By Joel Garfinkle
You’d like to take on that critical task or project that will really get attention. You’ve got the skills, the connections and perhaps you even have the experience, but do you have the time? If you’re like most North Americans, the day is an endless string of distractions in which you struggle to get some real work done. Studies show we’re interrupted up to eight times an hour – how is anything ever accomplished?
You may be trying to cope by working longer hours, and stressing out about how there must be some way you should be trying harder. Productivity, surprisingly is not about more time or harder effort. Skip the stress and the long nights; start practicing these skills to make the most of your time.
Skill No. 1: Prioritize
It may seem basic, but the first step is to determine what you actually need to do to accomplish your goals. Whether the plan is for a day’s tight deadline, a short-term project, or a longer spanning objective, consider these questions:
What exactly must be done?
What are the sub tasks?
Which tasks need prep work and/or lead time?
Who will I need to help me?
How soon do I need to engage them?
Prioritize advanced practice: Consider just saying no. It may seem crazy, but sometimes saying no can be the right choice. Does this assignment or opportunity grow your skill set? Advance your career? Earn you goodwill or notice? Unify your team? If not, consider whether it’s possible to say no.
When we overwhelm ourselves with too many things, we lose the ability to give an enthusiastic yes to the opportunity that will really inspire us.
Skill No. 2: Delegate
It can be tempting to try to do everything single-handed, especially when what you’re working on is critical or high-profile. Rest assured, however, that your superiors are watching that you get a job done (and done well), not that you do it all yourself. Determine how you can effectively divide up the work. Delegation starts by asking these questions:
What is the scope of the work?
How can the work be divided into multiple tasks?
Who has the right skillsets?
Are there barriers to completing tasks?
Can I, or my boss, eliminate those barriers to keep things moving?
Delegate advanced practice: When you’ve settled into the role of delegating and bringing it all together, step up your game by adding an even more critical eye to the way you divide up work. Often, there is at least one task on our own lists that we could give away, but keep for emotional or personal reasons. It not only robs our time, but robs opportunity from others.
Identifying and surrounding yourself a great team is as much a talent as possessing the ability to do anyone task. Give yourself and others the chance to grow by assigning responsibility and then following up.
Skill No. 3: Focus
Many otherwise stellar leaders have claimed they just couldn’t focus. Usually, this led to a lot of negative self-talk and frustration, and an inability to make traction on critical tasks. If you have trouble focusing, especially under pressure, take a step back, and set yourself up for success by asking the following questions:
What is my plan for the day/week? (Hour by hour or 15-minute increments if necessary)
What tasks/distractions can I ignore? (meetings, phone, my door)
What time-wasters will I give up for the duration (checking email, checking stocks)
Focus advanced practice: While it may seem counterintuitive to some, but the next level can be simple – quit multitasking! Studies show that very few of us are actually any good at performing multiple tasks at once; trying to do so just makes us less productive. If you want to truly step up your game, work on ways to concentrate on just one thing at a time.
How do you waste your time at work? What hurdles to you need to overcome to be more productive? What tricks have you learned to keep you on task and successful at the end of the day?
Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. He is the author of 300 articles on leadership and 7 books, including Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level.