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5 Tips to Maximize Productivity - Both at Home and at Work

Shutterstock_438684127“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ― Stephen King 

Whether it be racing to the office to conquer the business world, or managing all of our other daily commitments, we work hard every single day. And it’s not easy to stay productive with conflicting priorities. 

To keep you on track (and your sanity intact), below are five tips to inspire productivity at home and at work. 

(1) Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No.” 

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs put it the best. ”Focusing is about saying no.” From a professional standpoint, in order to truly do your job and meet your objectives, every time someone asks you to do something, you need to evaluate whether you are the best person to be doing that job, or even whether it should be done at all. Many of us are people pleasers and want to help, but saying “yes” is not necessarily the best thing for you or the organization. 

Even though saying “no” isn’t always feasible (e.g., we all have bosses), know your goals (business and personal) and inspire yourself to say “no” when valuable. 

(2) Stay Organized: Make Fire Drills the Exception, Not the Rule. 

Juggling countless commitments takes an impeccable memory or a sophisticated reminder system. My Outlook calendar is my saving grace (which syncs to my phone and tablet). For a work deliverable, I’ll often block off time to complete it (which prevents less urgent events from popping up and steamrolling my plans). I do the same thing for a personal obligation, such as a doctor’s appointment. 

I also set up recurring appointments/reminders. For example, I have an annual reminder on June 30 from 7-7:30 pm to change the batteries in our home smoke alarms. No more midnight chirps keeping my family up! 

For most of the smaller to-do items, or for a reminder to start working on something that is due far in the future, I add an appointment with no time associated with it. For example, if I have an article due to our editorial team on Oct. 15, I’ll set up a reminder on Oct. 1 from 8-8 a.m. Then, on Oct. 1, I now have Outlook prompting me to start working on that assignment. And, if I don’t get started on Oct. 1, I simply move the reminder to the next day. Sure, we may procrastinate on some tasks that we don’t want to do, but at least the reminder is there for you. 

I also use a color-coding system so I can easily spot certain types of projects or appointments on my calendar, and I mark many of my reminders as private so that only I can see the task. Every Friday afternoon, I spend 15 minutes looking over the following week’s appointments. This helps me set the stage for a productive work week.

This system works well for me, but Outlook Tasks and project management systems, such as Teamwork, can accomplish the same goal. The point is – stay organized and find a reminder system that works for you. 

(3) Meetings: Be Present or Be Absent, But Don’t Try to Be Both. 

How many meetings have you attended where nothing was accomplished? Too many, I imagine. Either the leader wasn’t prepared or was unclear on what he or she needed from the attendees, or the attendees were too busy doing other things to give the meeting its fair attention. 

In order to be productive, meetings need a clear purpose (i.e., what does the leader want to accomplish). The meeting invitation needs to spell out that objective and include specific agenda items. 

To prepare, block off at least 15 minutes before it starts. Get yourself in the right frame of mind so that you come ready to contribute. If a meeting isn’t worth spending 15 minutes to prepare for, it’s probably not worth spending any time attending. 

The leader should verbally summarize action items/deadlines at the end of each meeting, and follow up via email. 

(4) Emails: Keep Them Short and Make Action Items (With Deadlines) Clear. 

We’ve all read the emails that ramble on without any clear purpose or “ask” of the recipient. These emails usually end up ignored or deleted. Get to the point quickly.

I learned a lot of tips from attending Stan Berry’s Writing to Get Things Done course. He teaches professionals about the powerful tool of writing (often via emails). 

I’ve used Stan’s suggestions and incorporated a few more tips that work well for me: 

  • Ensure the subject line contains the request and a deadline (e.g., “Request to Complete Project Report by 5pm on July 30”). Even if the recipient skims your email, he or she knows what you need from them (and the sense of urgency). If the email is truly information only (FYI), make that clear, too.
  • Use a three-paragraph approach. The first paragraph asks the reader to do something, the second provides a brief explanation on why it’s needed and any pertinent backstory, and the third says when you need the project completed.
  • Keep emails short. If you start writing a book on a project, it will likely be easier and more effective to have a phone conversation.
  • Be cordial. Make sure you have a nice opening and closing. Being clear and direct is crucial, but so is being kind and respectful. If you’re feeling emotional when you draft the email, don’t send it. Review it when you are able to be more objective, and consider having a phone conversation instead; sensitive information will likely be better received face to face. 

(5) Take Breaks to Stay Sharp. 

There are diminishing returns when you work that extra hour in the day. Take a moment to breathe and regroup (sometimes you just need to “sleep it off”). It’s amazing how much more productive you are when you are rested and thinking clearly. 

Put your phone down, watch a silly TV show with your family and get a good night’s sleep. Trust me, tomorrow will go better this way. 

Cheers to a productive, happy life.

Susan C. Allen, CPA, CITP, CGMA, Senior Technical Manager – Tax Practice & Ethics, American Institute of CPAs. 



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