I made a joke on Facebook recently that I’m really close to getting my life together; I just need a nap, a personal trainer, a paid sabbatical, some Sharpie pens, a personal chef and $14,000. Most of these items wouldn’t really help anyway, but you know who can? Laura Stack, world-renowned productivity expert, speaker and best-selling author. Luckily for me she’ll be speaking at the 2017 SHRM National Conference in New Orleans, and I can’t wait to check out her session.
Stack says people have their action items and ideas in too many locations — mail, email, social media inboxes, texting, instant messaging, to-do apps, calendar apps, notes from conference calls, meeting minutes, sticky notes, and on and on. “You can’t quite get your arms around the multitude of tasks on your plate. You have the sneaking suspicion that something is falling through the cracks,” she says.
Here are some of her favorite productivity tips that can help busy marketers as well as HR pros.
Get a Grip on Your Email
Poor email management can be a huge time sink for professionals. Many people have disorganized inboxes or are held hostage by the constant ping of email notifications, which can be a disaster for your workflow. Stack says that when “you don’t know what to do with an email, you either leave it in the inbox, flag it or keep it as new. There’s far too much re-reading, rethinking and reprocessing of information.”
How often should you check your inbox? Stack doesn’t offer a hard and fast rule. Check however often makes sense to you, she says, but don’t just keep it open all the time. “Email doesn’t come into your inbox in priority order, so low-priority items will distract you from important, deadline-driven tasks,” Stack says.
Maximize Your Rhythms
The world is made up of two types of people: morning people and those of us who need coffee to be alert enough to make coffee. Stop fighting your type and start working with your rhythms, which will help you be more productive.
You may not be able to change what time you have to arrive at the office in the mornings, but you can take control of your workflow once you get there. For example, Stack is not a morning person, and her schedule reflects that. “I don’t immediately dive into work requiring heavy thinking or focus, because my attempts will be counterproductive. I schedule a few conference calls in the morning, process email and handle low-energy admin tasks,” she says. She saves her big tasks that require intense focus for after 11 a.m., when she’s more alert and energetic. She schedules daily “head-down” time where she doesn’t check email and lets calls go to voicemail.
If you are a morning person, Stack’s advice is the opposite. “I would sit down and jump right into a difficult task, since your brain is working at its best first thing. Get something big handled — already determined the night before — before you even open your inbox,” she says.
Fix Your Follow-Up
Among the reasons people suspect things are falling through the cracks is because they don’t follow up — or maybe they tried to create a system for this but it becomes another annoying task to be put off. But Stack says that if you handle follow-up correctly, your system will remind you, not the other way around.
For example, when you send someone a request, decide what the follow-up will be or determine a deadline to hear back from that person. Create a task for yourself right then, so you don’t have to think about it again until you’re reminded, she says.
“Most people do a poor job with ‘pending’ items, since they are unsure what to do with them, so they waste time digging through lists of email to remind themselves about the status,” she says. Instead, she recommends ways to “keep everything out of your memory and in your system.”
Laura will share all of her tips at her SHRM 2017 session, Workflow Mastery: Organize Your Time, Tasks, and Inbox.