Elisa HR Manager Kaija Teemägi gives practical tips to ensure your productivity doesn’t suffer.
1) Take time to plan your work. Put time aside to draw up a list of everything you have to do. Turn it into a proper schedule, setting yourself a deadline for each task. Focus and think about how you’ll do them all – if you don’t, you may find yourself feeling like you’ve done a heap of work only to discover there’s still a whole list of things that need to be done.
Concrete deadlines, whether you set them yourself or they’re set for you, give you a clear overview of what needs prioritising and what can wait. Always give yourself a little bit of extra time for each task when setting the deadlines for them, and then stick to them. Given the unfamiliar situation we currently find ourselves in, run your plans by your family as well to make sure you’re all taking one another’s schedules into account.
2) Add your tasks to your calendar. What should you include in a proper schedule? Well, your rule of thumb should be that anything that will take at least 30 minutes not only needs to be added to your ‘to do’ list, but should be given its own specific timeslot in your calendar. This will make it much easier for you to plan your day and your week and also much more difficult for you to put things off until tomorrow.
If you’re a project manager, for example, and deal with ongoing things that demand regular attention, it’s a good idea to pick (and stick to) a set time to review them so that you can juggle them and everything else on your list. If, on the other hand, you need to do a longer bit of writing that requires a more relaxed approach to time-planning, restricting yourself to a set schedule may not be the most effective approach.
3) Don’t underestimate the amount of time small jobs will take. For example, people often give little importance to the time it takes to check e-mails. But depending on the job you do, you can get an enormous number of e-mails every day. Reading and replying to them takes time. If you can, mark times in your calendar to deal with e-mails – at the start of the day, for instance, and again at the end. Rethink how much time it will take you to do other seemingly small tasks, too.
4) Give yourself a system to work to. In connection with the previous point, think about which tasks you’ll need to put more time and energy into and which ones you’ll be able to dash off. These will differ from one person to the next. One person might be able to cobble a report together in a few minutes, while for someone else it will take them a couple of hours. Be honest with yourself. This will give you a clearer idea of things and help you plan your time better – and you won’t overestimate your abilities.
5) Learn to manage your inbox. Your inbox is a catalogue of files like any other. While the other documents on your computer may be neatly sorted into different folders and drives, your inbox can be an information free-for-all. This can lead to important e-mails getting overlooked and unread messages piling up, causing headaches further down the line.
One way of dealing with this is to create separate folders to add e-mails to according to topic. This will help you manage your e-mails more effectively and find the information you need more quickly. For example, you could divide things up so that only e-mails that need to be answered ASAP remain in your inbox. If you get into trouble trying to adjust your inbox settings, ask your company’s IT specialist for help.
6) Choose the right communication channels. Picking the most effective way of communicating with others is a key part of smart work. Weigh up how urgent a message really is, and bear in mind that not all e-mails need to be answered in writing. For example, if some feedback you get doesn’t need to be acknowledged by return e-mail, call the person who sent it to you and deal with it more quickly that way.
If something’s really urgent, texting, messaging or calling are likely to be more useful. To make sure that no one’s left dangling and to avoid misunderstandings, it’s important in a team or company that rules and communication channels are put in place.
7) Block out anything that would otherwise bother or interrupt you. One of the biggest killers of productivity is the endless flow of notifications that pop up on phones and computer screens. If you know you need to focus on something for a certain amount of time, switch all notifications off.
Even the most innocent beep or buzz can break your concentration, and getting back into the zone can take time you don’t have. Remember that if you give everyone the green light in your chat window, you’re telling them you’re available – so don’t be annoyed with them if they take you up on it.
8) Set yourself up in a working space that enables you to focus. If other members of your family (including kids) are at home while you’re working, try to set yourself up in a space that will keep you on the work wavelength – a dedicated desk helps, especially in another room.
Also, establish some rules with the rest of your family. For example, agree on quiet times, or make it clear that sitting at the desk means you’re working and not to be disturbed. If you can, use sound-cancelling headphones or put on some background music that helps you concentrate while you’re working.
9) Take breaks. Bear in mind that it’s just as easy at home as anywhere else to get so caught up in one particular task that your schedule goes out the window. This can lead to days of sitting down at your desk at 9.00 am and only getting up again 10 hours later. Make sure you take regular breaks and get a bit of movement into your day, and don’t forget to have lunch. You can only be productive if you’ve slept well, eaten properly and have enough energy.
10) Maintain self-discipline. Once you’ve found a combination of the previous points that works for you, stick to it. Getting used to it will take time, during which you’ll find that falling off the wagon is all too easy. Rest on your laurels though and you might find yourself right back where you started from.