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Instinctively, it seems if we want to improve our productivity we must start doing new things. But journalist Gwen Moran, writing in Fast Company, suggests instead there are things you need to stop doing to be more effective, based on interviews with consultants Jeff Skipper and Denise Dudley.

They include stop doing the easy things first and instead delegate or eliminate the non-essential tasks. As well, stop working under pressure and instead organize things so you have ample time to do your best work. “Many people respond very poorly and experience a decrease in cognitive functioning and specifically, creativity, when placed under pressure,” Ms. Dudley said.

Some other productivity advice comes from a survey of nearly 20,000 people by Robert Pozen, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, and student Kevin Downey, which they discussed in Harvard Business Review. They found working longer hours does not necessarily mean higher personal productivity. Working smarter is the key to accomplishing more of your top priorities each day. As well, productivity seems to improve with age. Older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues.

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They grouped their findings into three specific habits you need to establish:

  • First, plan your work based on your top priorities and then act with a definite objective. That includes considering your schedule the night before to emphasize your priorities, and before reading any lengthy material identify your specific purpose for it.
  • Second, develop effective techniques for managing your information and task overload. Among their suggestions: Leave time in your daily schedule to deal with emergencies and unplanned events. Also, check your devices once per hour, instead of every few minutes, and skip over the bulk of the messages by looking at the subject and sender.
  • Third, understand the needs of your colleagues for short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions. They recommend meetings be limited to 90 minutes at most, with next steps clearly defined afterwards.

With everyone seeking greater productivity, when you are job hunting and ask someone if “I can buy you a coffee” to discuss possible opportunities, you are running against the currents of life. Recruiter Gerald Walsh, on his blog, says first forget the coffee – it sounds friendly but can be a turnoff for people you don’t know well or who don’t drink coffee. “Since time is finite, you are asking them to take time away from their main job, their family, or something else they could be doing instead of meeting you. Keep your request reasonable. Twenty minutes is a respectable amount of time,” in person or by phone, as they prefer, at a time that works for them.

Never tell the person they will benefit from the meeting; you are the one seeking to benefit. And demonstrate you are grateful for their time.

Quick hits

  • Some people are energy drains says entrepreneur Seth Godin, requiring persuading and cajoling to get going. Others are faucets, an endless pipeline of possibilities and forward motion. Consider this when hiring someone.
  • Management guru Tom Peters says: “In battle (and business and life) there is one key word: Improvise.”
  • Marketing consultant Roy Williams says simplify your ads to such a degree that any person who understands the subject as well as you will think you’re an idiot.
  • A tip from former U.S. president Barack Obama on networking at events: “Find somebody who is not like you, who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t think the way you do, who has a set of experiences that you don’t – on the surface at least – and share.”
  • To insert an Excel worksheet into a Word document, expert Allen Wyatt says display the Word Options dialogue box (in Word 2010 or later by clicking File on the ribbon followed by Options). Choose Quick Access Toolbar (on left side of the screen); then Insert Tab from the choose commands drop-down list. Now select the Excel Spreadsheet choice, click add and okay, and a blank worksheet will appear at the insertion point in the Word document.

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