If you feel overworked and under-productive, you’re not alone.
The modern workplace moves at lightning speed in a million different directions. It’s well-documented in the ongoing discussion of work productivity that we are working more hours than ever, and at the same time, our workplace productivity per hour is slipping.
I blame it on the word “Yes.” “Yes, I can” more often than not really means “I think I can.” And while that attitude might have worked in The Little Engine That Could, it’s hurting today’s workers who can’t overcome a mountain of tasks, even with the most sophisticated task management tools.
Instead of overcommitting ourselves, we should be saying the word “No.” “No” is a powerful word. Here are seven ways to wield the power of no and be more productive at the workplace.
1. Say No to Digital Clutter
Take a hard look at your inbox, your downloads folder and your desktop. Is there clutter? Get rid of it. For some reason, people don’t feel the need to clean up digital clutter the way we do physical clutter. Can you imagine if your office was as messy as your digital work space? We spend a lot of time working in digital spaces, so make it a productive work space.
Say no to the email blasts you don’t actually read. Say no to the files that are backed up somewhere else. And say no to looking at chaos every time you open your computer. If you use a CRM, project management software or any other kind of work software, do the same.
The Benefits of a Clean Computer
Saying no to digital clutter will help your work productivity in two ways. First, it takes time and effort to hunt for files among clutter, so getting rid of that clutter and keeping up with it will reduce that wasted time.
And second, when you do make a habit of organizing your files, you’ll have a clear understanding of what is relevant. Opening your desktop to 50 “important” files is overwhelming. The same goes for the people who have 50 tabs open in their browser. After you sort those out, you’ll probably find they have varying priorities. Some will be old news, some will be irrelevant and some will actually be important and worth spending your time on.
2. Say No to Coffee Breaks with Friends
I think coffee is a great way to get through the afternoon slump; it’s a nice mental break, and an opportune time to make personal connections. So, say yes to coffee breaks, but be selective with whom you spend your time.
It’s easy to get in the habit of having an afternoon coffee with the same person or office bestie. Meet these people after work for a beer. It’ll be more fun anyway.
Instead of drinking coffee with friends, use your time in the office to meet with strategic people within your company. This is the time to mentor interns, get guidance from senior staff or learn about an unfamiliar position or project.
3. Say No to Perfect Writing
This one has been a challenge for me. As a writer, I want to make sure every word I write is an example of my best skill. This is a good thing when it comes to client facing work but spending 45 minutes on an internal email is not ideal.
I used to be really bad about this. If I did something as small as put a note in a team calendar, it was drafted, edited, and rewritten. And don’t get me started on Slack! So much time was wasted. The reality is, most of the writing we do in a workplace doesn’t need to be an artistic masterpiece; it just needs to get a point across. Keep your best writing and editing for when it matters.
4. Say No to Unproductive Meetings
I’ve tucked this one in the middle of the article because many people zone out around here. That’s because most people already know that meetings can be a huge waste of time, and few people have the power to opt out of unproductive meetings. But since you’re here, let’s talk about what you can do if you have to attend.
How to Get the Most Out of Meetings
The first thing you can say no to within an unproductive meeting is small talk. There’s good value in a few minutes of small talk: you get to know your colleagues and connect on a deeper level. But if you would rather be talking to your friends and family instead of working late, keep the meeting small talk at a minimum, and get out of there as soon as you can.
Second, if you have the chance to influence the time meetings are scheduled, then say no to times that disrupt your workflow. For me, I need hours of undisturbed time to write. Knowing this, I schedule back to back meetings to knock them out at once, or strategically schedule them to help me shift gears from one project to another.
And third, say no to being a passive member of an unproductive meeting. If you have to be there, take advantage of that time with that audience. This is an opportunity to show your humor with an icebreaker game, show your leadership with insightful comments or seek general efficiencies for everyone’s workflow.
5. Say No to Work That Is Not Good
After working abroad as much as I have, I’ve adopted something counter to the polite American culture: I tell people when their work isn’t good.
There’s a big productivity difference between gently nudging someone in the right direction and telling them what you don’t like about their work. Nudging will only go as fast as the person can be nudged, but directly communicating what is and is not acceptable has a quick and lasting impact.
Use Constructive Criticism
If you’re thinking about how uncomfortable it is to tell someone they aren’t doing good work, you’re right. But most of the time, it’s worth moving through that uncomfortable moment.
Don’t get caught in the trap of “I can do it better myself” or letting someone consistently get away with making your job harder. Challenge the people around you to be better and more productive, and you’ll find that you will also be better and more productive at the workplace.
6. Say No to Unscheduled Time
Most people put meetings on their calendar and little else. This is a mistake. When you have unscheduled time on your calendar, you are susceptible to miscalculating how much time you actually have.
Saying no to unscheduled time means deliberately prioritizing what you will spend your time on and what you will actually accomplish. If a productive week means finishing that report, then put time on your calendar to work on it. If being more efficient means learning how to use a new software, then put time on your calendar to learn it.
Clarity from Prioritization
The first time I tried this, I was shocked with how little time I actually had and how much was on my plate. For what I considered a productive week, I needed three weeks. It’s no wonder I was working long hours and felt like everything was rushed and incomplete. It was!
Once I could show my manager how much time a new project would take away from other priorities, we were able to have a real discussion about what the company needed and what was worth sacrificing.
7. Say No to Back-Burner Projects
There are too many good ideas to do them all. Some projects will pick up momentum immediately, others will be placed on the back-burner for later.
The problem is that a lot of back-burner projects live indefinitely on your to-do list and never see the light of day. Those projects then add to the guilt and anxiety of the overwhelmed knowledge worker who just can’t seem to get everything done.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Every pending project takes your attention off of your priorities. If a back-burner project was a priority, you would already be working on it. So, that’s the test. Ask yourself: “Is it worth spending time on this project now, or can I commit to it by scheduling time to work on it later?”
If the answer is no, remove it from your list. If you’re afraid to get rid of the idea completely, at least remove it from your digital clutter by storing it away in a folder of other back-burner projects that might be relevant at a time when you aren’t overwhelmed. By storing these projects in a folder you don’t see every day, you can greatly reduce your anxiety and improve your productivity.
If you’re looking for a tool improve work productivity, then say yes to ProjectManager.com. Our cloud-based software has the tools you need to get your work done effectively and efficiently, like task lists, dashboards and more. Try it, and see for yourself by taking this free 30-day trial.