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How to Be More Productive

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

Is it just me, or does that pile of work on the desk never seem to get any smaller? It's like an office-based horror flick: files and reports replicating and swarming all over your desk in an uncontrollable blob!

Sometimes no matter how hard you work or how long you sit hunched over your desk until you get a crick in your neck, your in box never seems to get any smaller. While it would be great to solve this problem by simply cutting back on your workload, most of us don't have that luxury - so we have to do the next best thing: be more productive and learn to work smarter, not harder.

The first thing you can do to be more productive is to take a long hard look at your workload and really wrap your arms around the scope of your projects. If you're like me, there's a list a mile long of work that you need to do, but try not to feel overwhelmed. I'll help you through it!

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Start by rating each of your tasks on a scale of one to five with one being "this-has-to-get-done-TODAY" and five being tasks and projects that are more long-term and have deadlines further down the road. Rate all of your work in this way, and then, at the beginning of each day, take a look at where your number ones are. Do that work first, prioritizing within your number ones and methodically working through each task.

Because I love to cross things off my to do list, I often start with a handful of easy tasks that are marked as number ones. It's amazing how accomplished you can feel when you can cross off items on your list even if they're as simple as "check e-mail" or "make a cup of coffee!"

The biggest thing that derails most people from plowing through their to do list is work that comes across their desk unexpectedly once the day has already started. There are you in the middle of your task list, happily focused on crossing items off when BAM! A co-worker or boss disrupts your flow and tosses another pile of work on your desk. Before you cast aside your own to do list, take a breath and a moment to evaluate the situation. Is this new work truly a number one? Be objective: just because the co-worker who threw it on your desk was in a tizzy about it, that doesn't mean it actually is of the utmost importance. Rate it like you do every other project you have, and if it's not a number one, put it aside and return to the work you've slated for the day. Don't lose your focus! If you find you're ahead of schedule, block off some time to work on that new task. And if it ends up being a number one, prioritize it in your other number ones, making an appointment later on in the day to get it done.

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Understand what your most productive time of day. That's a great thing to know in order to keep you on track with actually cranking work out. Be brutally honest and don't kid yourself. Even though it's expected that you're going to arrive at work bright-eyed and bushy tailed and ready to tackle projects first thing in the morning, if that's not your most productive time of the day, don't schedule your top priority tasks for that time period. They'll take longer when you can't devote 100% of your attention to them, so save them for the time when you're totally on the ball.

And finally, be honest about how much time each task is going to take. Maybe it only takes Mary down the hall twenty minutes to fill out an expense report, but it might take you a half an hour. Allot yourself the proper amount of time for each task so you don't over-schedule yourself, fall behind, and get stressed about not getting everything done during the day.

If you start implementing some of these tips today, you'll see a big improvement - and maybe even the surface of your desk!

 

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“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller