Amanda Barros spends her day managing emergencies for the Alberta government. And yet, the non-emergencies still tend to follow the mother of two home in the evening.
“Mobile devices are a bad one. It’s hard not to check your phone, especially when something is going on,” Barros said. “And also, sometimes you can’t help that sometimes you think about strategies or you get into solutions at home and you think, ‘Oh! I should write that down’ or, ‘Let me finish that report so I can present it tomorrow.'”
With two young children vying for her attention, she is a big believer in the mantra: work smarter, not longer.
But what does that look like in practice?
We asked Barbara Green, the president of Think Productive North America, for tips to help parents who work full-time to become more efficient during the day so they are freed up for their families in the precious summer evenings. Green holds productivity workshops for employees at various big and small corporations and organizations.
“It isn’t about being more productive so we can do more work. You know, we are not trying to be super human, we are trying to be human,” Green said.
“We want to make sure that you are feeling good about yourself when you leave the office. You don’t feel stressed. You’re not constantly thinking about all the work that you didn’t do. If we can focus our attention on the things that are important to us when we leave the office, we feel good about ourselves and then we take that home.”
Green’s top tips relate to how you organize and execute your day:
As soon as you sit down at your desk or work site, Green recommends writing down three or four tasks you want to complete by the end of the day. This sets the tone for the day.
“You usually get into work and the first thing you do is you check your email. And that’s one of the worst things you can do. You should stop and prepare for the day. Don’t turn on your email, don’t listen to your voicemail. But look and think what is it you need to accomplish today or this week or this month to move the marker forward.”
Green always tackles the big projects first so they don’t weigh on her throughout the rest of the day.
Green says too often people treat their email like a task management system when the incoming messages aren’t necessarily relevant to their to-do list. As a result, email can be a time zapper. She advises employees to approach email strategically by setting up folders (She has @Action, @Read and @Wait) that prioritize what they respond to. If you put an “@” symbol ahead of them, they will appear as your top folders.
“What that means is, if something comes in and you go, ‘I really need to do something about this, but I don’t really need to do it now, put it into your @Action folder.'”
Emails that come in the form of newsletters or other articles of interest can go in the @Read folder because they aren’t urgent. Emails that need input from someone else before you act on them, can be filed into the @Wait folder.
“You are starting to put a system together about how you manage your emails,” Green said. “You’re not driven by your inbox anymore. You are deciding the work that you do in the order you want to do it. ”
If you’re focused on a big task, Green says you should switch off anything that could distract you. That means, switching off email updates as well as notifications on Twitter, Facebook or any other social media sites. She even recommends setting up a temporary out of office reply until you’re ready to work online again.
“Even if you say, ‘I’m working on something very important today, and I will not be checking email until 3 p.m. today.’ So at least when people email you they won’t chase you up with a telephone call, or a text wondering where your response is.”
Green says this is a way to set boundaries and commit to your priorities while still being polite and professional.
To hear more tips from Think Productive North America President Barbara Green, tune in to Family Matters radio podcast on iTunes or Google Play.
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