Making Mistakes At Work

Spilled mug on work papers

Let’s be honest: there is a lot of “work” at work. Most of us are so busy trying to complete the day’s tasks and put out fires that we often neglect to consider if we are functioning in an efficient way. Here are a few common mistakes, and some ideas for how to address them:

Failing to Triage Incoming Assignments

Paperwork, mail, e-mail, voicemail, and assignments flood in all day long. Many people put everything in a catch-all “inbox” or pile papers on the corner of a desk. Another tendency is to read emails when the red flag appears, but then simply close them, requiring a second review at a later time. Any action you take which must later be repeated is a waste of time.

It is critical to have a system for quickly reviewing incoming requests and categorizing them to be worked on later.  When a request comes in, sort it by the type of action required (e.g. “To Call,”  “To Read,”  “To Schedule,”  “To Deliver”… or whatever makes sense for your particular situation). Put labeled stacking trays/folders for paperwork on your desk, and similar folders on your computer.  When you are planning out your day or week, schedule time to address each type of action.

a pen and paper

Succumbing to Interruptions 

Whether it is someone knocking on the door or the phone ringing, interruptions draw our attention away from the task at hand. Each one can cost as many as 8 minutes as our brains try to process the intrusion, respond, and then refocus.

While periodic interruptions are inevitable, it is important to aggressively minimize them. Some techniques to try include:

  • Turning off the alert on incoming email or voice mail for a period of time.
  • Designating an hour of the day as your “unavailable” time (e.g. post a “Quiet Hours” sign on your door for 8-9am).
  • Going elsewhere to get things done, such as a library, conference room, or even a nearby café.
  • Limiting your social/pleasure Internet usage (e.g. “I’ll work for 25 minutes, then give myself 5 minutes to check my Facebook/surf the web”). Be sure to break for the full 5 minutes, get up, walk around and refresh.
  • Keeping a notepad on the desk to capture random thoughts that you can return to at the end of a focused session (e.g. “reschedule advertising meeting,” “pick up milk”).

Lacking Consistency in Processing Meeting Information

Do you prepare for a meeting by grabbing the nearest notepad or scribbling notes on the back of a meeting agenda? This frequently results in stacks of half-used notepads and lost notes.

Instead, standardize a system for capturing and organizing meeting information. For example, have a designated composition book for meetings. Or, create an electronic meeting template you can open on your laptop. Begin each meeting by recording the date, time, and meeting attendees (which helps if you need to follow up or clarify decisions, action items, etc.). Consistency will enable you not only to record pertinent material from the current meeting, but also to easily glance back and see what was decided at the previous one. Always end your notes with a clear “to do” summary which you can then schedule into your planner when you get back to your desk. Also, have your calendar at every meeting.

Failing to File

For obvious reasons, filing isn’t typically a favorite task. As a result, we often pile papers up on the desk, on the floor, or in a box. There is no better way to make a piece of paper disappear than by putting it in a stack.

The only way to ensure you can reliably find paperwork is to relentlessly put it in its proper place.  Schedule in 10 minutes at the end of the day to put away any paperwork that has ended up strewn about. “Away” could mean either in an “action” bin (see above) or in a storage location (e.g. a hanging file). This is a gift you give yourself the next time you need to find it.

Relying on Electronic Communication

Email, texts and cloud based/shared documents are wonderful tools. In many situations, they are the most effective way to communicate. Unfortunately, many people rely exclusively on these tools, even when a “live” conversation would be more effective.

While there are no hard and fast rules, a face-to-face meeting (or at least a live phone conversation) is preferable when:

  • Issues are multi-faceted and/or complex
  • Emotions could run high on the subject matter
  • Positions and viewpoints could be misconstrued
  • A variety of unrelated items need to be addressed
  • Tone of voice will impact results
  • Relationship building is part of the assignment
  • Confusion or lack of clarity is present

If you find that you aren’t getting desirable results, or if you are frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to connect digitally, walk down the hall or pick up the phone. Personal interaction is a dying art form, and one that is worth investing in.

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Work is hard enough without fighting ourselves to do it. Sometimes a few small changes can make a world of difference. Are you making any of these mistakes?