These expert tips seem counterintuitive, but they’re essential for on-the-job success.
Are you efficient at checking things off your to-do list, or are you truly effective in getting the right things done? It’s important to know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness – and to take steps toward the latter if you hope to maximize your career success. I’ve compiled some of the most easy-to-implement methods to produce superior results in improving your personal effectiveness (and overall productivity).
Here are five essential – yet counterintuitive – ways to improve your on-the-job effectiveness:
1. Don’t start your day with email.
Jumping into email first thing in the morning is a sure way to let other people’s agendas trump your own work objectives. It’s easy to spend a whole day responding to non-urgent requests and emptying your inbox, while never getting to any of your key deliverables. Instead, Sarah Walton, CEO of Better Way Moms, recommends taking three minutes each evening before you leave the office to write down your thoughts on the most important tasks for the next day.
“When you get to your desk in the morning, sit down for 10 seconds, take a sip of coffee or tea and breathe,” Walton says. “Then look over your to-do list from the previous evening and prioritize that. Once you have those priorities straight, then go into your inbox and see what else needs your attention.”
2. Master the details.
Research has shown that having goals that are too broad at the beginning of your career can cause you to lose effectiveness. While you may be eager to step into a bigger game, honing in on more detailed work and mastering a narrow area first can be a smarter strategy to make the most effective use of your time at work.
Scott C. Hammond, a professor of management at Utah State University, believes that going broad too early without establishing a reputation for expertise can be a bad move when it comes to effectiveness. “The devil is not in the details,” Hammond says. “Be a champion of small things that make a big difference before you are a champion of big things that make a big difference.”
3. Harness group brainpower.
Putting heads together helps increase your effectiveness at creativity and idea generation. Brainstorming sessions are an amazing way to collect a wide range of options in a short period.
To save time and avoid scheduling meetings for groupthink, consider following the lead of Bryan Mattimore, co-founder of The Growth Engine Company. Mattimore’s company devised a technique that relies on posting a whiteboard in a public area, such as a conference room or cafeteria. Team members use the whiteboard to solicit suggestions from colleagues on issues for which they’d like fresh input. To add a sense of urgency, participants can set a deadline for each challenge. When you implement the group’s best ideas, you’re effectively increasing your bandwidth without adding any hours to your day.
4. Take a 15-minute breather.
The last thing anyone feels like doing when they’re on a roll with an important project is to rest and regroup. But research shows that taking short breaks throughout the day can keep you from losing steam and burning out on a task. A brief break of 15 minutes or so every few hours can keep you mentally fresher, which in turn fuels productivity, improves decision-making and reactivates your interest in the project’s goals.
Active breaks have been found to be particularly effective in helping to increase your energy level and maintain more effective focus throughout the day. So get up from the computer, and walk or run an errand for best results. If you can’t pry yourself away, try a mindfulness app like Salute the Desk to help you stretch and relax while chair-bound.
5. Expect interruptions.
A major problem with effective planning is that people overschedule and overcommit, thinking they’ll be able to accomplish much more than anyone reasonably could do in one day. Part of the issue is that every workday has interruptions, and those aren’t built into your time table. Walton advises scheduling a full 40 percent of your time in the office for interruptions.
While that may seem like a huge chunk of your working hours, having 60 percent of your day for actual tasks is probably more realistic than expecting to have the full 100 percent. Knowing this, you can make much more effective use of the actual time available. “This is so hard for people to do, but it’s incredibly effective once it’s a habit,” Walton says. “If you have a task that is going to take you an hour, schedule an hour and 25 minutes for the task. That way, if you get an important interruption during the task, you can take 25 minutes to handle it and still be on time with your first task.”