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Increasing Productivity

From being buried

When was the last time work drove you crazy? You probably hoped you didn’t have to do all that work dumped on you because of a dogged list of unattended tasks. You may probably be the nicest person around who is slogging day and night without getting anywhere. You must be chaffing when all the prigs in office are busy planning their nights of enjoyment with their higher-ups in praise for them. Life is so unfair, or so you think. Feel left out? Someone’s whining

....Desperate times......

Call for desperate measures. The problem lies deep within. Something’s not right in the way we approach the task. “But there’s so much to do, so much to remember”, “I have only two hands and one brain”. Empires wouldn’t have been built if these reasons were valid. There ought to be a way out of the mess we’ve landed ourselves in to. The first thing you need to do clean all the muddiness around. Identify your strengths first, so you can bank on them to have courage. Also, work on your developmental areas. It’s time to say no to IMs, social networking or streaming music - if that’s what hampers productivity. Once you’ve identified the problem areas, the next step is to work towards improvement. Among the most common areas of improvement are organizing, time management, efficiency and communication.

Relief. But how?

Of all self-improvement terminologies sworn by, the four quadrant method is one of the most popular. According to Dr. Stephen Covey (author of First things first), you can classify all your tasks in to four quadrants depending on their urgency and importance. Depending upon priority, tasks are arranged into four quadrants as — I-Important and Urgent, II-Important but not urgent, III-Not important but urgent, and IV-Not important and not urgent. Wisdom is in prioritizing it rightly.

While an assignment may be important but not really urgent (quadrant II) in the morning, it could very well be important and urgent by evening (quadrant I)! According to Covey, highly effective people live in quadrant two and as a result of their efficient way of execution and planning have time to do their tasks at ease with no pressure or stress whatsoever. What he literally meant is although they stay on the pan, they never step into fire.

Once you’ve identified the pattern of your life by analyzing it in a way similar to that mentioned in the box, you can use several tools to make it easier for you. One of the most common tool is a calendar. A good start is iCalendar Lite. To download it, go to www.tinyurl.com/icl0910. Install the executable. Once you’re done, launch iCalendar. You’ll have a calendar on your desktop. Right-click on the calendar to add events and tasks. This way you can keep track of all tasks you need to do and live in quadrant II. You can export calendar files from Outlook or even Google calendar (ICL files) and use them in iCalendar Lite. There is no end to the number of software available that track your time for you. But what use are they if all you are going to do is figure out using them. Outlook 2007 has a powerful calendar feature in case your company uses Outlook.

If you’re continuously on the move, and switch computers often, then using time management or organizing software may not be in good order. From the infamous Mumbai dabbawallahs to corporate heads, organizing, planning and prioritizing tasks can vary from a smear of paint, to scribbling on a spirally bound notepad to even PDAs, laptops and the cloud. As with Google services, login to Calendar with your Google id. Enter all the tasks for the day at the expected time. You can enter a task such as “Start preparing report at 4 pm” and set reminder as SMS and email. This way you’re reminded of your task even while on the move, probably when you are on a tea break whiling away time. To top it up, this service is free. You are not charged for SMS reminders.

Again, turn to our Tips and tricks section for Evernote. It’s a note taking software. You can take notes and use it as a post-it software. This is an efficient way of remembering tasks. Google, it is believed, uses scribble boards to jot down ideas that are randomly generated. You never know the moment when you get the answer to your question/problem. As soon as you get an idea – note it down. The best place to start could be Tasks in Gmail. If you don’t use Gmail, simply save it a draft in your mailbox or a note on your mobile phone. You can delete it anytime you have finished the task.

Acting wise

After you have overcome your organizing weaknesses, overcoming your performance dampeners is very important. Distractions such as IM, YouTube or even flash games (during professional hours) not only are unprofessional, but also hamper your productivity. Eventually, without realizing you’d be spending some extra hours trying to get the same task done when you could have completed those eons ago. Abstinence and self control is the only way out of this.

Learn from mistakes

Once you’ve worked on your scheduling and straightened out your distractions, and still find it difficult to meet your targets, then you need to harness your skills and learn better ways of completing your work. It’s never late to improve. You can never be too old to learn. Improve your skill sets. If you’re one of those Office-suite users, you could probably fill in one an Excel sheet in a jiffy. But, on second thoughts tons of typing could be done away with a macro. Nifty two-minute tricks can save you hours of monotonous work. Depending on your profession, your tasks and tools could vary; but the never-say-die attitude will always keep you going. Albert Einstein has summed it up aptly: “You never fail until you stop trying.” In fact, a task as prioritizing lies in the attitude rather than the available tools. For instance, email clients such as Outlook let you flag your emails — red as being critical coming down to green and even no flag as being least on priority.

Freedom at last

Some lessons are learnt the hard way. Criticism and feedback are part of every organization. Learning early is evidence of wisdom. There’s no running away from this. Seldom will you get praise for a job well done. But mess up once and it’ll continue to haunt you for a long while. Failures are stepping stones to success. Believe in what you do and you will soon be avoiding hurdles that are higher than your leap. As an old Ethiopian saying goes, “Do not vacillate or you will be left in between doing something, having something and being nothing.” No one’s perfect. We’re all improving. Just go ahead, reach out. Now you know how others could leave early when you felt you were slogging alone. No one can stop you either. Remember the story we learned as kids. The hare slept. The tortoise although slow, achieved its goal because it persisted.

Managing your day

Planning your typical day, the previous night, will take you a long way. If you wake up at around 7 am every morning, you can start off by identifying your “peak productivity” hours and also your slog overs. Your first hour, 7-8 am, would be spent in getting ready – up from your bed till you're ready to start your journey. Jot down all your tasks sequentially. Surprises and spoilers will erupt and these are unavoidable. So get your list in the order of priority; from highest to lowest. Lunch time is not productive at all – add to that half an hour before and a couple of hours later when the answer to most troubles is 40 winks.

Attempting critical tasks during these hours most certainly involves reorganizing and reworking, thereby reducing overall efficiency. You can lift up yourself by attempting lesser critical tasks such as personal email. You can also plan any pending official tasks you may have. The options are endless. Again, as the end of day approaches, rush hour work increases. All those daily reports need to go out and several people need to be reminded of tasks left unattended. You should wrap up as many critical tasks as you have by now. This is your 11th hour for all practical purposes. Depending on how longer your list gets, waking up tomorrow morning is going to be more aggravating. Any remedies? On advantage if you use public transport is using your mobile phone to jot down unattended tasks. Irrespective of what you own, whether you jot them down on a piece of paper, or access Google calendar from your GPRS-enabled mobile phone – a record must be maintained and reminders need to be set.