Whether you are an Office Manager or Executive Assistant, the challenges hindering productivity and organization are very similar. These tend to hit smaller businesses harder since headcount may be limited. Surprisingly, these challenges can be easily overcome by taking a step back from the day-to-day madness to see the forest from the trees.
Rather than providing a long list of areas where productivity can be improved, focus on a limited list where the benefit is the greatest. Often times, long lists remain just that. There is too much, focus is spread thin, and rather than doing, we simply move on.
Pareto’s 80/20 rule states that 80% of the benefit is derived from 20% of the work. The hard part is picking the 20% that really add to your “productivity bottom line.” Based on our experience with working and coaching 1000’s of individuals, the major causes of inefficiencies come from:
- Overflowing email inboxes
- Prioritization of Tasks
- Delegation & Following Up
Get these under control and you’ll be in the 99th percentile of knowledge worker productivity scale.
Email inbox management is simple but it’s extremely hard to get started. First (and hardest), archive all email that is older than X days. Personally, I’d suggest 14 days. Remember, you are not deleting, you are simply moving these emails into an archive email folder or All Mail (if you use Gmail). This will give you a fighting chance to clean up the remaining emails. Next, read each email and either delete it, create a task, or create a Someday item from it (e.g., you’d like to get to it Someday). The key here is to archive the email once you “processed” it since the item (tasks, project, etc.) you created should have a link back to the email. Do this for all your emails on a daily basis. Having a clean email inbox will free up mental power to actually get things done.
The biggest challenge with deciding what to do, e.g., prioritization of tasks, is that often there is not one list to choose from. People have tasks in email, to-do apps, Evernote, post-it notes, etc. By managing and consolidating tasks in one place, on a daily basis, you can filter your task list to decide what really needs to get done, as opposed to doing activities that do not contribute too much to the bottom line.
More often than not, we are delegating certain things to others. We do this, even without noticing. For example, how many times have you sent an email to someone asking them to do something, only to “wake-up” a few weeks later wondering what happened to that request. By then it’s too late and it’s affected your own deadlines. The key is to have an effective way to delegate, set follow-up dates, and manage those tasks which are in the hands of others. It’s a balancing act of not forgetting and not sending too many annoying follow-up emails.
Remember that increasing productivity is like building a habit. It’s all about consistency and staying the course. Also, before you get started consider the tools and applications that you are using. Are they helping or are they a hindrance to what you’d like to achieve?