Any good doctor will tell you that the best treatment is the one you do not eventually need. This is another way of saying that problems are best dealt with before they become problems at all, especially when it comes to your personal health. In a lot of ways, the same applies to your scheduling productivity and time management skills – the fewer distractions and time-wasting activities you have to engage in, the more productive time you have left.
With that in mind, here are four good tips for “preventative care” for productivity:
Keep a clear inbox. Any inbox, whether it is the old-fashioned paper kind or the one that holds the e-mails most of us fret about these days, can be both a tool and a distraction. An ever-growing list of unanswered items to deal with does not just create clutter, but also mental drain. Get into the habit of creating clear, easy-to-understand folders and filing items in there at least once a day. The result will be less time spent sifting through communications, and more mental energy to burn on other tasks.
Schedule your daily and weekly priorities ahead of time. One of the ironies of modern business is that most of us are busier than ever, and yet can easily feel as if we are not making any progress towards the projects and goals that we think matter most. That is because day-to-day distractions can easily fill our working hours, and then some. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep a list of your daily and weekly priorities around at all times. It might not ensure that you get them finished, but it will at least keep your mind focused in the right direction.
File and back up everything. Of all the ways to waste time at work, perhaps none is as insidious as spending precious minutes and hours looking for a single fact, contact detail, or other piece of information. A strong filing and backup system takes a bit of time to implement and get used to, but can pay you back several times over with the spare minutes that are not wasted for years to come.
Leave the right kinds of messages for others. The way many of us return messages, it is amazing that “phone tag” has not yet become an Olympic sport. If you are having trouble reaching a contact or colleague, do not simply give them a reminder to call – let them know exactly when you are available for follow-up. This is a simple habit, but it is one that can save you, and everyone you work with, dozens of hours per year.
Like taking your daily vitamin, none of these productivity habits is all that hard to learn and implement. Once you get used to them, however, they can go a long way towards keeping your schedule in better health.