Technology's great, but it can distract us to the point where productivity suffers. Here's how to minimize the disruptions.
Let's face it: Despite all of the positives associated with today's rapidly changing business environment, technology can also cause distractions and put a strain on our productivity. You answer 10 emails only to have 20 more in your inbox. You are expected to be available 24/7. You have to schedule conference calls with people across the globe. You are tempted to text and email during meetings. You can't stay off Twitter during the workday.
Whatever your personal distractions may be, following these six simple steps should help you to increase personal productivity and job performance.
1. Do the Worst First
Whenever possible, we like to get up early, sometimes before others are even awake (especially Bill), and knock out the most important (or most arduous) tasks of the day before the phone calls and emails start rolling in. This can be the most productive part of the day, and it feels great to have your most time-consuming or undesirable task completed first thing. If you are not a morning person, then identify your personal peak time in which you are able to fully dedicate yourself to your highest-priority task.
2. Break Projects Into Chunks
It's easy to get overwhelmed with large, ongoing projects. A good trick is to consistently chip away at the project to avoid procrastinating and finding yourself in a bind. By taking one large project and separating it into individual mini-projects with individual deadlines, you can achieve small wins each day to keep yourself motivated and on track.
3. Pay Attention
We've all had that moment in a meeting where we are asked a question only to realize we weren't fully paying attention. Put down your phone and shut off your laptop during conference calls or meetings. Don't just go through the motions; nothing is worth doing unless you are fully engaged. We understand it might be difficult to disconnect, but give it a shot. Trust us--you will be amazed at how much more you get out of meetings by giving them your full attention.
4. The Inbox Can Wait
Responsiveness is critical for professionals at all levels. However, don't let the influx of emails distract you from getting your work done. Designate communication-free times in which you dedicate 60 to 90 minutes to real work. If you are a manager, it is also helpful to set the tone at the top by not expecting others to be available 24/7.
5. Write Everything Down
This tip comes from David Allen's book Getting Things Done. Any time an idea or to-do pops into your head, immediately write it down. This isn't rocket science, but we often have so much on our plates or so many back-to-back meetings that we can forget critical thoughts and ideas we have throughout the day.
6. Take Breaks
An often overlooked pillar of productivity is to make time for yourself to do something you truly enjoy. Whether it be reading industry-related articles, taking an exercise class, or leaving a little early to eat dinner with your family, it is important to take the time to refuel and recharge so you are ready to attack your to-do list again tomorrow.
The most important part of this process is finding a system that works for you and sticking to it. And always remember to fully engage in whatever it is you are doing, whether it be a project, a client meeting, or even vacation.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark