Seven Habits That Destroy Daily Productivity


Does this sound familiar? When you started your job, oh those many years ago, the desk was clear. As the work volume increased and you found yourself with unfinished tasks at the end of the day, what happened? Initially, you probably gave up breaks; then you gave up a lunch hour (or ate at the desk and continued to work). If that didn’t do the trick, you stayed later an extra half-hour or so. Still behind? You started taking work home, and finally you began coming in on weekends. If, after doing all this, you are not even staying current, let alone getting caught up on those back-burner projects, then clearly this strategy called, "throwing time at the problem" is not working.

We know that the key to getting a lot done each day is to set priorities. But it is often hard to stick to your priorities when people continue to dump work on you. How do you prevent their priorities from constantly and continually over-running yours? Here are some bad habits and downright mistakes that if eliminated would improve your work performance and help you become more productive.

1. Greasing squeaky wheels. If you reward naggers, those who are chronic abusers particularly, by routinely doing their work first, you actually reinforce that bad behavior. Make sure that you put their work where it belongs on your priority list no matter how much they whine about needing it “right now.” You probably have no problem accommodating the one or two people who on rare occasion need something in a rush. These exceptions aren’t the problem. It is the minority who habitually waits until the last minute and routinely require things instantly who destroy your schedule.

2. Automatically putting your boss’s work first. Ask rather than assume. Just because it’s from your boss doesn’t mean it has a higher priority than the other projects on your plate—also from your boss. When you have to negotiate due dates or times let your boss know that in order to accommodate this new project other priorities must wait. Let him or her decide if it is important enough to bump other tasks.

3. Letting distracters eat up your day. Be aware of people who turn their colleagues into audiences. Particularly if you work in an office with cubicles, stories, personal anecdotes, and professional experiences can draw you into impromptu fireside chats. When you are crunched for time, even group discussions on tangential work related issues although interesting are keeping you from key tasks. When you have something that requires a great deal of concentration turn off anything that rings, beeps, or flashes. Pagers, cell phones and e-mail are the biggest distracters.

4. Being overwhelmed by papers. Hunting for important documents in piles of clutter takes up an inordinate amount of time. There is very little more frustrating than reaching for something that you believe is “right over there” and have it mysteriously vanish. Use files, your file drawer, and cabinets to store documents and papers. Only pull out those documents that you need at the time and on the day when you need them. Also, busy or not, put the files away that have accumulated throughout the day. This makes your disclaimer and tomorrow much brighter.

5. Bailing people out. Have you noticed that some people always have an emergency situation? If you bail them out by putting their work first, they'll never learn a lesson. It is not your fault that they allowed the crisis to happen. Stick to your priorities and let the other person deal with the consequences of their delay.

6. Agonizing over decisions. One way to be more decisive is to limit the time you will allot to research. Analysis and data gathering are seductive. Too much time can be lost once you start looking for all the possible facts to make a "perfect" decision.

7. First in, first out. Do not do work as it comes in. It is rare that first in, first out is the best policy. If co-workers turn work into you early, thank them for being prompt, but don’t immediately set aside everything else you’re doing to work on it. Stick to your schedule and fit in the other work accordingly. There is enough time to do most of what is on your plate. There may not be enough time to do all of it, and that’s why setting priorities is so critical. There is a big difference between working hard and working smart. One gets you fatigue, the other success.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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