How to Be More Productive at Work - "It's Not Complicated"

May 20, 2013
10 Min Read

The following "It's Not Complicated" AT&T commercials may be fun and cute, but they also are full of advice on how to be more productive at work.

In politics and in sports the phrase "keep it simple" is often repeated like a mantra as a way to win the contest.

But in the workplace, it can be a different matter. Office politics, worldwide competition and fast-breaking technological advances can mean we're always scrambling to keep up with the next cubicle. This mad dash often is based on running the race as fast as we can, and not on reaching the finish line.

Instead of being more productive,  we find ourselves running out of gas and risking our emotional and physical well-being, not to mention hurting our careers with our lack of clear focus.

Is there a way to stop this spinning dervish? Absolutely. All it takes is some recognition that a problem exists and then taking steps to improve.

Speed can kill your credibility

In a world of 30-second soundbites, one-minute YouTube sensations and texts fired off in nanoseconds, it can be difficult not to be thought of badly if you just want to take some time to gather your thoughts before responding.

But since your credibility can depend on what you say, don't respond if you're not sure of your facts.

"Can you let me get back to you with that information after I've had a chance to check my facts? When must you absolutely have that information?"you can ask.  Often, people will back off their demand for immediacy once you slow down the conversation and ask for a specific deadline.

Also, consider turning off your email notifications. This may be difficult at first, so try checking emails by setting your cellphone timer for 30 minutes and expanding that by 15 minutes every couple of days. Eventually, you will train yourself not to jump into action whenever an email arrives, and your colleagues will learn to accept that you don't respond immediately. You can also set an auto-respond to let family and friends know you'll answer emails at a certain time each day.

Whether it's answering an email, a text or even a direct question, not rushing to fill the silence can feel uncomfortable in such a fast-paced world. But experts say that it's much better to take a moment and think of an appropriate and competent reply before filling it with nonsensical comments. Like the fact that you think strapping a cheetah on your Grandma's back might be a good idea.

Always seek clarification

Have you ever been in a meeting and wish subtitles were available? Not because your colleague or boss was speaking a foreign language, but because what was coming out of their mouths made no sense? No one is a perfect communicator, so don't be shy about asking questions when you're confused about information being given. It doesn't make you look stupid -- but it sure will later when you get things wrong because you didn't take the time to clarify information.

Never leave a meeting without a clear understanding of your action items, the deadline and who will be supervising your efforts. Summarize your understanding and make sure you get an agreement from team members and your boss. If you can't seem to coral people long enough to get a clear idea of what you're supposed to do, send an email with follow-up questions. Never make assumptions.

You can greatly reduce your workload if you ensure that communications are clear from the get-go so that you don't waste your efforts heading down the wrong path. So, when someone starts rambling on about werewolves, don't be afraid to ask, "What do you mean by that?"

Multitasking dulls creativity

Studies show that those who multitask are actually the worst at it. Such people, finds a University of Utah study, tend to be impulsive and overconfident of their abilities to multitask. If you're working on an intense task and jump on the phone or fire off an email in the midst of it, studies show it can take you up to 15 minutes to regain your focus.

Multitasking is shown to not only increase stress, but to inhibit your creative juices. Your mind needs to have time sort of roam down those random paths, which is why so many people say they come up with great ideas while taking a shower or driving. If you're constantly taxing your brain by forcing it to multitask and not giving it any downtime, you may find your success at work is hampered by your inability to come up with an innovative thought.

One of the easiest ways to break the multitasking habit is to lock away your devices. That means when you're working on a report, shut off the email alert, put your phone in a drawer and turn off the television. Or, if you're going to have a phone conversation, consider strolling outside so that you're focused only on the conversation and not the emails popping up or the texts buzzing -- or even your colleague eating what looks to be the world's biggest doughnut.

Ask your family to help you break the multitasking habit at home by giving you a thumbs down sign when they see you trying to cook dinner, check emails and text your boss.

While you may believe you're a whiz at multitasking, chances are you probably suck at it.  The result is that  instead of being more productive, you're missing key information, irritating your colleagues -- and probably making yourself dizzy.

Learn to think more deeply

Ever since the economic downturn, more workers have begun taking on more work. Part of that was in response to others being laid off or positions going unfilled, and part of it was because of the pressure we felt to be more productive in order to keep our jobs. Do you think you'll get fired if you can't perform like a robot unable to do multiple things at one time? If so, then it's time to remember that you're human and switching back and forth like a crazed robot may just lead to you short-circuiting.

Research shows that it's more productive to break your work up into chunks. So, for 20 minutes focus on one task, which can train you to concentrate and think more deeply.

If you  find yourself unable to focus for that long, try learning to meditate. This can also help train your brain to focus on one thing at a time, and over time it should become easier and help you focus on different tasks for longer periods.

Make the investment in retraining the way you concentrate and focus, because you never know when a little girl who isn't old enough to vote yet may hold your fate in her hands....

Being more productive at work isn't that complicated. It just takes focusing on the task at hand instead of the werewolves, cheetahs and robots who hang around just to distract you.

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