You're a professional. You know what you're doing. You get results. You can talk the game in meetings and you impress your boss on a regular basis. But what does your workload look like? How many times do you end up taking your work home with you? How many hours did you end up spending on that project that was supposed to be a piece of cake?
I'm sorry to say it, but just because you're good or experienced doesn't mean you're efficient. And these days, efficiency is more crucial than ever--it means getting more work done in less time, which translates to higher productivity and way less stress.
So how can you become more productive and less stressed without turning yourself into a cyborg?
I'm glad you asked.
1. Plan your day.
Planning your day accomplishes several goals at once. Most importantly, you'll prioritize your tasks--so you don't have to worry about some C-level responsibility preventing you from finishing that A-level project. You'll also compartmentalize your day and set goals, both of which will help you accomplish more in shorter periods of time. At the end of every day, take time to reflect and learn from what went right and what went wrong.
2. Learn (and conquer) your distractions.
Distractions hurt all of us, whether we like to admit it or not. The first step to beating them is awareness. Every time you notice yourself being distracted from work--by a passing conversation, or a text, or an article you found on Facebook--write it down, along with what time it happened. Eventually, you'll learn your patterns and you'll be able to devise strategies to avoid them.
3. Time your tasks.
You don't have to go crazy here, but start timing how long it takes you to complete various tasks. Does it usually take you an hour to run a report? If so, why did it take two today? Are you allotting an hour in your schedule for a task that really only takes 30 minutes? Why? You'll be amazed what insights you can learn from here.
4. Know your weaknesses.
It's not a sign of inferiority to admit there are some things you aren't good at. These might be specific tasks, specific project types, or even entire areas related to your job. Knowing these weaknesses can help you master them--either by specifically improving your related skills or by delegating such work when it comes up for you.
5. Take breaks.
Marketing requires creative thinking, and you can't be creative when you're forcing yourself to get work done with no periods of decompression. Taking a break will relieve stress, free up your mental faculties, and will help you get even more work done when you come back. This goes for short breaks throughout the day as well as long breaks from the office--i.e. vacation.
6. Say no.
American office culture makes us intimidated to say no, but you should try it. If your plate is full, don't be afraid to turn down a request. It's better to do four things well than to do five things haphazardly and stress yourself out in the process. Your bosses, coworkers, clients, and partners will understand that.
7. Delegate and automate.
Don't think of it as shirking your work; think of it as freeing up time to do your best work more effectively. Research software and automated tools that can do some of the heavy lifting for you--and don't be afraid to delegate work to some of the people who work under you. They'll probably be grateful for the opportunity!
It's good to stay in touch with your team and clients (as we'll see in my next point), but that doesn't mean you have to stay plugged in 24/7. Between emails, chat windows, text messages, voicemails, and video chats, it's easy to get pulled in multiple different directions when you're just trying to get one project under control. Don't let these blips of communication distract you--unplug yourself for a while if need be.
9. Communicate completely and consistently.
Do take advantage of your technology's communicative capabilities when you are plugged in, though. Let your team know your expectations and goals up front, and give short progress reports so everyone remains informed. If you fall behind, they may be able to help. If you're way ahead of schedule, you can help them. This also helps find and solve problems proactively, saving everyone time and stress in the long run.
10. Chill out away from work.
When you're away from the office, don't bring the office with you. It's become a normal institution to check your work email regularly, even when at home, but doing so is bad for your mental health. Unless you're desperately awaiting news or there's a rare project that needs wrapped up, do your best to keep work at work, and have some fun when you come home.
These methods don't require major commitments, educational courses, or even a lot of time to complete. In fact, most of them can be accomplished in just a few minutes every day. Make the commitment of adopting just a few of these strategies--I'm not even suggesting all of them--and I can almost guarantee you'll get more work done in less time. You might even feel happier doing it. For more tips on how to conquer stress and become more productive, grab my eBook, Climbing the Corporate Ladder: Career Hacks for Modern Professionals.