In the corporate world we tend to think that the “perfect employee” is someone who works around the clock and never takes a break, never goes on vacation and someone who is always readily available and checking email, reachable at all times through all mediums. I use to be like this. I’d work long hours, not just being busy but actually productive because the workload was always immense. My career was more important than several other factor in my life at the time and I’m sure many executives would love this, however the most successful people understand when it’s time to shut down, shut off and kick back. Everyone needs time to refocus their energy. I too have learned this skill and it’s critical.
Busy bees are not always the ones who move forward. Those that are efficient, productive (amongst other things) are those that will progress. So regardless of whether you are looking for a raise, a promotion or just a thank you from your superior, here a few mistakes you may be doing that can be quickly corrected within the corporate work environment that will bring you back to productivity that really matters.
This is key. Even for myself. I love respecting peoples time and it annoys me when I arrive late to a meeting, a call, or when I’m just running late (rarely) however it happens. It’s like when you go for a swim and you get out of your breathing rhythm because a wave smacks you in the face and you need to get back into your crawl. The same goes for my scheduling. Even if you have the ability to set your own times in the corporate world your goal should be to get in as early as possible. I tend to start my corporate day around 07:00am so that I get a rough hour in before the day really gets going and everyone begins logging in and so forth. Interestingly I came across a post on the Harvard Business Review that shares a study that was done where managers tend to exhibit a “morning bias,” meaning they appreciate employees and perceive them as more productive and conscientious than employees who get in later – regardless of whether the two log the same amount of hours in a day and share the equivalent workload. Now this may only be true to a certain extent however there are many reasons you should be getting up early. Something you’ll be able to soon get in my upcoming free e-book.
2. Stop checking email
The first thing your intution tells you is to check your email and see who has responded, what new requests have come in and what can you clean and get out as quick as possible. However, that’s def not the way I start my day. Ill let my inbox flow in once I log on however I typically tackle an important task each morning. Something on my to-do list where I know that now, at a moment where I have peace, I am able to scratch something off the to-do that is more relevant that cleaning out my inbox. Here is my reasoning and apparently its back by some form of logic. Starting your day by doing 1,000 emails will only increase your stress levels, which will affect your productivity during the course of the day. It puts you in this stress mode and makes it difficult to focus later on.
The way I see it is the email never stop. Yes there may be one or two that you might need to get too because they relate to your urgent to-do however after that put it aside and focus on whatever really matters to you in your role within your business. You can tackle all those interruptions and unexpected surprises later on in the day once you begin sifting through your inbox. The way I see it. No one will die if I respond at 08:00am rather than 07:00am.
3. Cut your email length
This is an important one, especially if you work in the corporate world. Successfull people write short, crisp emails that get straight to the point without all the fluff. You too should avoid writing long emails. Its logical, no? You probably (regardless of whether your corporate or not) receive a significant amount of emails as well. Imagine everyone else in the system. Its like a gigantic multiplayer ping pong session. If you keep your emails short and clean, people will appreciate that you value their time and have provided a crisp answer to their question. This holds very true once you being dealing with executives who are constrained on time.
Here my advice as my rule of thumb – try to keep your emails to less than 5 sentences. Be straight-forward, crisp and use language that is simple and understandable in the way that you write.
4. Sitting at your desk
Many of us sit all day. I use to work very long days without any breaks aside from a quick bathroom pit stop. There were days I would skip any form of meal intake including snacks just to make sure I was getting everything done. Logically my workout sessions afterwards were fairly intense and I did have a day or two were you just feel completely exhausted and don’t want to do anything anymore. We all know that sitting around all day isn’t exactly good for your health – and for me this now hits two important areas; (1) my engagement with others (2) my creativity. You need a break once in a while. Refuel, mingle and build relationships while doing so. A study by the Olin Business School at Washington University found that standing in a group project will make you more creative, more enthusiastic, less defensive of other people’s ideas and more willing to collaborate than when sitting down. This means, make sure you take breaks, whether in the office, at a cafe, in the library or at home. Take a few minutes every hour to stretch, walk around, revitalize those juices because you will become reactivated in the process.
5. Stop multitasking
This one is so difficult for me. Chances are the same goes for you. You, if your like me, probably have 8 browser windows open because everything is important, three excels, a few other programs and while at it your on the phone in a meeting trying to get everything done at once. And don’t forget lunch while at it! This may be okay if your dealing with simple tedious tasks however if you are tackling challenging tasks you really should be focusing on one at a time. Our brains are like processors, the easy stuff we can do all at once, but once we get into projects, papers, etc that require more brainpower, your brain will need to up the CPU power to focus on that one task. Its just like the processors in your PC. Open too many windows and your PC begins lagging. In retrospect, I’ve come to notice that when I tend to do this, either I do a sloppy job (sub-par for my standards) on one or both the tasks.
Give that a thought and see what works best for you.
6. At the end of the day focus on the beginning
This one is big for me. Reflecting on my day is very important to me. Going through things I’ve written down or taken note of, writing them out here on the blog, even if just as drafts because they spur a thought I’d like to share with all of you. Reflection is an important part of the learning process. My encouragement to you is to do the same. Reflect on your day, whether your typical crazy Thursday or a great and relaxing Saturday. Note what you learned, what went well, what didn’t go so well so that your subconsciously prepared for the next time you may encounter similar situations. This technique can help you de-stress, identify further solutions and what happens to me a lot, come up with brilliant ideas for a variety of things in my life – from the corporate environment to something at home.
Be grateful. One of my biggest credo’s in life. Be grateful for what you have while hustling for what you want. We often just take a lot of things in life for granted, that includes our jobs, whether you like it or not. However an important thing at the end of the day is not only to do what I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but to conscientiously focus on the wins you had today. Those small things that bring joy to your life. A lot of what we do day in and day out, are small steps towards progression. Just like those before and after pictures you always see people posting on Instagram.
So, reflect and go through your day in your mind and take the bits and pieces along.
7. Happy hour
We all need a way to vent our stress. To me, that’s sports, for other it may be ice cream. However for many folks in the corporate environment this means a cold glass of beer on a Friday after work. Sometimes you just may not be up to it however it is a great way to network and meet new people. This one can be taken many different ways. It really depends on what your goals are, where you want to go and what you want to do. In the end however even if you leave the workplace aside, its always nice meeting and learning about others, no?
8. Take vacation
I use to lead teams where I had people who would push out vacations because their thought of thinking was – “I don’t want my colleagues to deal with my mess while I’m gone,” or “I just can’t go on vacation.” Well guess what, you can! In the end you are only hurting yourself. We all need breaks no matter how much of a superhero you are. Recharging your batteries are vital, especially for your productivity at work. Also it gives you something to look forward too over the weeks while your tackling all those problems in your inbox. I find that vacations and small getaways give me a boost in my battery time, sets off creative thinking, because at time I’ll think about an issue I have at work and since I’m relaxed other ways of looking at the problem come to mind. I jot those down and move on with my vacation.
9. Get a hobby
Work is work and it should stay that way. Everyone of us, whether you are billionaire Bill Gates or work 9-to-5, you need a hobby. Something that you are passionate about. And who knows maybe your hobby will become your business. If you nurture your creative interests it will actually affect the way you do your work. This is a big part of my life and it really reflects in the way I do my work. At the end of each day I know that I can tackle my interests like sports, reading, writing, and so forth to unwind as part of the whole process (eg: reflection as previously stated).
10. Never sacrifice your health
Eating right, exercising and getting in the amount of sleep you need all link to a more productive you at the workplace. Exercise boosts creativity – if you only knew how many crazy ideas have come to me while running, swimming or at the gym. Aside from that it reduces stress as you pump out endorphin’s. Keep in mind that what you eat is who you are and if you are chowing down the wrong foods, you’ll feel unproductive (say after a big lunch) at work, or saggy and down at home after a hefty dinner. Make sure you are conscious of what you eat at all times. That doesn’t mean you cant eat a chocolate bar and this post has nothing to do with health and fitness in that sense. I just want to point out the productivity is key here and to your performance in getting your job done in the eight hours it should be done in.
Also make sure you get in your sleep. Not too much, not too little. The brain kicks into gear at night and gets you ready for the next day. It strengthens memories, repairs brain cells, regulates metabolism, stores info on new motor skills, and so forth. Its a powerful machine and along with that your body needs the right amount and type of rest for you to be super productive the following day, regardless of whether you are a morning person or not.
That being said, keep a few of these things in mind. These are things I have learned along the way in my corporate work and doing these things has had me move forward on the career ladder (amongst other things), yet in the end it’s about your peace of mind, knowing you have done what you needed/wanted to do, happy and content and ready to tackle whats ahead.