One of the most difficult challenges about working is handling all of the tasks and responsibilities your supervisors send your way. How can we possibly complete all these tasks that are difficult, are due in a short period of time, involve many pieces and are times mundane? A very important thing to remember is that just because you are working hard all day, does not mean you are working well. Let me explain by showing an example of my day working hard, but not getting anything done...I get into the office at 8:30 AM immediately checking my email. I spend the first 45 minutes of the day addressing emails that are in my inbox. My boss comes by and asks me to copy a set of documents when I have some time. I go and copy the documents. I return to my email, then go and chat with some co-workers. Next thing I know it is 10:30 and I have not done any substantial work. Sure I answered emails, copied some papers, but ten times out of ten, all of those tasks could have waited. In fact, none of them were really that time sensitive, they were just the low hanging fruit that I could complete as quickly as possible.
Do not fall into this trap! Start your day by crafting your To-Do list. Pay close attention to priority and identify the task that needs to be worked on the most. Now this is key, once you take some time picking the task you are going to concentrate on, start that task and do not get distracted. I find myself naturally avoiding my most important task because it either is boring, stressful, or difficult. It is easy to find excuses to concentrate on something else and find a distraction. I usually do not even feel guilty because in my mind, I am still working, but in a very inefficient manner. Stop, forget everything else, and really concentrate. Pretend it is the only thing you could possibly have to do in the whole universe. If something else comes to mind, have a note-pad on the desk next to you to write it down and go back to what you were doing. If listening to music helps, do that, but make sure that you work hard to knock that difficult task off your to do list. Now this sounds corny, but you will find that once you do so, there is actually a little bit of an adrenaline rush. Trust me, it feels good. Taking care of the 2nd most important task is cake from there.
Now, here are the key traps to avoid. G-Chat, AIM, and Facebook: turn them off. In fact, really consider blocking Facebook, it is a day killer (I checked my Facebook 3 times while I wrote this blog and I didn't even realize). E-mail is a close 2nd in time wasting ability and let's be honest, there is rarely, if ever, an email that pops up that is so important you have to check it at that minute. If something was really critical, they would call or find another way to contact you. Realizing that, what I have started doing is scheduling time during the day where I am allowed to check email. I allow myself to glance at my email when I first get in the office (do not do anything more than glance or next thing you know it'll be 10:00 AM). I check it at lunch time, and 4:00 PM. That is all. If you figure out how to restrain yourself, you will be blown away by how much your productivity increases.
Learning how to work is critical. If you really put these lessons into action, you will find yourself finishing tasks in a day that used to take you a week. The starting and stopping involved with constantly multi-tasking and succumbing to distractions are costly for yourself and your employer. Start focusing and you will find a dramatic increase in the quality and timeliness of your work product.