Thought I'd dash out a quick post on improving your productivity in a busy office. I don't have a lot of time (as you'll see in tip #3) so let's jump right in...
1. Don't put too many things on your To-Do list for a particular day if you can help it. I try to limit myself to not more than 10 To-Do items in a day. I know that throughout the day calls, emails and other interruptions are going to interject but I find that 10 items (some of which are simply returning phone calls or emails) is usually manageable if I stay focused.
You'll need to figure out for yourself what a manageable number of tasks is for you. If you have more tasks than what you can realistically accomplish you should either:
a) Reschedule them for future days. My to-do list spans weeks, just like my calendar does, and if I don't have room for a task today I'll move it to tomorrow...or the next day...or the next week.
b) Delegate them. Are you making effective use of your team? Is this a task that really has to be done by you? If not, see if you can delegate the task to somebody else.
c) Decline them. One of the most valuable words in time management is "No." I'm as guilty as anybody of over-committing myself and ending up with WAY too much on my plate but there's value in recognizing that you're really just not going to have time to accomplish something and turning it down rather than disappointing the other person and hurting your own brand.
When you put too many items on your list you're giving yourself an impossible task. And when you fail at it, as you inevitably will because few people can really cross off 62 items in a single day, you're going to be frustrated, discouraged and grumpy. Rather than celebrate that you accomplished an amazing 47 things today you'll fixate on the 15 that you didn't get done.
And those items build up...tomorrow you've got 62 new tasks...plus the 15 you didn't get done the day before.
Delegate what you can and try to spread your tasks out over a number of days so you can enter the day with a reasonable chance of success.
2. Focus on next actions. Big projects can be daunting. It is valuable to see the big picture from time to time but that can also intimidate you and make it seem insurmountable. Figure out what the next action you need to take in order to advance the project and focus on that first.
In some cases the next action could be organizing all of the documents relating to the project; or arranging a meeting with the key stakeholders. The next action is almost always a relatively simple task and if you can accomplish the next three actions (one at a time) in a day you've just moved your project 3 actions closer to completion.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
3. Set a timer. If you tend to get lost in the weeds, as I do, pick an amount of time to give yourself for the task at hand and set a timer. Virtually every smartphone has a built-in timer app (or easily downloable ones) that you can use. If not here's a free web-based one you could use.
Heck, worst case you can go to the local thrift store and just get an old-fashioned alarm clock or kitchen timer to use.
Without the timer it's easy to look up from that task you intended to spend 5 minutes on and realize that an hour has passed by.
I gave myself 15 minutes to write this post which means I have just enough time to cross it off my to-do list and move on to the next task...