Are you always stressed out and never able to leave the office on time?
Do you feel no matter how hard you try, your email inbox never gets to zero, your calendar is out of control and your to-do list is overwhelming?
You are not alone….
The sheer volume of information to sift through, the myriad of distractions and ever-increasing workplace expectations is constantly increasing. How we worked a decade ago doesn't work anymore.
To combat the overwhelm, we must think differently about how we work.
Being organized and productive is the key to eliminating stress and feeling good as you leave the office on time at the end of the day.
Think about your current evening routines - what can you do the night before to make your next day as stress-free as possible?
Being organized in advance keeps your stress levels down as you feel confident in your preparations. You can't control the traffic, bad weather or a surprise meeting at work but you can control how you set yourself up for success.
This will help reduce stress and let you leave the office on time.
Determine the time of day when your brain is the most active and you are ready to accomplish your hardest tasks. It could be the first thing in the morning, just after lunch or later in the day.
Now is the time to tackle your most difficult or least favourite projects and the ones you have been putting off. By doing this, you are actually training your brain not to procrastinate and these tasks get easier.
To ensure maximum attention, reduce distractions by blocking your calendar, closing your door, turning off all electronic notifications and settle in. You will be amazed by how much you can accomplish when you simply schedule your hardest work during your brain’s most active state.
If your work environment is disorganized and cluttered, declutter your workspace. Solid productivity practices rely on creating an environment that is conducive to efficiency and effectiveness.
Remove any obvious trash. Clear away any unnecessary clutter from the top of your work surface and only store on top of your desk what you use daily. For papers set up 4 file folders or boxes - 1 for important & urgent, 1 for important & not urgent, 1 for not important and 1 for agonizing. Keep a notepad handy and write down any to-do's as you go so you don't sidetracked.
Group similar items together then put them away. Daily items go on top of the desk, items you use several times a week go in a desk drawer close by, items used once a week or once a month can go in a cabinet close by, items used a few times a year can go in the least accessible cabinet and rarely or never used items can be archived.
Now before you gasp in disbelief and close your browser, hear me out. Even if you have 7,000+ emails in your inbox, this will work for you. Follow these simple steps to find the bottom of your email inbox once and for all:
STEP ONE: Mass Deleting & Filing
The fact is, at least 80% of your emails do not require any real significant action on your part so get comfortable using the delete button. A word of caution however....be ruthless but not reckless with deleting. DO NOT read each email in its entirety - at this stage you are focusing on weeding out all of the unnecessary noise and the emails you don't need to do anything with.
Sort & delete emails by FROM - Ask yourself these questions - has this person left the company, is the project over or is it the fridge cleaning notice from 4 months ago?
Sort & delete emails by SUBJECT - Do you have email strings from a group conversation that you can delete except the last one? Has a date or event already passed and is no longer relevant? Do you have emails from retailers or blogs that you never read (hint unsubscribe from these please)?
Sort & file emails by DATE - If you have many months worth of emails, the chances are pretty good that anything over 6 months can be safely bulk filed in an "EMAIL BONEYARD" reference file. If you haven't needed anything from this folder in another 6-8 weeks, delete it.
STEP TWO: Processing Emails One by One
Now that you have mass filed and deleted, you should only have about 20% of your email backlog left. This is where you sit down and process each email one by one. Use the D is for Decision method:
When you make one of these decisions for each and every email, your email inbox will be at zero. This will reduce stress and let you leave the office on time.
Now that you are on top of your email inbox and no longer scrolling up and down wasting precious hours a day and stressing about what you are missing or not getting done, here is how you keep your emails to zero:
STEP ONE: Set Up Processing Folders
Action Folder - This is where every email goes that you are actually working on NOT sitting in your inbox. Emails here should only take 2-5 minutes to deal with. Emails that take longer to work on go into your task/project list.
Read Folder - This is for those emails that you need to read but they can wait until later. Use unproductive time like waiting in line or at the doctor's office to do your reading.
Holding Folder - This folder is where emails go while you are waiting on someone else to do something or you're waiting for an answer, a quote, etc. This folder can also be used to remind yourself to send reminders to other people.
STEP TWO: Set Up Reference Folders
Set up reference folders into larger buckets with NO sub-folders (and definitely no sub-sub-folders). A smaller number of folders ensures you make quicker decisions about where to file an email when you are processing your inbox plus it leaves fewer options and makes it easier to look for an email in the future.
STEP THREE: Process Emails 1-3x a Day
Your email inbox is where new emails land and are waiting for you to process them, that's it.
Schedule in your calendar 1-3 times a day to keep your inbox at zero. Resist the urge to check your emails at any other time unless you are expecting an urgent message. We only do this to procrastinate on work, when our brains have decision fatigue or to look busy.
Clear the handful of emails that have accumulated in your inbox since the last time you checked using the D method and you will always be at zero!
Is your calendar filled with the will of others rather than the necessities of your work or the company? Do you make casual commitments and then regret offering to set up that lunch or coffee?
Schedule and attend meetings only if absolutely necessary. Use your goals to be clear around what's important to you and as a filter for what you say yes to and what you say no to. You are still a good person with a kind heart even if you (nicely) say no.
Move to a fixed calendar. Block your calendar for your various projects or tasks when you know your brainpower is at its peak and when it's not. Try scheduling your calendar using themes such as "Marketing Mondays" or "Catch-All Fridays".
Remember that we are not able to work more than 20-30 minutes at a time on one project so set time limits on longer projects, take breaks and switch projects/tasks during the day to keep your mind activated.
Schedule uninterrupted periods to reflect and be creative. Make yourself a priority by scheduling in your workouts, downtime, family and fun time. This is your life and your calendar after all.
Don't forget to leave white space in your calendar for the unexpected, travel to and from commitments/meetings and time to go dark and take a break. Down time is critical to reduce stress and to be productive and in control so you can leave the office on time.
Keep a to-do list and write everything down. When your brain knows you have all of your important tasks written down in one place, you relax. Yes you still need to do the work, but your calendar is now set up with blocks of time to be productive with limited distractions.
Use tasks in Outlook, OneNote, Evernote, a paper planner/notebook or any other system that works for you. Your to-do list is the place where your tasks from various sources are captured. When you come back to your office from a meeting and have an action item - record it on your to-do list. You speak with a customer and need to follow up - put in on your to-do list. You have a great idea in the shower - write it down on your to-do list.
Your to-do list helps you know exactly what you need to do and how much time you need to block in your calendar to get things done. There is also a real rush in crossing off tasks and seeing how much you accomplish!
Multitasking is impossible. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time (music playing in the background is ok). It's good to have a one-track mind. Be present and concentrate on the task at hand or the conversation you are having at that moment.
You will accomplish far more by focusing in on one thing at a time, then juggling multiple tasks and completing none of them.
Take breaks. Get up, stretch, go outside, grab a healthy snack or a glass of water, listen to your favourite playlist. And no, being on social media or playing Sudoku while your work is open in the background is not a break.
How you end your day is just as important as how you start it.
Keep the last 20-30 minutes of your day for tidying up any loose ends. Jot down any last-minute tasks on your to-do list. Make sure your email inbox is at zero. Get your meeting notes ready for tomorrow. Clean your desk off. Organize your project folders and tasks in order of priority ready to start fresh in the morning.
Implement these top 10 productivity secrets to reduce stress and leave the office on time.
Need more help getting organized at work? Go to our business organizing page and check out our 4P Productivity Program and coaching services or call us at (587) 889-7198.
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