7 Ways to Working Smart

Working smart at work

It may be the case that we all want to have Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of effective people and the 8 habits of highly effective (Google) managers. And if we can’t remember all those, at least we could try doing the quandrant thing to sift out the important and urgent stuff we need to attend to (“The only thing you need to remember about the seven habits of highly effective people”, Forbes, 24 July 2012).

Those are all good to have. But perhaps you may be thinking, I don’t have time! You may also be thinking, I don’t have time to learn new things! But spending a little bit of time initially can save you time in the long run.

Here are a few ideas to chew on:

1. Save your work

It seems like time spent on nothing and extra work but saving your important files on an external device will save you a lot of time later when things go wrong. It takes only a few minutes to back up your computer on a external hard drive if you plug it in regularly and if you use backup software which will back up your files additively. If you don’t happen to have the hard drive with you every other day, it’s also a good idea to copy your latest version of a file you’ve been working on for the last sleepless 3 days to your Google drive, cloud or Dropbox. In the unlikely event that your thumb drive and hard drive both fail, you will still have a version to work off from your G drive!

2. Use hotkeys

Once you have discovered keyboard shortcuts, you’ll never want to go back to not using them! The keyboard shortcuts  for Windows 7, even if you only learn to use Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V (copy-paste functions), will save you time switching from keyboard to mouse and back again. The only hitch is that once you swap keyboards between desktop and laptop, you might find your usual keys not in the usual place. But it’s a small price to pay for a huge saving in time. For people switching from Windows to a Mac O/S, hotkeys aren’t very different: ⌘+C and ⌘+V get your stuff copied and pasted in a jiffy. There’s of course more to learn for the enthusiast…

In Word, Excel and other office programs, you have the option of creating a macro or customized keyboard shortcut for an action that you do regularly and have to repeat. Instead of using the mouse, you can set up your own keyboard shortcut and use that instead. Setting up your own Word or Powerpoint template can also be useful in the long run.

3. Keep a folder of bookmarks

Do you work in an organization for which the intranet contains so much information that you can never find the form you need to download or the documentation manual and guide on specific company policies? And even if you work for an organization which has the most amazing website where everything is efficiently catalogued, you’ll probably have to toggle other websites in which there is too much information and not enough order in their menus and submenus. The answer to the problem is bookmarks! It’s an essential survival tool. Not only will you be able to download the forms you need to declare lots of things on, you’ll be able to do it in one click (after typing your username and password), while everyone else navigates the maze to retrieve their cheese.

4. Wear headphones and hang a “don’t disturb” sign

Listening to music can be a useful way to cut out the background conversations. Assuming we’re doing something in which music doesn’t interfere with our cognitions. But wearing headphones does help everyone observe the “don’t disturb” sign that you’ve posted loudly and clearly on your desk and on your forehead. Asking people to talk to you during designated times such as lunch and mid-morning coffee breaks will help you create blocks of uninterrupted work time. So take time out to make your sign and buy earbuds!

5. Make time to socialise and network

Have lunch with your team and colleagues. In addition to helping you increase the number of steps you’ve walked in a day and improve your mood by staying socially integrated at your workplace, it’ll save you time from writing small emails which go back and forth faster than a table tennis rally. Mid-morning coffee breaks in which the whole office or team participates have been found to be useful strategies for helping team members communicate effectively about a task they’d like to request another team member’s help with.

6. Schedule your email replies

One useful tip is to not to start the day by checking mail, as suggested in this Forbes article. Rather than checking mail when we first start our work day (which might be the morning for the larks among us), it is more efficient use of our cognitive resources to reply to emails when we’re not as alert. That saves us our brain for real work.

The reason why this tip works is that if our main work is not replying emails, we are less likely to get caught up replying to an email that just arrived (and spending the next hour shuffling the right words into sentences) and sorting out the mail to find the one that does require a response from us.

And when we do read our mail (which we’ll do sparingly in the day as we have real work to do), we can compose our response offline and schedule the response to leave our outbox at a specific time (perhaps at the time when we next read our email). Most email clients offer this function: Try it to step up your efficiency!

7. Use email filters

Getting lots of unimportant emails (often from others inside the same organization) is a common problem faced by many employees. The bigger the organization, the more emails we seem to receive. There are many events, activities, meetings, and bazaars which appear to arrive in our inbox whether we want them or not. Instead of manually moving these emails to folders, we can automate this process by setting up a filter to do it either when the mail arrives or when we click a button to “run filter”.

We can either select unimportant or non-urgent emails to filter by telling the email client to send mails from a specific someone (using their name or exact email address) or key words in the subject line or body automatically to a local folder, which we can browse leisurely, when our brain is sending out the “20% battery: Please recharge your brain now” signals. Most email clients like Outlook, Thunderbird, Windows Live, Gmail, all have this function. There’s no excuse for not setting one (or 50) up.