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Increase Productivity and Decrease Work-Related Stress

An Interview with Productivity Expert Peggy Duncan

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Updated February 22, 2012

Increase Productivity and Decrease Work-Related Stress

Fortunately, you don't need extra hands to be more productive; you just need to make better use of time.

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Maintaining personal productivity can be challenging, especially in a stressful work environment. I recently spoke with Peggy Duncan, a personal productivity workshop leader and author, and asked her to share some effective time management strategies that can be used to alleviate stress and increase productivity. Here's what she had to share:

. What is the most important message for people who want to reduce the amount of stress they experience at work and increase their productivity at the same time?

They need to realize how much time they waste. We can’t manage time: we manage self. We can manage what we do with the time we have. Disorganization, unclear goals, too many personal phone calls, disjointed processes, no routines, poor planning, procrastination, lack of focus, lack of training, junk e-mail, surfing, and it goes on. These are all time bandits that steal our time and people often don’t make the connection that it’s why they never have enough. Working in this state is an absolute breeding ground for stress.

Let me give you a couple of examples. One of my clients would let his mail pile up for days. Every day his assistant would add to the piles. The higher the piles got, the more frustrated he got, and the more he procrastinated. His assistant was just as frustrated because she wasn’t able to stay on top of things. Her self-esteem was plummeting. They were always in a reactive mode because work had sat in piles instead of being done.

We changed the process of how they do the mail. We created mail folders so the assistant could prioritize the mail before he got it. Red folders for ACTION, blue for READ, and so on. Then, instead of putting the mail on his desk, she now sits with him 20-30 minutes every morning to help him process it. It‚s working beautifully. Note that we changed the PROCESS so he wouldn’t PROCRASTINATE by establishing a ROUTINE. We arrested the time bandits.

Another client had a big problem getting to work on time. It had kept her from getting an otherwise glowing performance appraisal. After stepping back to find out why she was constantly late, I discovered that she never planned the night before, and her closet was disorganized. Her mornings ended up being her worst nightmare. So you get the idea. If people pay attention to what they‚re spending their time doing, they’ll see how they‚re wasting it. If they make some simple adjustments, they’ll be able to manage themselves better. It‚s really simple, but it’ll take some work to make it happen.

What about for people who have a disorganized boss, or work freelance? For example, if they get extra work with little notice, or their schedule unexpectedly changes from one day to the next, can anything be done to make an unpredictable situation easier?

This is definitely a tough situation. The first thing to do is to make sure you have your systems in order. The more organized and efficient you are, the better you’ll be able to deal with someone who’s not, or handle the unexpected.

Now as far as the boss is concerned, you’ll have to find the reason that he or she doesn’t plan. It‚s probably due to disorganization. The boss is suffering as much as you are. You must find some pain. The next time you‚re together, find out what your boss would really like to do if he or she had extra time. It might be the pain they feel when they disappoint their son by showing up late (or not at all) to his softball games. Once you find some pain, help them see how changing some aspects of how they work will give them the extra time they need. Try to get them to make small change--changes that you know will have an immediate effect. Continue doing this with the focus on how the changes will help them, and the situation will change for the better.

When organizing time, how much structure should be build into the day’s schedule?

I believe you’ll get more done if you establish routines and stick with them as much as you can, but you have to stay flexible and adaptable to the unexpected. Otherwise, when unplanned things happen, it’ll cause you just as much stress as trying to work without a plan.

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