While we all love the idea of working at home every day in our pajamas with the freedom to do what we want while still getting our work done, the reality of being a corporate web worker is a little more difficult. In fact, I would argue that corporate web workers have to be even more productive than their cubicle-dwelling colleagues. Whether we are web working one day a week or full-time, if we want to keep the privilege of working from home, we have to be able to prove that we can be just as productive when working remotely as we would be sitting in a cubicle in the corporate office.
Now, I should admit to a dirty little secret: I’m a bit of a productivity junkie. I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of finding faster and more efficient ways to accomplish everyday tasks; I love to find better ways to gather and process information more quickly. I actively look for ways that I can streamline activities to accomplish more in less time, and I wanted to share a few of my tips.
I know, I know, you are all expert multitaskers who can accomplish more when you do multiple things at the same time. Maybe, maybe not. There have been some recent studies showing that we are more efficient when we do one thing at a time. I’ve talked before about organizing my work into chunks where I focus on specific tasks; I believe that it’s a more efficient way to work.
This tip becomes critical for corporate web workers because if you are constantly multitasking, then you seem distracted and less productive, especially when you are multitasking on conference calls. After a few times of asking people to repeat the question that you missed because you were doing something else, your boss and coworkers are likely to become suspicious about whether or not you can pay attention when working outside of the office. They don’t know if you were distracted because of email and other work or if you were distracted by the television, your kids or other home activities. We need to stay sharp and pay attention on those conference calls, so reduce the multitasking and focus on the task at hand.
Remote employees can’t always rely on the hallway conversations to stay caught up on industry or company news, so if we want to stay informed, we need to do some of our own legwork. Monitoring information can take a lot of your time if you aren’t efficient, but with a few tricks, you can pare it down to something more manageable. You can start by setting up a little monitoring dashboard that you can use to keep an eye on important information at a glance. Add your company blog and some news feeds that look for keywords mentioning your company or area of expertise to get started and prioritize your feeds to put the most critical ones near the top of your dashboard and searches for less important keywords near the bottom. If you want to get really efficient, you can use a tool like Yahoo Pipes to filter your information down to only the most important items. While a dashboard or feeds of keyword searches can take a little while to set up, this work will pay off over the long term. Ultimately, you want to be able to stay on top of all of the important information about your company and industry while spending very little of your precious time.
Hack Your Email
No, not that kind of hacking. I’m talking about the good hacking where you tweak your tools to better suit your needs. Let’s face it; almost everyone working in a company spends way too much time in email. The key is to be able to process your email quickly and efficiently to make sure that you are responsive without spending too much time. We all have a different way of approaching our email and different needs based on our role and the tools we are using. Here are a few of my favorite email tips that I’ve used:
- Use color to quickly pick out important email. I currently have a specific color for the people that are the most important (bosses, employees, etc.) I’ve also used colors to designate client emails when I was doing client work. You can use colors in many different ways to help you catch anything important at a glance.
- Filters are your friend. For low priority items, you can process the email immediately by moving it to a folder without spending any extra time on it. I also use tags or smart mailboxes to allow me to efficiently process groups of email while still seeing it appear in my inbox. I use this extensively for mailing lists and other lower priority email that I can scan and process quickly in batches.
- Make canned or template responses for those common questions or regular emails that you need to send. Having a template ready to go for status reports or other regular communication can save more time than you might expect over the long term. Celine wrote some handy tips on how to use canned responses in Gmail that could also be applied to other email clients.
Of course, these tips apply to everyone, and there are many more productivity tips that I could have covered (great task lists, organizational tools, etc.), but I thought they would be especially helpful for the corporate web workers.
What are your favorite productivity tips to get more done in less time?