Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Productivity Expert Says Eliminate Email Distractions To Perform Better

It’s no secret: As firms slash jobs, many of the survivors, accountants and finance executives included, are having to take on more work. Finding time for these extra responsibilities has been difficult, even emotionally draining.

Yet a nationally known efficiency expert has a few suggestions for helping employees increase their productivity without spending more time in the office. Laura Stack, the author of Leave the Office Earlier and the founder of the Denver, Colo.-based consultancy The Productivity Pro, says increasing efficiency requires making compromises and changing habits, especially when it comes to using the internet. Stack will speak about time management and productivity at the annual Society for Human Resource Management conference on June 29.

She says that many workers would improve performance by using email more efficiently. For example, employees could eliminate all but essential email alerts (bosses and key customers) that buzz and ring people to distraction. She believes that email usage increases in the aftermath of layoffs as employees seek more information and comfort in one another. “Email is killing everyone,” Stack says. “It’s insane: People can’t get more than two minutes of work done without distractions.  Most people have lost the ability to focus on any one task.”

But Stack says that change must also occur on a group and organizational level. That may mean holding fewer meetings or streamlining protocols. One of Stack’s clients from the automotive industry recently shortened a monthly analysis that it submitted to a customer; the Stack client came to the decision after finding that its customer was only reading the executive summary and a chart, anyway. The vice president of finance from another Stack client, a manufacturing company, started rounding off certain numbers on reports to save time, but without compromising work quality. “You have to step back from the gerbil wheel,” Stack says. “You have to say, ‘we’re used to doing things the same way (but) we don’t have to do them the same way.’”

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