and to end it on the hour. He believes people can accomplish in 45 minutes (that is, three, 15-minute chunks) what they think they need 60 minutes for. Containing the meeting to 45 minutes forces you to keep it on point and gives you an extra 15 minute chunk in which you can address another item on your to-do list.
2. Know when you're done. Continuing to work on something when it is essentially done is a significant time-waster that most professionals aren't even aware of. People need to think through the, 'When am I done' question, says Womack, who is also the author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley 2012).
"When I get a nonfiction book, I'm done with that book when I've learned something from the author that I didn't know before," he says. "I've picked up books, paid $24.95, read it for two or three 15-minute chunks, learned something and given the book to my seatmate on a plane."
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