The Two Biggest Killers of Productivity in the Office

Working Hard at the DeskIf you have ever worked in an office then you know how difficult it can sometimes be to get real work done.  If you can get past the office politics, the constant interruptions, and even the challenges with the IT and finance departments, you’re halfway to finding your way towards accomplishing your daily goals.

Even so, there’s almost no greater killer of productivity in an office than meetings and emails. These two seemingly innocuous things tend to take more time out a person’s day than anything else.  Every day I received dozens, if not hundreds, of emails. If I did nothing else besides respond to emails, I would never get anything else done. I also have the pleasure of being invited to several meetings on a weekly basis which sometimes makes it even more difficult to accomplish tasks and goals.

If you are dealing with a similar situation, how are you to get anything done?  Here are some tips to help increase your productivity when the emails and meetings seem to be taking over your schedule.

Out of Control Email Box

It’s not likely that you have control over the number of emails that you receive in a day. However, what you can control is how you respond to those emails and how much time you spend dealing with them.

One of the first things that you can do to reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with emails is to delegate or forward those messages to someone else to handle them if possible. Within in my work group, each employee is in charge of one or two main categories of common emails that we receive. In this way, when I receive an email on a particular topic, I know who to forward it too. If that person is not available at the time, and the email seems somewhat urgent, I will forward it to another person to respond accordingly.

Another tip to manage your emails, is to simply reduce the amount of information that you send back when responding to them. It is often the case that you do not need to go above and beyond in your email response to people. When I became a new supervisor I still maintained the habit of responding to each and every email with a detailed and thorough response. I soon realized that this approach was not wise because I was not able to keep up with the amount of emails I was receiving on a daily basis.

Email Envelopes

Over time, the length of my responses became shorter and shorter. Instead of providing specific, direct answers, to people’s inquiries, I now refer people to other sources for information instead. For example, instead of writing a long email giving someone a long list of detailed steps to accomplish what they’re asking, I will instead refer them to a web page or a book that has the same information.  By directing people to good resources, you are still providing good customer service yet you are saving yourself a lot of time. In addition, this puts some of the responsibility of finding answers to questions back on the customer or the person who emailed you in the first place. My boss’s boss has mastered this technique because he typically uses only one or two sentences to respond to any given email.

A third tip that I often use to manage my emails is to have an organized file of pre-written responses. In other words, I have a folder with several dozen responses for common email inquiries that I can use to quickly respond to the frequent questions that I get asked.  All I have to do is grab the correct word document, change a few things to fit the specific situation, and then hit the send button.

Tip number four on learning to control your email box is to set aside a specific time each day to read and respond to emails.  Most of the time, people who email you aren’t necessarily expecting an answer right away.  It’s usually okay so wait a day before responding.  However, depending on your job and where you work, you may not be able to wait 24 hours to respond. In my case, I usually set aside 45 minutes to an hour in the morning as well as in the late afternoon to solely focus on reading and responding to emails. For the rest of the day I try to only monitor the incoming messages to see if anything is urgent. This leaves me much more time during the rest of the day to focus on projects and other tasks that I need to get done.

Meeting Madness

Meeting  RoomHaving a lot of meetings usually means you’re not going to be able to get a lot of work done. If done right, meetings can be productive, however, in most cases meetings tend to waste a lot of time. Of course, the amount of productive time in a meeting completely depends on a company’s culture and the people in the room. If the meeting organizer has a written agenda and stays on task, then the meeting should be productive. However, a lot of meetings that I have attended tend to be free-form and they always seem to take up the exact amount of time allotted for the meeting (usually 1 hour exactly). This can be frustrating when you have a lot of work to do and deadlines that are coming up quick. Here are some tips that you could employ to help increase the productivity of meetings and/or have less of them.

My first tip to managing meetings is to always have an agenda when going into one. In addition, it’s very important to always stay on task during the discussion.  If the meeting involves a lot of people, then it may be worth your time to designate someone to be the timekeeper. This person can also help to keep everyone on task by interrupting people who start going on wild tangents unrelated to the task at hand. When all attendees have entered the room be sure to clearly state your goals and intentions for the meeting. If everyone understands the point of the meeting and what you’re trying to accomplish, then there’s a greater chance that you’ll save time and be more productive as well.

One of the best tips for being more productive with regards to meetings is to only be present for the part where you are needed. In other words, as soon as you are done contributing to the group and if you have nothing more to add or receive, then it’s time to leave the meeting. I’ve been in hundreds of meetings over the years where half the participants just sit there daydreaming with no further contributions to the group. If you’re not adding value or receiving value from the meeting, then there is no reason to be there.

I understand that it may be difficult to go against the grain to leave a meeting early. This is especially the case if you’re the only one doing it. However, I think it helps to start with meetings that aren’t very important.  You certainly wouldn’t want to walk out of an important budgeting meeting with the executive team. The specific context and situation of any given meeting will dictate when it is appropriate to leave early.

My final tip to improve productivity with regards to meetings is to simply have less of them. What I mean is that if something can be accomplished without a meeting, such as by sending a quick message or via an impromptu visit to someone’s office, then I recommend doing this instead.  Always use the simplest method available to exchange information with others unless it’s critical to use a method that requires more time and effort.

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