In an age of overwork, prioritizing tasks is one of the crucial business skills that will help you increase productivity. Small tasks have a way of getting in the way of your most valuable work, so you must take an active approach in order to get rid of tasks that aren't adding value to your customers or colleagues.
How to Eliminate Busy Work and Increase Productivity
- Check in to see if it’s still important. If you keep sending out a report month after month that you think is useless, ask the recipients if they even read it. If not, you know you can vote that task off the island. Also, check in with your clients and see if you can not do something, just like retail clerks ask customers if they want their receipts.
- Find an app to do it for you. If scheduling, acknowledging, or making standard arrangements is taking up space in your workday, check in with IT to see if they have something that could help you automate the task.
- Set up limits on your work. More importantly, make sure other people recognize them. For example, a professor saved time by announcing to her class that she’ll only write recommendations for her advisees or the students in her seminars.
- Block out time in your calendar. It’s okay to get a little me-time in during the workday to get low-level work over with. Pick the same time every week, and stick to it. After a while, people will know not to bug you during that time. You can also take the doctor approach, where you let people know when you’ll be on-call, and when you won’t.
While you can (and should) prioritize your tasks on a frequent basis, there are four occasions that are natural check-in points:
- At the beginning of your new job. You’re starting fresh, and you should be able to see where low-value work exists. Propose three-month goals and start ridding yourself of as many useless tasks as possible.
- When you’re given more responsibility. This is the perfect time to propose a plan for how you’ll restructure your work to leave low-level tasks out. You can give your manager percentages of how you want your time to be divided.
- When there are lay-offs. This is when you have to protect yourself from the potential adoption of someone else’s low-level work. You may think you have to do everything since you don’t want to be laid off too, but you’ll end up producing more if you create a sound, restructured plan.
- When people are praising you. Seize the opportunity to ask for what you want when you’re in the spotlight. Ask for help on how to reduce your time-wasting work.
Takeaway: If you’re unhappy with the amount of useless work you’re doing, create an action plan and work with colleagues and managers to become more productive.