I'm planning on bringing another new monthly(ish) feature to the blog this summer...
Three different tips from both Paul and me on the same topic.
It started because I wanted to do a post on productivity but realize how different my work situation is from so many others. I also started thinking about how differently Paul looks at work than I do. "Hmmm," I thought, "could be fun to get his tips too..."
And then when I asked him, he was totally on board. (And don't worry, he has more free time these days than he's had in five years or I would have never asked him.) The other night, we started brainstorming on productivity and other categories we could offer three tips on and, oddly, it became one of our better conversations.
So, welcome to Blogland, Paul. I'm happy you're here.
Background on Paul... he is a doctor on his GMO (general medial officer) tour with a Navy battalion. This means he's the general physician for the 600 servicemen and women in his unit both while they are at home port and when they deploy overseas. He has 12 corpsmen (medics) working under him. Clearly, we could not have more opposite jobs. And in general, we have pretty different personalities (he's a perfectionist! I'm an imperfectionist!) which is why I thought this would be a fun experiment & interesting feature.
I hope you enjoy!
Knock out your easy tasks first. I'm a procrastinator. To work around this, I try to make finishing small, easy tasks my first priority. The small tasks are the ones that can sit on the back burner and are easy to forget about. They are also the tasks that eventually come back to bite me in the end when they don't get done. When I first get to the clinic in the morning, I briefly touch base with my senior corpsmen. They usually have updates on cases or quick tasks that need to get done (placing consults, ordering imaging studies, emailing important info), and I usually try to address these things before I start seeing any patients for the day. As soon as patients start cycling through the clinic, the floodgates are open, and it's easy to let something important slip by. That said, if I have so many small tasks that I could waste a day on them and never get to the real projects (seeing patients), I try to prioritize which small tasks can be left for the beginning of my next work session.
Set specific deadlines. Again, I procrastinate. A lot. One of the things I forget most often, and have to remind myself to do, is to set specific deadlines. The first question to ask yourself when starting any project is when you need to have it finished. (Side note: it's important to set clear deadlines for those working for you, as well.) Whether it's determining the amount of time you want to give yourself to finish the small tasks, or breaking down what you need to do for larger projects, holding yourself to deadlines is essential to getting work done effectively.
Work towards a reward. I find I work with significantly more focus and energy when I have something to look forward to at the end of my work session. This can be something small ("I'm going to complete this task within the next hour, then I'm taking a 10 minute break" or "I want to be able to leave the office by 4pm"), or a large goal ("when I finish this project in 2 months, I'm going on vacation for a few days"). Everyone needs something to work towards, but it might vary immensely. Find what it is outside of work that you need to do in order to stay focused on finishing tasks efficiently when you are working
Don't work for your to-do list, make your to-do list work for you. If you're spending more than 10-15 minutes a day writing out, color coding or rearranging items on your to-do list, I think the point has been lost. (I have been there, I know.) It's easy to get so caught up in listing and organizing that you trick yourself into thinking you're being productive. Spoiler alert, you're not. You're just putting off doing the actual tasks in favor of organizing all the tasks. If you feel like this is you, consider paring down all your lists and charts into just one list for the week. Don't rearrange. Don't move tasks around. Just complete them and cross them off.
Group like tasks. The best example I have for this is the way I write blog posts. This blog is my job, so I am committed to getting at least six posts up a week. Instead of sitting down each day and starting and finishing the next day's post, I often break it all down into smaller parts. I spend a morning or two each week writing, writing & writing. I get the text down for the posts I want to have over the next few days. I get completely into the grove of the words, which while not always the most time consuming, is the hardest part. The next day (or later that afternoon), I attack the photos and create the accompanying graphics for each post. Then later, I go through and re-read, add appropriate links, finesse and make edits. Early on, I am not sure I would have been able to keep it all straight, but now, it really makes the most sense and helps me manage my time effectively (and guarentees that I have something decent up every morning at 5am).
Separate work and play. I used to say that reading blogs and keeping up on twitter was part of my job. And then about eight months ago, I actually got busy with my job (hooray!!), and realized that that was sort of a joke I told myself. Absolutely staying "in-touch" with what's happening online and developing virtual relationships is an aspect of my job (and a very fun aspect, at that), but it's not nearly the main event. It's not going to generate income and it's not going to help me keep things fresh and original. So I am working to change how I spend my work days and how I devour online content. I try to do my "play" activities (read blogs, follow fun links on twitter, browse Pinterest) on my iPad once in the morning before I start my day and once before bed. The goal is to not check blogs or read twitter during working hours (except to respond to @ replies). I am not saying "get an iPad, it will help your productivity!!" (It won't.) But I do think creating boundaries for your work vs. your play time can help make your online work time much more productive.
*top photo by Driver Photo.