If you’re reading this article instead of doing your work, chances are good that you have trouble managing your time efficiently. You’re not alone. According to a survey by Salary.com, 90% of workers waste at least a half hour each workday, not including lunch or scheduled breaks. While computers have dramatically increased efficiency, they have also provided the ultimate in distraction. The Web is like the next-door neighbor who keeps asking us to play when we know we have homework to do. It and e-mail offer so much distraction on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis that we find it nearly impossible to give our full attention to higher-level tasks. Because there are no defined edges to most of our projects–and certainly not to our workdays–we live in an endless jumble of work and life. We can book a trip to Mexico while participating in a conference call. We can send work e-mails from a chairlift above the ski slopes of Vermont. It’s tough to establish boundaries and focus on any one thing.
Today more than ever, American workers have more to do and less time to do it. Thankfully, there’s an entire community of people who specialize in productivity and time management. Their guru is David Allen, author of the 2001 book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity–or GTD to its devotees. Another efficiency aficionado is Merlin Mann, founder of the blog 43 Folders, and there is the highly addictive site Lifehacker.com and others. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity, but Allen and company have some great ideas to help you de-clutter your life and make way for big, creative boosts of productivity.
Some of their advice, like “don’t multitask,” is counter-intuitive. Apparently you’ll be much more productive if you check your e-mail only a few times a day, rather than incessantly, as most of us do. But much of it is common sense, in an “I know I should do that, but I never actually do” kind of way. Allen’s mission is to help people rein in all the to-do-list items that float around in their heads, and then organize them systematically. A system allows you to identify the next step to take on every project and keep those projects moving forward, while freeing up your mind to relax and dwell on loftier things. “Keeping things out of your head and managing a clear and complete inventory of your commitments brings a great increase in clarity, focus, and control,” Allen says. “And it provides the critical background for then making the important distinctions about where you’re going and what’s really important, so you can make decisions about what to do, and not do, on those lists.”
A lot of productivity-speak involves managing technology. Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling book, The Happiness Project, describes technology as a great servant but a terrible master. Allen says that if replying to or disposing of an e-mail takes less than two minutes, you should always do so right away. Turn off those annoying e-mail alerts–do not have a sign flash up on your screen every time a new e-mail comes in. Send less to receive less: Keep your e-mails short, and write fewer of them.
Allen is also a huge proponent of to-do lists. He says that everyone should have an organized, clear and simple way of writing down everything they need to remember. That way you never need to lie in bed at night trying to recall some crucial thing you’re sure you’ve forgotten. Productivity experts say to keep multiple lists, including a short list of one to three things that you absolutely need to do each day. Hand off anything that can be delegated, and be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish every day. Don’t set yourself up for failure by starting each day with an unrealistically long agenda.
This is an update of a story by Helen Coster that ran previously.
This article was written by Susan Adams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.