Small Business Tips Blog
Most people think of the New Year as a time for self-reflection and commitment to new habits and goals for the months ahead. Similarly, the cooler, shorter days of September inspire a shift from the relaxed pace of summer to the more frenetic, action-packed grind of fall.
As the number of out-of-office replies starts dwindling and meeting requests begin to flood your inbox, it’s important to take a few moments to reassess your strategies for time management and productivity. Start your September on the right foot with these helpful tips for working smarter this fall.
1. Manage meetings.
According to the Meetings in America study, busy professionals attend over 60 meetings each month; however, most say they are unable to attend all meetings to which they are invited due to increasing demands on their time.
The next time a meeting is proposed, ask whether or not it is something that can be handled by conference call, email, or web-conference. And when an in-person meeting is unavoidable, ensure they are productive and focused by circulating an agenda in advance and tasking the chair of the meeting with keeping attendees on-topic and on time. Or try something different and get everyone out of the conference room by holding a standing meeting—yes, everyone is standing up—or walking meetings where a change of scenery can help inspire creativity and disrupt bad meeting habits.
2. Use deadlines to your advantage.
The origin of the word deadline as it pertains to a time limit or due date is indirectly linked to usage of the term in American Civil War prison camps, when it referred to a physical line or boundary beyond which prisoners were shot. Yikes! While deadlines have most certainly become less explicitly hazardous to our health, there’s no doubt that they continue to provoke stress and anxiety in most people.
When it comes to establishing deadlines for projects, a few simple tips can reduce the sense of crushing doom they tend to inspire. Firstly, be realistic when scheduling deadlines. Don’t commit to an impossible deadline—you truly set yourself up for failure. Even if you somehow manage to pull it off, other projects, as well as your personal wellbeing, will likely suffer as a result. And when it comes to open-ended tasks or projects, don’t file it under ‘projects for a rainy day’ because, let’s be honest, it simply won’t get done. Instead, prioritize the project along with the other tasks in your calendar and check it off the completed list just like everything else.
The right amount of time-induced pressure can be an excellent motivator and can help keep us focused and productive.
3. Take breaks.
Research tells us that taking regular short breaks throughout the day can actually improve concentration and task performance. It can be as simple as grabbing a healthy snack and drinking a glass of water at your desk, standing up and doing some ergonomic stretches or taking a walk outside.
4. Turn off notifications.
In an environment of total connectivity, it seems impossible to carve out focused, uninterrupted time to devote to tasks requiring a high level of concentration.
But when a project demands your utmost attention, don’t hesitate to create for yourself the interruption-free zone you need to get the work done. Give your team a heads up that you will be turning off email popups, signing out of instant chat programs, and turning off your phone ringer for a period of time to maximize focus and productivity.
5. Put some fun back in functional.
A workspace that is clean and organized reduces the amount of time wasted searching messy cabinets and piles of papers to find what you need to start working on a task.
Not only do you benefit from a desk that is tidy and neat, but adding personalized touches to your office space, such as pictures, plants, or decorative fixtures also brings a touch of home—and positive vibes—to the workplace. Anything that boosts good feelings at the office is sure to help boost productivity too.
6. Two minutes to win it.
One of the greatest productivity challenges is figuring out how to juggle competing priorities. It can be tempting to set aside easier tasks, thinking that we will find time later on in the day to tackle them. This mindset can get us into trouble, however, if we find ourselves continually brushing aside those quick, easy tasks and they start piling up.
Instead, try adopting a “two-minute rule” to help get those small tasks checked off your list quickly and easily. Immediately doing a task that you know can be done in two minutes or less will end up taking a lot less time than it would if you try to get back to it later on in the day — it’s an easy win to keep your day on track.
So this September, don’t fret as your calendar swells with meeting invites and the to-do list lengthens. Take a moment and think through some of these strategies you can use to navigate the busier months ahead.