How to Move From Being Busy to Actually Getting Things Done
Today more than ever, we all seem to get busier and busier, with many feeling like they've become so busy that nothing productive actually gets done. If you're feeling like you're running around in circles, here are some tips on how to move towards getting more things done in the same amount of time. (See also: Do Less to Get More Done)
Keep To-Do Lists
By having an agenda of items to do each day or week, you can focus your attention towards what actually needs to be done. Keeping track of tasks on a list also helps to prioritize things to do and can help you better understand what may be triggering any feelings of anxiety or "over busyness." If you're a techie, there are apps for smartphones and tablets that are designed specifically as to-do lists, but if you're like me, there's no better satisfaction than being able to physically cross off completed tasks on your daily planner. (See also: Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective)
Have Specific Work and Play Times
Learning to discipline yourself by limiting your time for tasks can help your mind focus on what needs to get done. By having work deadlines (and leisure deadlines), you are able to put your tasks into a specific window of time. Doing this mental exercise can also give you perspective on what tasks are taking the most time and which ones are trivial. Also, allow yourself to quit once the deadline comes. Give yourself time to hang out and unwind; it can help recharge your brain and lower stress. (See also: Want to Have Fun? Give Yourself a Deadline)
And Have Specific Email Time, Too!
Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Workweek, made the idea of getting away from email famous. He really pushed the idea of allowing yourself time away from unimportant emails by practicing what he preached: He will only check email twice a day, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Incorporating a disciplined email schedule into your work day can help you avoid distractions and getting caught up in mundane tasks that are taking you away from what needs to get done. Set specific times for checking email and make sure to let your colleagues know that this will be happening.
Back Away From Social Media
Unless social media is part of your job, it's probably one of the biggest drains of time in your day. Everyone needs a break here and there from work, but until you have the discipline to allot small windows of time to Facebook and stick to that, it's best to go cold turkey and avoid social media and games until after your work window has passed. Also, if you have an iPhone, use the "Do Not Disturb" function (and if you don't have an iPhone — there are plenty of Do Not Disturb apps available), so that emergency calls can get through, but distracting texts and push notifications won't. (See also: How to Break Your Social Media Habit)
Learn to Delegate
We all like to feel needed, but we probably aren't as needed as we think. Start to take a look at your daily responsibilities and see if there are tasks that can be delegated to other capable individuals. (See also: How to Delegate at Work and Home)
Hiring a virtual assistant or bringing on a part-timer to do tasks around the office can free up your time to handle larger projects, which can help to close deadlines faster and help to pay for themselves in no time. Even if you don't have the authority to hire new employees or don't think you can bring on the expense of a virtual assistant, there may be tasks on your to-do lists that could be handled by a colleague or co-worker just as well as you've done.
Cancel Routine Meetings
Status meetings are useful — if there are statuses to be updated.
When I was a project manager for a website firm, the majority of my week was tied up in meetings about status updates for each client. Do you know what the majority of those meetings were actually about? Learning there weren't any new updates from the last meeting and that we were still on pace. It was frustrating to get pulled away from work for nothing. Having a meeting for the sake of having a meeting takes everyone away from their duties and stops the workflow.
If you have the ability to schedule meetings, limit status meetings to bi-weekly at most and notify your team that you're adhering to the idea that "no news is good news." If you can show your team that you trust them to do the job assigned, it will help them respect your position and know that you have faith that they can handle whatever comes their way. Just be sure to mention that you're there to help in emergencies. (See also: 7 Things to Change About Meetings)
If you're not able to cancel meetings, look at your schedule and decide if a meeting is important or if your time would be better spent working on your to-do list. Talk to your boss about your concerns regarding your use of time and ask if you could abstain from meetings where you don't feel you're able to contribute. If your boss doesn't budge, compromise with a request to stay for the first half of the meeting only.
How have you gone from busy to productive? How did you do it? Take a moment (but only one!) and share it with us in comments!