We can all stand to be more productive.
Some days it seems like there is so much to do that we'll never catch up. When you've got work that needs to get done and you aren't sure how you can possibly finish on time, here are a few tips for being instantly more productive.
Keep a "to do" list
Rather than brainstorming what you need to do every day, keep a running list that you can add to whenever a new task arises. You can keep the list on paper in a notebook, or on your computer or phone -- whatever works for you that you can keep close at hand. Assign a realistic due date to each task. This will help you prioritize and know exactly what needs to be finished each day.
When faced with piles of work, it's common to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. The biggest hurdle many people face when deciding what to do first is that they don't prioritize. Instead of doing the easiest task first because you're avoiding the other tasks, or doing the hardest thing first because you want to get it out of the way, decide what really needs to be done today. Then, prioritize your work for the day based on who is relying on you to get it done. If you have a self-imposed due date for a task, a report to write up for your boss, and a performance evaluation to submit to HR, write the report for your boss first because your boss will notice if you don't, and your boss is the person you most need to impress. Then do your performance evaluation for HR. Then, with whatever time is left over, work on your other task. If you don't have time to get around to it today, no one but you will notice. If you are having a hard time prioritizing multiple tasks at work (because -- let's face it -- you probably have more than one task she expects you to finish each day), ask your boss to rank them in order of importance.
Close your email
Nothing can waste an entire day like responding to emails, even ones that give off the illusion of being important. They will still be there when you open your email program again, and anyone who needs you urgently will find another way to reach you.
Close your internet browser
Much like email, surfing the internet can be a major distraction. When you need to stay focused -- unless you need to be online to complete the task you are working on at that moment -- close your internet browser to avoid temptation.
Work for a set amount of time
This is a particularly useful tip if you tend to procrastinate, like I do. Depending on your attention span, your set amount of time can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, but the idea is to choose a span of time for which you can completely focus on the task at hand without getting distracted into doing other things. (Multitasking during this time is a definite no-no.) Then choose your top priority task for the day and work on it -- and only it -- for those minutes. After your time is up, take a five or ten minute break, even if you aren't finished yet. Get up to get a cup of coffee or water and stretch your legs, and check your email if you want. Then get back to work. If you find yourself getting bored and your mind is starting to wander, work on a different high-priority item this time.
You'll be amazed how much you can accomplish when you break your work down into bite-sized pieces and focus on it for short bursts of time. The work that seemed overwhelming is actually manageable when you know exactly what needs to be done and then dive in.
Carissa Doshi is a business writer and the president of Gen Y Media Group. She gives career advice and blogs about her experiences on www.carissadoshi.com. You can also follow @CarissaDoshi on Twitter.