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6 Small Changes to Supercharge Your Productivity

Call them "micro resolutions." They're tiny habit changes that could have a huge impact on how much you get done today.

I've always been a big picture person in the workplace.

In an upper management role a few years ago, I was constantly trying to set big goals for my team. We would have a major project going in every department by the end of the year, or we'd decide to stay within a multi-million dollar budget. These were admirable objectives, but I sometimes had trouble with the nitty-gritty details.

Recently, I talked to Caroline Arnold, the author of the book "Small Move, Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently," about how I could have operated a bit differently. And by "a bit" I mean by encouraging smaller changes to reach bigger goals, especially for my own productivity. She told me how everyone has limited resources for focus and willpower, so they are easy to squander. It's best to use your mental energy to make baby steps that lead to bigger goals, she says. Below, she explains in her own words a few "microresolutions" to kickstart productivity on the job.

1. Resolve to add new phone numbers to your contact list immediately.

Unidentified contact numbers cause you to lose time, deplete your active initiative stores, and raise your stress level. If you resolve to add each new phone number to your contact list immediately, you'll be able to find contacts quickly and sidestep calls you don't want to take. The immediate productivity boost you experience compounds weekly as your contacts increase.

2. Resolve to check your priority/to-do list before checking email at your desk.

Immediately answering your emails when you sit down to work may make you feel efficient and productive, but you may inadvertently be putting your most important work goals on the back burner. If you refer to your priority list every time before you dive into email at your desk, you won't lose sight of what's most important. With your priorities freshly in mind, how do you really want to spend the next 15 minutes? (Note that this resolution excludes on-the-go email checks on mobile.)

3. Resolve to end one-hour meetings after 50 minutes.

Calendar compression can make it nearly impossible to accomplish even small tasks throughout the day. Standardizing meetings under your control to 50 minutes will keep you from running late, falling behind in small but important communications, and from having to stay an extra hour just to catch up. Most meetings scheduled for one hour can easily be converted to 50 minutes by just applying a bit more discipline, and everyone who attends your meeting will also reclaim 10 minutes for an exponential boost in workplace productivity.

4. Resolve to elevate difficult conversations to the top of your to-do list.

Whether it's a phone call you dread making, anxiety over a decision outcome, or an uncomfortable discussion with an employee, deferring difficult conversations will depress your productivity all day. Getting that conversation behind you early (and when you're freshest) will enhance your focus and output all day. 

5. Resolve to cull your mail before bringing it to your desk.

While a new list of emails can be so enticing that we drop everything to read through them, a pile of snail mail can be so oppressive that we fail to take action. If you open and toss all unimportant mail before bringing it to your desk, you'll be left only with items that need action. The smaller pile on your desk will be easier to approach, and you'll be able to find and address critical matters quickly.

6. Resolve not to engage in leisure computing after 11:00 p.m.

Sleep is the greatest enhancer of productivity, and most people don't get enough of it. One way to get more sleep is to avoid slipping mindlessly onto the Internet close to bedtime. That "quick" email check or Facebook posting can lead to hours of surfing, and the bright light of the computer screen will awaken you just when you should be winding down. There's always tomorrow for fun on the Internet, but tomorrow can be a real drag on just six hours sleep.

Last updated: Mar 18, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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