Monday, April 5, 2010

Productivity Monday

After a 5-day mini vacation (including a furlough day and the weekend), I'm headed back to work feeling physically and mentally recharged.  Will this renewed energy translate into increased productivity?  I hope so.  I'm a great worker when I feel a time crunch (aren't we all?), but it can be hard to sit in front of a computer and focus for hours on end without a deadline looming.  It may not be stressful like a night in the ER or a day on the stock market floor circa October, 2008, but it presents its own challenges.

I read this post called 13 Small Things to Simplify Your Work Day on Zen Habits right before I signed off for vacation.  He has a lot of great suggestions about how to be productive when you work in front of a computer, but a few in particular spoke to me:

1. Make a short list - I like my job but there are some Mondays when I really don't want to go back.  Why?  I feel overwhelmed.  I have so much to do, and it all needs to be done yesterday.  Rather than sitting down and taking on the challenge, I want to check my e-mail 500 times.  I need to spend 10 or 15 minutes to survey the landscape and/or check in with the boss to figure out what my top priorities are rather than looking at a big list and reeling.  The second hardest thing is determining exactly what tasks need to be done to complete those projects and developing a short, manageable list of what I'd like to have finished before I walk out the door at the end of the day.  And better to make that list a little shorter so I can cross everything off plus an additional task rather than leaving 10 things unchecked.

2. Batch distractions - For me that means two main things:
  • Turn off the e-mail.  I don't need to check every piece of junk that comes my way.  E-mail on using laser question answering devices and handling difficult students has nothing to do with my job, and I can batch delete these babies at the end of the day.  Part of my resistance to doing this is that sometimes my boss sends e-mails about things that need to be done STAT, but the truth is he calls when he does that.  
  • Do all my personal Internet stuff in designated chunks.  Because the reality is that I'm going to do it, and really it's okay.  No one expects us to sit and do work without ever taking a brain break.  But the problem is that little breaks can turn into big ones if left unchecked.  And big breaks do more than just eat up time.  You lose focus and it takes time to redirect your energy back to the thing you are actually supposed to be working on.  So my goal tomorrow is to batch my internet distractions for right before lunch and right before "clean up my desk and get everything organized for tomorrow" time.
3. Clean your desk - A clean desk is so much more calming than a messy one.  And you can actually find stuff.  Not much to say here but always important.  And again, this is a good task when you need  a break from concentrating.

4. Take breathing breaks - Babauta actually recommends getting up and stretching or doing deep breathing every 15 to 20 minutes.  I think this would be distracting on a regular basis, but it's the perfect remedy for one of my biggest focus problems at work: 30 seconds of down time.  I have these little 30 or so second blips of time when I run a program that are just perfect to check "just one blog".  After all, I can't work when the program is running, right?  But it takes another minute after my break to come back and remember what the heck I was doing.  It's a major time waster.  Rather than opening a web browser I can get up and stretch or put something away.  I'm not really disconnecting from the task at hand, but I'm not sitting around doing nothing while the program runs either.  Also, now that the weather is nice, I can get up and take a short walk in the afternoon if I've had a particularly boring/frustrating day.

5. Practice a Focus Ritual -  When you feel lost, unmotivated, or bored or find yourself checking your e-mail over and over, come back to your task list.  What small, attainable thing do you need to do next?  Figure that out and then move forward.  Take some deep breaths and let the overwhelmed/frustrated feelings pass.

Hopefully both the break and the suggestions from this post will help me when I'm staring at a huge list of tasks and e-mails this morning.

What else is going on???
The Easter Bunny visited our house yesterday morning and left some surprises:

This reminds me of the Sesame Street song, "One of these things is not like the others.  One of these things is not the same."

I ran another easy 5mi yesterday, and today's plan is 7 with 4 x 3 min hard.  Normally I'd do strength training today, but it's supposed to thunderstorm tomorrow morning so I'm pushing it back.

Dinner last night was one of my favorites: mushroom pizza.  With a Cadbury Egg for desert.

What's your favorite kind of pizza?  What do you think about the new template???  I think I like the lighter color better.  My mission for this week is to take a picture for the header, but all the stars will have to align to get the image I want.  

Have a great Monday, all!