Maximizing your time

Maximizing your time

Tips for making your workday more productive.

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Have you said or heard someone say, "I was busy all day, but I don't feel like I accomplished anything"? Busy does not necessarily equate with productivity.

A productive day means you did all you needed to do and possibly more— and you did it well.

That all makes good common sense, but how do we get there? How do we achieve true productivity? We asked two local consultants for their advice on doing more quality work, cutting the fat, and avoiding pitfalls that thwart productivity.

Get a grip

Keeping a good handle on what you can realistically complete in the time you have is key. Robin Kistler, director of Executive Education at LSU's Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute, says having a realistic attitude of what can be achieved in your work and life is the secret to productivity.

"If you want work/life balance," she says, "accept the fact that no one can do it all."

Kistler suggests using your time where you bring the most value. Make strategic choices daily to do the most important things that will move you, your family and your company forward. Then forget the rest.

Find and fix the leaks

"People bleed productivity in ways they don't even realize," says Christel Slaughter, a partner at SSA Consultants. "This leads to unattainable goals and endless to-do lists."

Slaughter says finding out where you spend your time will tell you a lot about where and when you're being productive or wasting time. She recommends trying time-tracking software or apps, like Harvest Time Tracking or Omni Focus, to see what projects or activities are eating up your resources. You can use this information to work with your manager or your staff to re-evaluate priorities if needed.

Think about your most productive times of the day and use them to your advantage. Slaughter suggests scheduling lunch before or after these times to avoid interrupting your flow. She also recommends using mobile devices to maximize your most productive times of day—but beware of 24/7 burnout, she warns.

"Learn to say no to initiatives or requests that won't bring value to your work or life," Kistler advises on the subject of burnout. "Creating boundaries brings freedom to own your schedule and the things you pay attention to."

Multitasking mayhem

As professionals, Slaughter says, we may not be multitasking as well as we think. She notes that studies show younger, more tech-savvy people are multitasking better than expected.

Multitasking can decrease productivity if we're "switching focus back and forth," Slaughter warns.


Secrets to being more productive from the LSU Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute

Know what time of the day you are most productive and capitalize on that time.

Track how you spend your time, and get rid of the things that don't add value.

One hour of sleep for every two hours of wakefulness.

Set professional and personal goals for yourself and set deadlines to accomplish them.

Take time to disconnect and shift your focus away from work.

Exercise, hydrate, and make good eating choices.

Outsource those tasks that you can and be comfortable setting limits and saying no.

Avoid negative people and situations that drain your energy level.

Learn from past mistakes and then move on.

Kistler agrees. "Multitasking is achievable as long as you keep a realistic viewpoint on how much you can juggle," she says. "There's a limit to how much a person can multitask before their efforts result in mediocre work on a lot of things, instead of quality work on a few things."

Beef up training

Companies can increase productivity among employees by ensuring they not only have the skills for the job, but that they are highly proficient in them.

"Lack of confidence and skill can lead to more procrastination, or slower turnaround on projects, while employees grapple with where to start or how to do their work," Slaughter says. She suggests employers ensure their employees have the training they need to be both confident and efficient on the job.

Kistler advises that managers empower employees to make decisions on their own, without fear of retribution. "The more they can do independently," she says, "the more time you have to work on other matters that add value to the company and your own life."

Lack of training is of special concern as baby boomers start to leave the workplace—taking their years of hard-earned experience with them. Slaughter urges companies to prevent a lull in productivity by sharing information among employees often—before an employee retires or goes on leave and his or her void must be filled. "When there is a vacancy or staff is lean," she says, "productivity for the company suffers."

Managers and other employees can set a good example for their co-workers struggling with productivity. While it's still important to be accessible most of the time, Kistler suggests letting your staff or coworkers know you need an hour of uninterrupted time to work an important task, when suitable, then follow through. Close the door, turn off the phone and get the job done.

Encourage breaks

Managers should remind employees to take care of themselves. Slaughter recommends supervisors encourage their staff to take some time to recharge when appropriate. Healthy employees are more productive and less susceptible to burnout during busier times. Slaughter also suggests providing distraction-free spaces for workers to use occasionally, as when they are on a deadline or in need of a quiet place to focus on a project.

Stay on track

We've all experienced days or weeks where productivity falters. Says Slaughter: "Our attention is being attracted in new and different ways every day."

In such cases, you may need to stop and regroup. Slaughter suggests bringing yourself back to task by being more self-disciplined. Trick yourself into focusing, for example, by setting a timer and rewarding yourself when the task is completed.

To start each day on a productive path, Kistler recommends taking a page from this book: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done by Peter Bregman. One idea she likes is starting each day by writing a to-do list and deciding which items must be done to consider your day "productive." Stop periodically during the day to refocus and make adjustments to be more productive.

"At the end of every day," Kistler says, "ask yourself: Did today go as you planned?"

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