The greatest tool in the world is useless without the knowledge of how to use the tool. And likewise, all of those productivity apps are a waste if you have bad habits.
Thomas Oppong, writing for The Ladders, starts out with a bang:
According to a recent McKinsey report, today’s workforce spends 61% of their time managing work rather than doing it. That’s insane.
There’s more gold in that piece, such as:
Want to improve how you work? Build better routines.
Cut the distractions, find your flow and stick to a few apps that actually help you move the needle.
You need to get YOU organized first to make the most of any tool that helps with work.
An app doesn’t “get” you productive or “make” you more productive.
Nor is this anything new. Author Sid Savara points out that part of work is metawork. That is before you can exercise, you may want to plan your workout routine and research local gyms. But you can spend all of your time doing that and never actually get to the part where you sweat!
And an Ad Age piece admonishes readers to Stop Doing Meta-Work now! (Like Sorting Your Email). This is a point on which I completely agree.
Since I’m referencing myself, I’ll point out again that tools were meant to be used. It’s far better to make use of some program, system, or utility inefficiently than to be unable to use the best one available.
But back to the point. If there’s no app for good workplace habits, then what are the habits? I’ve got five. If you can do just one of these consistently, you’ll be ahead of most people in the workplace.
1. Take Notes
Ever been to a restaurant and watcher a server listen to a complex order—but not write it down? It doesn’t inspire much confidence. Getting into the habit of jotting down a note for absolutely anything you think you might need to remember later will change your life. You’ll stop forgetting things, and you’ll become more accountable to others.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of note taking. Yes, the process can get more complex, with to-do lists and idea notebooks and filing systems. You can even take notes in a community (which is called “documentation.”) But if you take notes, you’ll do more. Do it.
2. Make Plans
This one sounds prosaic. Everybody plans to do things. You plan to see a movie with a friend this weekend. You plan to go to France on vacation someday. But a genuine plan is more than an intention. A plan is a series of steps in completing a project.
You can think of “making plans” as part of “taking notes”, but it’s not a reactive process. Take a moment to list out the sequence of actions you need to take. You won’t miss as much and you’ll make better estimates.
3. Follow Up
The author Matshona Dhliwayo writes that “One kind deed is more beautiful than a thousand good intentions.” Isn’t the world filled with people who meant to do something, and even said they would, but never kept their promise?
Learning to follow up with others takes a delicate touch, but it’s one of the best ways to get things done that you can’t do yourself. Gentle reminders, short emails, quick texts, friendly calls, and even just a wave can trigger another person to do the thing they promised to do.
They probably aren’t taking notes. They haven’t made plans. But if you follow up, it might get done.
4. Watch the Clock
Ignoring the time is one of the surest ways to waste time. If you expect a task to take an hour, set an alarm for one hour to check in. If you know you need sleep, make sure keep an eye on the time so that you go to bed early.
We have a culture of hustling in the United States. It’s hard to say that’s healthy in itself. But knowing when to call it quits and come back tomorrow will makes sure that you continue to have good tomorrows. Watch the clock.
5. Ask for Help
Independence is wonderful. Self-reliance and self-motivation gives us a great sense of purpose. But if you’ve been struggling with a problem, don’t keep struggling. Find someone else who can give you guidance or maybe even a helping hand.
Too many professionals have the bad habit of trying to do everything themselves. (And a few, I suppose, have the bad habit of never trying to achieve anything on their own!) Instead, reach out. It’s a great way to learn, and a good pattern to build.
There’s no app for workplace productivity habits. You’ve got to learn to do the right thing first. Then, you can find tools that empower you to do that work faster and better.
But first: take notes, make plans, follow up, watch the clock, and ask for help. Most people don’t. Be better than most.