There are many behaviours and practices that get in the way of our productivity. These time-wasters fall into two types: internal, those things we generate and external, those things that come at us from outside. Both types can be controlled.
There are four behaviours/practices leading to wasted time:
- Disorganization – How much stuff do you have sitting on your desk or in your work area? A few years ago, Coopers & Lybrand (now Price Waterhouse Coopers) released data from a poll on personal organization. One statistic found, “The average desk worker has 36 hours worth of work on their desk and wastes up to 3 hours a week just “looking” for STUFF!” Finding stuff on my messy desk bears out that statistic. Being disorganized is responsible for a lot of wasted time.
- Procrastination – We all put things off. We hope to avoid tasks that are boring, difficult, unpleasant, etc. When faced with something we don’t want to do, we can find a dozen tasks of no consequence to fill our time. We secretly hope that, by procrastinating, the unpleasant task will shrink and go away. Unfortunately, the reverse is often true; the deferred job just gets bigger and more difficult
- Inability to say no – There are periods when the demands on our time exceed our ability to handle them. Learning to say “No” is a critical –yet difficult– skill needing to be mastered. Taking on more than you can manage only leads to frustration as nothing gets done very well.
- A poor attitude – Your attitude represents how you feel about something. Many features of working in an organization can cause you to have a poor attitude about your job and employer. Perhaps you have a poor attitude as your way of life. If you feel poorly about yourself, it will affect your attitude about work.
How can we overcome these behaviours?
Evaluate your work area. Is it organized efficiently to minimize effort? Can material and movement flow freely? Have you optimized the placement of your tools and supplies?
Focus on your desk. Is your workspace cluttered? How much time do you waste looking for things you know are there but can’t find? When was the last time you used items on your desk? Perhaps it is time for some housecleaning.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.” Make sure you filing system reflects this axiom.
Organize your work style. Complete your tasks. Don’t jump from one thing to another. Don’t multi-task. Assess the priority of interruptions before pursuing. If you can’t avoid the interruption, return the the task you were working on as soon as possible.
Overcoming procrastination requires strategy. The next time you’re tempted to put off something you don’t want to do, try some of these tips:
- Set a deadline – a task without a deadline can be put off indefinitely. Set a date and stick to it.
- Set up a reward system – make it commensurate with the task. An afternoon cleaning out the garage is worth dinner out, while a 14 month software roll-out might warrant a tropical vacation.
- Arrange for a follow-up – assign someone to be a “nag-buddy”. Give them permission to check in periodically to make sure you’re staying on track.
- Do it first – tackle difficult jobs early in the day, when you have the most energy.
- Break the task into small pieces – if the whole seems too big to tackle, break it into manageable sub-tasks.
- Do it now – don’t put if off any longer. Sometimes you just have to jump in and get it done.
Just Say No!
Ken Blanchard offers three steps to saying no:
- Know what your goals and priorities are.
- Be realistic about the consequences of doing one more thing.
- Offer alternatives and solutions
Improve Your Attitude
If your care-less attitude is in the way of accomplishing what you need to do:
- Look for creative ways to make your current tasks more interesting.
- See if it is possible to trade or share tasks with a coworker.
- Ask for more challenging responsibilities.
- Schedule your work to best manage routine or tedious tasks.
- Worse case: look for a new job.
Recommended: The Zen Habits Handbook for Life!