Does anyone else feel like they are working really hard and getting absolutely nowhere? Productivity is at an all time low for me these days despite the long work hours. I’m the Director of Contracts for a defense contractor, and I lead a team of contracting professionals responsible for administering a 150-account portfolio across 5 corporate divisions. Sounds like I should be busy, right? Oh, I’m busy alright. I spend a good 4 hours a day just weeding through my email and a solid 3 hours a day listening to colleagues vent about their personal lives after they get the answer to their “real quick question”… That leaves only 1 hour a day for me to check anything off of my to do list, but since my mind has been preoccupied all day, I’d rather take a coffee break and read some professional development articles on linked in. Is this really what I went to college for?!?
In all seriousness, I’m quite concerned about productivity in the workplace. I look around the office, and I can clearly see I am not the only one who is dealing with this issue. I talk to friends, and they are also experiencing similar problems. I would imagine you might be feeling challenged in this area as well. Something has to change! We have much more to give!
The 30 Day Productivity Challenge:
Over the next thirty days, I will be rolling out a series of challenges to help eliminate waste and inefficiency in an effort to improve productivity. I also hope this challenge will inspire long term changes to the behaviors that led to our productivity problems to begin with. I hope you will join me on this journey and comment on your challenges and successes along the way!
Challenge #1: Eliminate Email Dependency
The Huffington Post reported office workers spend an average of 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails according to a survey by McKinsey Global Institute. A study performed by RescueTime revealed workers check their emails 50 times a day. The amount of time we spend sorting through our emails will vary, but the point is that we spend a significant amount of time managing our inboxes.
I want to challenge you to make three changes to your email habits during the first week of the 30 Day Productivity Challenge:
1. Schedule time for email management: Instead of living in your inbox, set aside time each day to check your emails and respond to requests. Perhaps this could be first thing in the morning, around lunch, and an hour before you are scheduled to leave. Scheduling time to manage your inbox will limit the amount of time you spend on the small taskers and increase the time you have to spend on strategic activities.
2. Organize your mail: We waste a great deal of time going through our mail, but we can significantly reduce this time by organizing our mail. If you receive coupons, discount alerts, sales adds, etc., from your favorite retail stores, set up a rule to auto file those in a shopping folder. How about all of those newsletters from your favorite blogs, journals, or papers? Auto forward those to a news folder! Perhaps you have news feeds coming to you that you don’t read or didn’t request, mark those as junk so they stop coming to you. In my position, I get emails that need to be forwarded to a team but they aren’t really that important to me personally. If you experience that too, you can set up a rule to automatically forward these emails to your team on your behalf. All of these things will save you a significant amount of time and reduce your non-value added activity.
3. Reduce the amount of email you send: Doing business via email is great! However, we can actually increase the amount of time we spend on a task if we are not careful with the amount of email we send. For example, if an issue comes up with your team that needs to be addressed, the first thing many people do is craft an email to distribute to the team. However, crafting this email takes a great deal of time to get just right. Additionally, reading through and answering all of the emails you get in response is time consuming. You may even find yourself dealing with email aftermath thanks to the folks that took your email wrong. In reality, I bet there were only one or two people who actually caused your initial problem. Instead of using email, you could have just talked to them directly to solve your problem. Think about picking up the phone or walking down the hall to deal with some issues that you are currently using email to deal with.
Once you have made these three changes to your email habits, please let me know the results you see. I would love to hear about how these changes have helped your productivity and what you are learning as a result!