Last year the Harvard Business Review published a survey about what makes some people more productive than others. Apparently, working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity. Since so many of us work non-traditional jobs or hours, it’s important to figure out how to create a better workflow.

“In any profession, more and more ‘things’ come at you faster than ever. Social and other forms of media pull at you from all directions, requiring you to practice the art of ‘managing everything.’ And it’s not just about business – personal commitments risk being deprioritized or forgotten, so it’s imperative to properly manage all types of information based on your priorities,” said Masa Hasegawa, principal at Deloitte Consulting.

Make time for focus

“I actively choose to set one to two full workdays a week as focus time,” shared Microsoft Principal Researcher and Design Strategist Margaret Price. For Price, “This uninterrupted space is a boundary that allows me to contemplate and create with no distractions. Focus Assist helps me do that by turning off notifications, sounds and alerts to allow me to focus on the task at hand; it then catches me up with what I missed.”

Be protective of your time

“Ensure colleagues, managers and business partners are aware that you’ll be out of the office, and for how long” advises Price, who researches human behavior and our relationship with technology. “This will lessen the “just following up here” emails while you’re away and keep the number of unread emails down.” Price also prepares a very detailed out of office note to ensure colleagues have recommended contacts for projects.

Be like Bruce Lee

“There are two ways to better manage your workload,” Hasegawa said. “First, you can put up proactive guardrails to protect your time and your cognitive attention. It’s impossible to put structure around everything – no two days are alike – so the ability to put up structures, while maintaining flexibility is critical to your ability to triage demands to help maintain a big picture of everything on your plate. Bruce Lee said, ‘Be water, my friend,’ which refers to being flexible and adaptable to the environment – as opposed to rigid. This flexibility
helps you react to and manage your environment. It’s a great mindset.”

Check in with colleagues

Wondering how you’re doing at managing all your work? “It’s worth intentionally clearing time to stop and take stock of whether you’re truly being efficient,” recommends Hasegawa. “You can query business colleagues or those in your personal life, but you may also need to take a step back and objectively ask yourself if you’ve accomplished what you set out to do – and if not, why not? If you don’t do this, you get caught up in the day to day, and you don’t stop to think about if you’re improving your efficiency.”

Create a priority list

Nationally recognized productivity expert, Tonya, author of The Joy of Missing Out recommends creating a priority list as opposed to a to-do list. She believes that for some a to-do list can contribute to feeling overwhelmed “because generally, it is a long jumbled list of tasks that simply confuse you rather than help you know where to begin. A priority list, on the other hand, is a to-do list with intention – you list projects and tasks by priority in one of three categories: Escalate, Cultivate, Accommodate.

Weekly Download

At the end of the day on each Friday, Dalton suggests taking five minutes to do a download of what you accomplished for the week to help act as a springboard for the coming Monday morning. “Doing this activity creates closure for your work week, so you can go home and focus on friends and family while also setting you up for success the following week.”

Create mindful transitions

“As a diver, I know that ascending too quickly in the ocean can lead to fatal consequences. It’s important to adapt to the changing pressure by rising slowly in the transition between the deep sea and shallow waters.” Price said. “That lesson holds true with life and the temperamental transition zones between the busy pace of work-life and less intense pace of personal life.” For that reason, Price believes “We need to design transitional moments that are adaptable and variable for different situations.” For Dalton, that means possibly meeting
with your team each week, before each quarter or before or after big projects are completed. “We know that bedtime routines prime our body for sleep and morning routines help trigger ourselves to wake up. Why not create a routine to get you into your best work mode?”

One last thing older workers will love hearing; Robert C. Pozen and Kevin Downey the researchers who published the survey said in their findings that “age and seniority were highly correlated with personal productivity — older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues.” So, all that experience really does pay off!

Originally published on Ladders.

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