Work Smarter, Get More Done

Working yourself to death is not the path to increased productivity. The real trick to improving your output is not to work harder, but to work more intelligently.


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Working yourself to death is not the path to increased productivity. The real trick to improving your output is not to work harder, but to work more intelligently. Any one of the following techniques could increase your personal productivity.

  1. Arrange your work to dispose of those things that can be handled promptly. The remaining projects will appear less formidable if your pile no longer looks like an unconquerable mountain. Simple psychology.
  2. Next, concentrate on the tough or unpleasant jobs. Get them out of the way while you are relatively fresh. Don’t invite discouragement by letting them accumulate.
  3. If a problem has you stymied, stop wrestling with it. Put it aside and come back to it when your mood and mind have improved. Be careful, of course, not to postpone it indefinitely.
  4. Keep work on top of your desk, where it will haunt you. It will stand a better chance of getting done. Burying work keeps it out of sight and away from completion.
  5. Develop shortcuts wherever possible. For instance, reply to a memo at the bottom of the memo page instead of dictating a formal answer. It will save both time and money.
  6. Make your decisions quickly. “I’ll let you know later” only means that investigating a situation or listening to a problem must be repeated when the decision is finally made. However, the job is done and out of the way, if a decision is made right away.
  7. Take time to communicate with others who may be interested or involved with you in a project. A few minutes spent at the start to explain something can save endless hours later by preventing misunderstandings or fuzzy instructions.


Improving Your Interviewing

With the best of intentions, as an interviewer you can be prejudiced—for an attractive member of the opposite sex, against someone who reminds you of your least favorite in-law.

Lack of objectivity can sometimes be subtle. For instance, many people are unconsciously thrown off the track by the “halo effect”—the tendency to allow their overall judgment to be unduly influenced by certain individual characteristics. For example, if someone speaks well, people tend to conclude that the person will work well, too. Or people tend to assume that a person who looks them squarely in the eye when speaking is honest.

Some of us tend to overgeneralize as well. Just because an individual behaves in a certain way in one situation, we conclude that he or she will behave in the same way in all situations. For instance, anyone who defends an unpopular point of view is assumed to be an independent thinker on all subjects.

Finally, interviewers occasionally fall into the trap of habitually seeking overqualified applicants. They will only hire those whose experience and knowledge far surpass the requirements of the job. The eventual outcome is a foregone conclusion—overqualified employees holding jobs they find boring, unchallenging, and unrewarding. Such employees don’t remain on a job very long, and before the interviewer knows it, the entire process must be repeated.


Your Meetings Don’t Have to be Royal Pains

Used properly, meetings can be powerful vehicles of communication, effective time-savers and true learning experiences. They can break through bottlenecks and enhance interdepartmental relationships. They can also be unproductive royal pains.

It really depends on how they are organized and conducted.

Because every meeting is different in purpose, scope, content and participation, it is difficult to set down hard and fast procedures. However, certain ground rules make good sense.

Respect other people’s time. When your meeting has reached a point where the special interest or qualifications of certain participants are no longer involved or needed, give them an opportunity to leave and get back to their work. This not only makes good common sense, but it is insurance that they will be willing to participate in your next meeting.

Be open to suggestions. Accept ideas even if the meeting is devoted to clarifying a policy or plan already adopted. Make clear at the start, however, that although suggestions will not be out of order, a plan has already been adopted by higher management and not too much time can be devoted to a discussion that may well provide futile.

Never lose sight of the communications problem. If you are leading a meeting, your vocabulary should be geared so that all members of the group understand what’s being said. It’s also your responsibility to translate—not too obviously—any remarks by participants that are couched in pedantic language or specialized jargon.

Record all ideas at creative meetings. If the purpose of your meeting is creative, be open-minded. Many ideas that at first glance appear to be without merit prove promising later on. In a creative thinking meeting, make your motto “No holds barred.” Crazy ideas as well as the more conventional can be thrown into the hopper for evaluation later.

End up with an explicit timetable and defined responsibilities. If the meeting is called to develop a plan of action, it should be clearly understood who is to do what and when, and these assignments should be set forth in the minutes. But be sure that the timetable for action or for further research is realistic. If, as a result of deliberation, a group instead of an individual is given a specific assignment, always centralize responsibility in one member of the group. It should be his or her job to get the group together and see that it meets its timetable.

Prepare a summary statement. At the end of every meeting, the leader should briefly summarize the important points covered as well as important conclusions and recommendations reached. If the meeting is lengthy or exceptionally complex, a summary statement at the conclusion of each important phase may be necessary.

Provide for uncovered points. If time runs out and you find that the meeting cannot cover all the points on the agenda, include in your summary statement the points left uncovered and try to get agreement on a time and place for taking them up.

Tidy up. Take care to collect all copies of outlines and all reference or visual material after the meeting.


Get Ride of those Irksome Jobs

Some people are overworked. But others are simply worn out by worry over what has to be done.

One of the major culprits in building up tensions is the nagging thought of accumulated small jobs put off from day to day—phone calls, letters to answer, memoranda to draw up, etc.

Here’s a simple solution that should reduce this mental load. Make a list of these undone jobs. Then start your next day off by tackling a few of these “nuisance” chores. Before you know it, your list will be completed—providing you keep at it. You’ll have a feeling of accomplishment and your mind will be freed for important work.


Turning a Problem into a Decision

Among the manager’s daily duties: reaching decisions. There seldom seems to be enough data available for a 100% foolproof course of action, yet those decisions must constantly be made. How can you load the dice in your favor? Try this approach:

Determine just how important the problem is: Then you can decide how much time to devote to it. Don’t make snap decisions in any case. If you must solve the problem quickly, just speed up each of these steps, but don’t eliminate any.

List the symptoms that indicate there is a problem. These may be effects rather than causes, but list them. Find out if a similar problem has ever been solved before—and how.

After you have gathered a reasonable number of symptoms, look for the reasons behind them.

Talk to everyone involved in the problem, then narrow your information down to the two or three most important points.

List some tentative solutions and think about them one at a time. Decide which of these is the best and act accordingly.


Short Circuit Self Doubts

Self-doubt afflicts most people at one time or another, but if you allow it to get the upper hand, it can paralyze initiative and sink a career before it gets off the ground. Next time you feel your self-confidence waning, ask—and answer—these questions:

  • What past failure did you overcome and turn into a success?
  • What was the toughest job you ever undertook in which you succeeded against all odds?
  • How did you sell yourself on sticking to it when the outlook was bleakest?
  • What was the greatest compliment anybody ever paid you?

See? You’re quite the human being!


Make that Idea A Winner

Ever had the idea of your life . . . and had it turned down flat? Here’s a way to avoid that unhappy experience—or at least minimize the possibility of it happening.

State the idea clearly. Unless you can, you don’t really know what the idea is.

Define its value. That is, why should someone risk hard cash on your idea? What do they stand to gain or avoid losing? Make sure your answers are convincing.

List the assumptions on which your idea is based. For example, you may be assuming that the cost of raw materials will not increase for the next two years . . . that your idea can be implemented immediately . . . that the necessary personnel will be available. How reasonable and realistic are your assumptions? If they can be verified, take the necessary time to find out.

Consider your timing. Is this the best month (season, year) to propose your idea? Would it be better to wait? Conversely, are you too late? For instance, if retooling or revamping of methods are prerequisites to your idea, is there enough of a “time cushion” to prepare what is necessary?

Get some initial reaction to your idea. Try it out on someone familiar with your field—a salesperson, production manager, engineer, researcher. Don’t argue with their judgments. Listen to what they have to say. As outsiders with no vested interest in the idea, they may spot weaknesses or suggest modifications that never occurred to you. Take their comments under serious advisement.

Refine your idea as necessary. Ideally, this is the final step. This is the time to anticipate problems and eliminate them. When your idea is ready as is, present it with confidence.

You may still get turned down, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did everything in your power to come up with a winner.