January 4, 2012  
    Preventing chemical damage to roll covers Read the Metso article
  ·  www.tappi.org

·  Subscribe to Ahead of the Curve

·  Newsletters

·  Ahead of the Curve archived issues

·  Contact the Editor


Ways to Overcome Overload and Work Smarter in 2012
by Jason Womack

Now that the presents have been unwrapped and the halls have been undecked, it's back to the daily grind. And while you'd love to feel energized and excited about jumping into 2012, instead you're weighed down with dread. You know the second you step foot in your office you'll be hit with 20+ tasks to add to your to-do list and an inbox full of e-mails begging for an immediate response. You'll start January 2 feeling overwhelmed and incapable of getting everything done--and 2012 will become another year of wishing things were different.

For too many of us, feeling anxious and overwhelmed has become the new normal. But 2012 can be the year you finally get a handle on your to-do list and start working--and living--at your best. Most dread doesn't come from the work itself--it comes from how you think about the work. The psychological weight of unfinished tasks and unmade decisions is huge. There is a constant feeling of pressure to do more with less. You can't change that reality…but you can make peace with it.

Here are some good habits you can adopt to make 2012 your most productive year yet.

Purge and unsubscribe. Start 2012 by deleting and recycling to make room for the "new" of the new year. Too many people let a backlog (paper AND digital information) pile up over the last six weeks of the year. Get rid of everything you can and reduce what might be coming in.

Block out your time and prioritize. When you spend your day making giant to-do lists or flagging "urgent" e-mails, you'll never get any real work done. Instead look at your day and figure out where you have blocks of time to really focus and engage on what needs to be done. Then prioritize. On that first day back after vacation, you might also designate specific "Interrupt Me" times during the day for the first couple of weeks of the year, to prevent being interrupted multiple times per day.

Change how you manage e-mail. The moment you click on your inbox, your focus goes and your stress grows, as you begin to delete, respond, forward, and file messages. Don't look at your e-mail unless you have a block of time to devote to prioritizing them and responding. Use subject lines to catalog and organize your messages so that you'll easily be able to go back to less urgent e-mails later on.

Take technology shortcuts. Practically every kind of software has tricks and shortcuts that once implemented could save you a lot of time. Sit down with those who can teach you more about these systems. The more you fully understand the tools you use, the easier it will be to use the features to your advantage.

Break inertia. Ever watch a freight train start to move? That first forward jolt takes the most energy; keeping the train rolling is much easier. Do some small things to get rolling on getting caught up at the beginning of the year. Then pace yourself. You'll probably find it's much easier to keep rolling along at a comfortable clip. We build up such a sense of dread that what we have to do seems insurmountable. Once you get started with something small and manageable, you almost always realize 'Hey, this isn't so tough after all.' And soon you find that you're making real progress.

Keep your BlackBerry out of bed. One client checked his Blackberry in bed, as part of his daily morning routine. Leave your mobile device in another room and use an alarm clock to wake up instead of your phone. This will let you use the morning more productively and result in less stress.

Always be prepared for "bonus time." Bring small chunks of work with you wherever you go. Then, while waiting for a meeting to start or for a delayed flight to depart--unexpected blocks of free time "bonus time"--you'll be able to reply to an e-mail or make a phone call. In other instances, you might have enough time to review materials for another meeting or project you are working on. If you're prepared, you can also confirm appointments, draft responses, or map out a project outline.

Reduce meeting time lengths. If meetings at your organization are normally given a 60-minute time length, start giving them a 45-minute time length. You'll find that what you get done in 60 minutes you can also achieve in 45 minutes. You'll also gain 15 extra minutes for each meeting you have. Usually, we fill the time we expect to fill. All that extra time will really add up and provide you with more time to work toward your goals.

Figure out what distracts you. It can be extremely helpful to discern exactly what it is that is blocking your ability to give all of your attention to what needs your attention. Is it the constant ding of e-mails popping up in your inbox? Is it employees or colleagues who need "just a minute" of your time? Once you have this inventory, you can begin to make subtle changes so that you wind up getting more done, in less time, at a higher level of quality.

Divide your projects into small, manageable pieces. Take one step at a time and don't worry about reaching the ultimate goal. Make use of small chunks of time. In fact, a great way to approach this is to break the yearly goals down into quarterly goals. Set milestones, decide actions, and make progress faster.

Identify the VERBS that need attention. Organize your to-do list by verbs in order to manage your productivity in terms of action, delegation, and progress. Actions such Call, Draft, Review, and Invite are things that you can do, generally in one sitting, that have the potential to move the project forward one step at a time. If your to-do list has 'big' verbs--such as plan, discuss, create, or implement--replace them with action steps to just get started. That is, pick 'smaller' verbs describing tasks that are easier to start and faster to finish. This will save you time and reduce the sense of overload you're feeling.

Learn to delegate clearly (much, much more clearly). Come to terms with the fact that you can't get it all done yourself. Identify exactly what needs to be done and by when. Over-communicate and (if you need to!) track what you have given to whom. Be relentless. After all, if the people you delegate to aren't productive, you won't be productive either.

Implement a weekly debrief. Take time after every five-day period to stop, look around, and assess where you are in relation to where you thought you would be. Look at three key areas: 1. What new ideas have emerged? 2. What decisions need to be made? 3. How do I track this information? Not only does the weekly debrief help you hold yourself accountable, it allows you to course-correct if necessary.

Forecast your future. Open your calendar to 180 days from today. There, write three to four paragraphs describing what you'll have done, where you'll have been, and what will have happened to your personal/professional life by then. This kind of "forecasting" is good to do from time to time, and by spending ten or so minutes at the beginning of the year thinking about the next six months, you'll put your goals into action.

Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA, is author of the book, Your Best Just got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More. For more information visit www.womackcompany.com.


Now that you are Ahead of the Curve, stay there by joining TAPPI.
For a modest investment of $174, receive more than US$ 1000 in benefits in return.
Visit www.tappi.org/join for more details.