Five Ways to Hack Your Work So You Can Have a Life

by Ryan, Rebecca Tuesday, January 19, 2010
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Hack #1: Curb your (email) enthusiasm.

No one gets promoted for the number of emails they send. In the “time waster” category, email earns top honors. (Facebook is close behind.) Engineers at Intel studied the impact of email interruptions and found they cost over a billion dollars a year.

It’s time to show your email who’s boss:

• In your email preferences, disable notifications that bounce or chirp. Here’s how to do it in Outlook and Windows Vista. The rest of y’all can google “Disable email notifications in (insert name of email client here.)”

• When you need to really kick butt and focus, create a clever autoresponder to let folks know you’re in the zone. Before the holidays, I put up an autoresponder that said, “There’s a four inch stack of papers on my desk blinking at me expectantly. If I don’t deal with them, my holidays will not be merry. Thanks for your patience.” One of my colleagues emailed back, “Use them as wrapping paper and kill two birds with one stone.” My point is: when you need to focus, you need to manage people’s expectations, and they’ll respect it.

• Here are a few more ideas on how to lasso your email, from my personal blog.

Hack #2: Minimize drop-ins.

Drop-ins are email with pants. It takes 4 to 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption. I don’t care how “cool” of a boss you are, open door policies are for people who don’t have real work to do. Here’s how to stop drop-ins:

1. Shut your door.*

2. Tell your team that when your door’s shut, you’re focusing.

3. Schedule regular check in meetings with your direct reports each week, so they have a built-in, consistent forum to talk with you about their work. If they try to drop-in between meetings, politely ask, “Can this wait until our check-in meeting?” Only rarely is something so time-sensitive that it can’t wait. Train people to respect your focus time.

* If you don’t have a door, develop a system to alert passers-by that you’re focusing and not to be disturbed. (What system did you use in college to alert your roommate not to enter the dorm room when you had a special guest? Same idea, different application.)

Hack #3: Blow off some steam.

Remember when former Lehman Brothers CEO Richard (“DICK”) Fuld got punched in the mouth by a disgruntled employee, after Fuld announced Lehman was going under?

Yea, wish I coulda seen it, too.

The Conference Board recently released a report saying that the majority of American workers are dissatisfied at work.

It’s probably inappropriate for most of us to punch our boss in the face, but kickboxing, karate, meditation, a new endurance sport...all are great ways to alleviate work stress and release endorphins. Ommmm...

Hack #4: Make some room in your head.

If you’re feeling that there’s no way you can finish all the stuff you’re supposed to, you need a brain dump. Simply take out a clean sheet of paper, and list all the things that you’re trying to remember, or things you’re thinking about. This will clear up an immense amount of head space, and make you feel lighter. (I dare you to try it now.)

After your brain-dump, I recommend using David Allen’s “GTD” approach to staying on top of your work. I’ve been on and off the GTD wagon for four years and hands-down, life is better when I use GTD.

Hack #5: Schedule your long-overdue, you-deserve-it, week-long your vacation NOW.

You didn’t take vacation last year, because you were afraid you’d come back to a pink slip. Your boss needed you, your employees needed you, and you needed your job. But this year is a new year, and it’s time to cash out some of that PTO.

1. Pick a place you can afford, so that you don’t come back further in debt.
2. Make some room on your credit card, so you can splurge a little - hot stone massage or round of golf, anyone?
3. Book a nonrefundable plane fare - so you’ll have no choice but to get. out. of. the. office.