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Hacking Your Workday
One of the nation’s oldest business schools, the Martin J. Whitman School of Management has produced thousands of graduates who forge successful paths in all aspects of the business world, from accounting and finance, to entrepreneurship and marketing, to real estate and supply chain management. What do they have in common? Guidance from faculty and staff who taught, nurtured and offered wisdom on navigating organizational complexity and tips on productivity and time management.
Because the months of February and April tend to be among the busiest of the semester, we asked Whitman faculty and staff to share some of their best advice (acquired over time) on how to “hack” the workday to improve efficiency and productivity. So, to help you hack your workday, here are some ideas that work for them…and maybe will work for you:
From Lynne Vincent, assistant professor of management
I love what I do. Remembering that reminds me of why I keep moving past failures. For example, I sometimes underestimate the complexity of tasks or don’t plan enough time for unexpected tasks to emerge. As a result, I might not complete as much as I thought that I would, and that can hurt my motivation. But then, I remind myself that I can’t always anticipate the unexpected, and that happens to all of us. Then, rather than focus on being productive, I focus on who will benefit from my tasks. Who am I going to help with this work? That motivates me to continue.
Time management is distraction management. Before I sit down to work on a task, I go to the bathroom, get a glass of water or a cup of coffee, and take care of anything else that could stop me from focusing on my task. I remove those excuses to stop working. I set a timer for 60 minutes or 90 minutes (whatever time that I have). Then I sit down with two pads of paper. On one pad, I take any notes on my thoughts about the task. Anything task-related goes on that pad. The second pad is for anything else that pops into my head (e.g. “I have to remember to write that email, schedule that appointment, send that birthday card out, order that book….”). I write down the distraction on the second pad and return to the first pad and keep working. When the timer goes off, I have made progress.
I make my workspace a place that I want to be. People have different takes on this. Stephen King, who is the king of writing productivity, talks about his writing space and closing off this space with curtains and doors and no internet. He removes distractions to focus on his tasks. I don’t go to this Stephen King extreme, but I craft my workspace carefully. I move distractions away. I put my phone away. I close my email for a bit. However, I still want to be happy in my space. I have photos of family or other things that inspire me or make me smile. For instance, I have a small jackalope toy right by my keyboard. He reminds me to have fun and not take myself too seriously. That jackalope keeps me focused by reminding me that I like being here and working.
One of the things that can stop me from making progress is not wanting to be wrong, not wanting to fail, or not wanting to let people down. I have to constantly accept failure and rejection. It is part of my job, actually. I can’t let that fear of failure stop me, or I would never get anything done. So, I have some good friends and colleagues who I trust to tell me what I can learn or what I can do better. Essentially, I found people who are willing to criticize me. Cheerleaders are great, but people who will tell you how to improve are more useful. I can take their criticism and use it to learn new skills that I can use to be more successful next time. Accepting criticism (which is another skill in itself) and using it to improve increases productivity overall.
From Anh Murphy, academic advisor, online master’s programs
Don’t underestimate the power of a calendar and planner. I find that by writing down everything and then organizing tasks by order of importance and giving them a due date really helps, especially when you are tackling multiple projects at the same time.
Be a little kind to yourself. Understand that sometimes, things can wait to the next day.
From Rachel DuBois, director of undergraduate recruitment
Use your Outlook calendar to keep yourself on track. In addition to using it for meetings, include important dates, deadlines and reminders to keep yourself on track. If you need time to work on certain projects, include that on the calendar, too, so that your whole day/week is mapped out ahead of time.
From Kerri Howell, director of communications and media relations
Keep your email as clean as possible! Deal with what you can and file when things have been completed. Blind copy yourself on important requests so you have a copy in your inbox. You can forward it back to the receiver, as a follow up, if you haven’t heard back.