Could someone please invent an app for hiring teenagers?

I had to assemble a desk the other day, a nice one from Sauder, and it took a bit longer than expected. It might have been the fault of the person following the directions. Since I'm not gifted at desk assembly, I had to read over a few of the pages more than once. A few times, I felt like the job was more suited to someone who enjoys this type of work-or maybe someone I hire using TaskRabbit.

Then, it dawned on me that the entire process serves as a good lesson in productivity, so I was glad I took the time. You have to prepare the materials, follow the instructions, and stay efficient and on task or it can take hours. (If you install a side panel backwards, it can take even longer. Not that I know anything about that.) There isn't an assembly guide for daily tasks, but a few of the principles apply to just about any type of work.

1. Lay out the materials

The act of laying out the materials has a correlation for any task during your day. It's important to know which employees can help on a project, which apps and gadgets you have at your disposal, and even where you can do the work. You have to know the terms and prep, and this requires some planning. If you need peace and quiet to write a business document, do some of the legwork and make sure you have a space that's free from any disruptions. Make sure the laptop is fully charged. Get your inbox down to "zero" before you start the new project. It's a cleansing, preparatory step.

2. Get the right tools

To assemble my new Sauder desk, I only needed a hammer and a screwdriver. The manual is very specific about this-it's #2 screwdriver, which works for all of the screw heads. You also need a small hammer. (The manual includes a joke about not being the actual size; good job making this a little fun.) Detailed-oriented people love manuals, but we can all learn a lesson here, even if we're too random-oriented. Make sure you have the right tools. I'm surprised how often office workers rely on an old clunky laptop or put up with a slow Wi-Fi connection at work. They don't seem to care about the "tools" of the trade.

3. No power tools!

There's a curious note in the assembly guide that says you should skip the power tools and to use them on the next project. It's tempting to ignore this, but there's a reason they include the warning-if you use a power tool, you can damage the desk. They are too effective. Similarly, with your daily tasks and projects, root out shortcuts that derail productivity. Maybe it's easy to use one tool to post a status update to Facebook and Twitter, but it's better to take the time to customize your message for each network. Maybe it is faster to hold a walking meeting with an employee, but it also sends a message that you are too busy. Do things the right way.

4. Manage your stress

It's hard to call the process of assembling a desk "stressful" but it depends on who you ask. (It also depends on the size of the desk and how much coffee you've had.) It can seem a little daunting. All you see in front of you are parts. (It doesn't help that my Sauder desk included a few extra screws and brackets.) In comparison to a performance review or speaking in front of a large group, putting a desk together is not that stressful, but it's the low-level stress that can hurt productivity the most. You can't see the outcome, and you don't know how long the assembly will take. You might miss a step. To stay on top of tasks, it's always a good idea to keep the end-goal in mind. The best way to minimize stress is to keep focused on the final outcome and why you're even doing a project. To help, I put the box picture in front of me as a reminder about what I was doing.

5. Weed out the optional steps

If you just read the assembly manual, it's clear you have to assemble all of the parts (with no fudging), but that's not always true when you are building a new Web site or handling social media updates. Workarounds can be lazy; they can also save time. I decided I didn't really need to install the extra face-plates for the cabinet knobs, and I didn't put in the door stops (although I might add them later). Sometimes, our productivity suffers because we think the goal is to complete every step. At work, it's OK to skip some of the steps if it means you complete the project a bit faster and don't make any compromises.

6. Admire your work

I'm a big fan of stepping back and admiring your work. Sauder seems to encourage this, too. They include extra covers to hide some of the unsightly metal caps and bolts. It helps, when you are done assembly the desk, to just stand back and admire your handiwork. It's a visual reward. When you complete tasks and projects, go ahead and revel in them a bit. Take a few minutes, not just a glance. Admire your work. It helps on the next project because you will make an effort to appreciate what you accomplished.