A reader, Chan Meiyi, often finds herself stuck at her desk till 8pm. But with some small changes, a life coach shows her how to leave work on time every day.
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MORNING
TIP After a full night’s rest, mornings are when people are most productive, so clear most of your work when you first step into the office.
MEIYI SAYS: I tend to spend my mornings reading The Straits Times in its entirety – something that takes over an hour. So I skipped my paper ritual – I do it over lunch instead – and plunged straight into work once I arrived at the office. By lunchtime, I found I had got a lot more done than usual.
Delving straight into work first thing in the morning sets the right tone for the rest of the day. I got a lot of work out of the way before the inevitable post-lunch lethargy set in and didn’t end up scrambling to meet my deadlines.
SOUND AN SOS
TIP Basic paperwork can be delegated to administrative staff. Or see if your colleagues can pitch in – in turn, you could offer to help them when they are swamped. Anticipate your crunch periods by planning out a monthly calendar, then alert your colleagues and bosses in advance – this way, you won’t look like you’re blowing off your work.
MEIYI SAYS: I was tasked to run a two-day workshop and had to be out of the office for most of both days. I panicked slightly because of the mountain of work I knew I would have to clear when I returned.
I created a to-do list with deadlines for each task. Making the list was useful – it made me realise that most of the work could be delegated. My portfolio is quite fluid so I sometimes find myself doing another colleague’s work without realising it, such as research work for projects that we are managing as a team.
But this also means that delegating work to colleagues is much easier. I made sure to pass on work to others that didn’t affect their deadlines and that they were fine with doing on my behalf. After the workshop, I came back to a manageable workload with much less backlog, which meant I was able to get back on track faster and keep to my other deadlines.
TAKE A MINI-BREAK… BUT DON’T LOG ON TO FACEBOOK
TIP It’s good to take a break – everyone needs a 10-minute breather every two hours to stay refreshed throughout the day. But use it to walk around the office or have a cuppa. Don’t be tempted to read your Facebook newsfeed – using your break to check social media sites is addictive and doesn’t give your mind the real mental break it needs.
MEIYI SAYS: I often find myself on Facebook during a break and I end up getting sucked into a vortex of status updates. Midway through the first day, after completing a work task, I found myself reaching for the mouse with Facebook in mind. I quickly caught myself and headed to the pantry. I walked around the office for five minutes and drank some water instead.
Back at my seat, I was tempted to check for Twitter updates but resisted and got back to work. I ended up being engrossed in my next work task instead of wasting another 20 minutes Web-surfing, as I would ordinarily have.
IGNORE YOUR INBOX
TIP Check your e-mails every two hours instead of, say, every ten minutes so you won’t be distracted by every new e-mail. If you’re worried you might miss something important, set an auto e-mail alert telling people that you will only respond to e-mails after a certain time, but to call for any urgent matters – this way, you’re still covered.
MEIYI SAYS: I usually check my inbox at least once every 20 minutes. Reducing this to only five times a day seemed difficult, so I started small and checked only once every hour. However, being a creature of habit, I found myself instinctively checking my inbox before I could stop myself. Also, having my smartphone linked to my inbox meant that every time an e-mail came in, I’d get an alert.
So I turned off the e-mail alerts and put my phone in my desk drawer. By the end of the day, I managed to stick to the hourly time frame and I noticed that I was more productive and less distracted. I’m planning to work on extending the time frame by using auto e-mail alerts on days when I don’t have any meetings or appointments.
SPRING-CLEAN YOUR DESK
TIP File papers away and clear at least 60 per cent of your desk. Having assigned places for your papers and stationery means you won’t waste time looking for things and you’ll be able to work faster throughout the day.
MEIYI SAYS: My workspace is not very messy but I made the effort to clear up unnecessary clutter and file away old papers. These simple things ended up improving my mood. They may not have done much for my productivity since I’m quite a neat person anyway, but I felt a lot more positive because my stuff was so much more organised.
Expert tips provided by Director of Happily Organised, a professional coaching and organisational service
I tried these tips for a week and was able to leave the office at 6pm on three out of the five workdays. On the other two, I left the office at about 8.30pm, but this was unavoidable as I was running a workshop.
My productivity has definitely improved and I learnt how to avoid some time-wasters. Besides, leaving early has its perks – I’ve been able to meet friends for dinner with enough time to head out for drinks after.
OTHER LEAVE-WORK-EARLY TRICKS
Use your own laptop
If you work solely on a desktop, bring a personal laptop and work off it. Without access to the office Wi-Fi, you won’t be distracted by office e-mails or internal messages. You can work on your laptop in a quiet corner of the office, like a conference room. This way, you’ll get work done away from chatty colleagues.
Ignore the ringing
Not expecting an important phone call? Then don’t pick up your phone. Or send calls straight to voicemail and ask for urgent requests to be sent via e-mail.
Set an Internet timeout
Can’t stay away from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Set up an Internet blocker on your computer. Plug-ins like Selfcontrol (which can be downloaded for free from selfcontrolapp.com) let you block access to distracting websites by adding them to a blacklist for a set period of time. What’s better: you can’t reset the timer, even if you restart your computer. You’ll have no choice but to get your work done.
This story was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Her World.