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Time Savers or Saboteurs? Correcting ‘Good’ Work Habits That Undermine Efficiency

Read about simple steps you can take to increase productivity.

March 15, 2012
from Accountemps

Certain time-saving tips have been repeated so often that they’ve acquired the weight of absolute truth. Rules such as “don’t procrastinate,” “answer emails right away,” or “handle each piece of paper only once” seem so sensible they have to be true, right?  You and your staff may have adopted these or similar time-saving strategies in an effort to “work smarter” and be more productive.

Such habits and practices can be effective to a certain degree. But when used indiscriminately, they can backfire and turn into time saboteurs. Here’s how to help your staff identify and eliminate good habits gone wrong.

Don’t Procrastinate? Now Wait a Minute…

Conventional wisdom says we should dive right into new assignments or projects. This advice ignores the fact that momentarily stepping back from a project often buys us time to develop a plan of attack, do preliminary research or gather the resources necessary to proceed.

Let your employees know that procrastination — in limited doses — can be beneficial. Remind them that there’s nothing wrong with being deliberate and taking time to prepare. It’s better to delay and do it right the first time than to plunge headlong into something and make mistakes.

Taking Care of Busyness

When there’s a lot to do, your employees might think it’s a good idea to “power through,” perhaps skipping lunch, and never leaving their desks. In reality, they’ll hit a wall after an hour or two and productivity will drop while error rates go up. It may feel counterintuitive, but encourage them to take a few short breaks throughout the day to regroup and recharge.

Tame the Email Monster

Nothing disrupts concentration and interrupts workflow like the little ding that signals the arrival of email. Even when we try to let it wait until later, curiosity has a way of winning out and before we know it, 20 minutes have passed spent on emails.

The truth is, the majority of emails don’t require immediate attention and action. If a Pavlovian response to email is undermining your employees’ productivity, suggest that they instead handle these messages in batches during specific times of the day that they’ve reserved for that purpose.

It’s possible that even after you help your staff weed out time saboteurs they still will not realize the kind of productivity gains you’d anticipated. The culprit may not be individual habits but unmanageable workloads. Are your employees putting in excessive overtime on a regular basis? Are they working hard but falling behind? These are signs they’re “at capacity.” Personnel management, not time saving, may be the issue. Consider readjusting priorities and postponing some important, but less immediately critical, projects. Engaging interim professionals during peak workload periods is another solution. This will take some of the burden off your core staff so they can focus all their attention and efforts on your team’s topmost priorities.

Accountemps, a Robert Half Company, is a temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The firm has more than 350 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com