A productivity expert reveals how we can use our time more efficiently at work

We all know the feeling of spending a hectic day wading through hundreds of emails and attending meetings, and still feeling like we’ve got nothing done at the end of it. 

Recent research from Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index has revealed that Brits spend a whopping 60 per cent of their working week on avoidable tasks, so how can we use our time more efficiently? 

Joshua Zerkel, a productivity expert from London,  has revealed how to make our working weeks more productive – and they start with clearing out our inboxes completely.

He also reveals whether social media is good for our productivity levels and how we can negotiate ‘alternatives’ to those hundreds of meetings we find in our calendar every week.

Some of us have spend our days at work in pointless meetings and are left with hundreds of emails which make our days less productive. Stock picture 

An efficient inbox 

Joshua says that in order to get on top of your inbox you need to empty it – completely.

‘It may seem daunting, but a full inbox will only slow you down and increase the chances of something slipping through the cracks,’ says Josh, who is a certified professional organiser.

‘I’ve found people overthink their email filing, spending more time creating filters versus actually processing and sorting messages. To get to the coveted zero inbox: file, delete, forward or take immediate action.’

‘Most emails are related to something you need to do, read, or otherwise take action on. Once a week I take the time to map out what I need to accomplish in the next week. I plan which projects need to be done and on which specific days, and I incorporate any task-related emails into this planning. 

‘Usually, this happens Thursday or Friday, so I have that list when I come in on Monday. Then, when working from my task list, I always start with the most important thing – whether it’s the most time-consuming task or the quick-fix.’

Joshua Zerkel, a productivity expert, reveals how we can clear our inbox and negotiate those pointless meetings

Joshua Zerkel, a productivity expert, reveals how we can clear our inbox and negotiate those pointless meetings

Pointless meetings 

Can we really negotiate whether we have to attend meetings which waste our time? 

‘This can be a tricky conversation to have, especially when your boss or manager has become accustomed to booking a meeting as a solution to every problem. Meetings will always be a part of working life but it’s important to recognise and tactfully challenge a meeting that doesn’t seem necessary for you, ‘ Joshua, who is also Head of global community at Asana.

‘If you aren’t needed in a meeting or don’t feel as though you will get anything out of it, then I’d recommend presenting those as a questions to your manager or meeting organiser. Ask “what will my role be in this meeting?” and “will there be any actions for me as a result of the meeting?” to get them to think about how your time is being used.

Joshua, who admits that Asana have adopted No Meeting Wednesdays, goes on to say: ‘If the meeting is encroaching on time you need to do a more urgent task – present your to-do list to your manager and ask whether the meeting is more important than any of the other tasks on your to do list.

But he said you need to also be solution driven, saying: ‘If you don’t think a meeting is necessary, present another option such as a 10 minute brainstorm via Slack and Microsoft Teams or a shorter, standing meeting that takes 10 minutes (rather than half an hour). 

‘Who knows, you could be the person to show your company that there is another way – and your colleagues will probably thank you for it.’

Can we really negotiate whether we have to attend meetings which waste our time?

Can we really negotiate whether we have to attend meetings which waste our time? 

How can you benefit from meetings more?  

The expert says that assessing the agenda of the meeting, before you go into the meeting, will enable you to come up with some questions, before and during the meeting.

‘An agenda will give you a chance to read through and understand the topics of discussion. The questions you should be asking the meeting host include “what is my role in this meeting?”, “Do I need to speak?” and if so, “do I need to prepare to ensure my contribution is useful for everyone involved?”

‘In the meeting itself, you should start by asking “what are the goals or outcomes of this meeting?” and ensure everyone agrees on this fact.  

‘If you’re in that meeting and you’re unsure about your own next steps, don’t be afraid to ask that question, as it’s very likely you’re not the only one feeling that way.’

Should we use our phones and social media at work?

Joshua believes that a full digital detox isn’t feasible for most of us, but making sure your notifications come through on just one device is more productive.

‘Rather than completely disconnect from all devices – each of us needs to find habits to fit our unique lifestyles by thinking about what’s really needed, and where you can downscale.

‘It’s impossible to stay on top of every device and app 24/7. Instead, I recommend using one device (phone or laptop, but not both) and focusing on that one device during the workday. 

‘You aren’t being served well by receiving the same notification in multiple places – it’s just annoying and distracting. Free yourself from overwhelm by taking control of your devices and your notifications.

‘Constant notifications and pings from your teammates, social feeds, and email can create a sense that you need to be “always on”. In fact, over a third of UK employees say that emails and pings are the main driver keeping them late at work, according to recent Asana research.

While he says that opting out of notifications breaks a precedent that we need to constantly available and it ‘gives us permission to be more proactive and less reactive.’

‘I strongly suggest turning off all but the most critical notifications – whether from a specific person or related to a particular project. You’ll find your notification distraction and overwhelm will massively decrease. 

‘I check my phone when it’s good for me, rather than when someone else sets my schedule, which is what you’re letting others do when you have all your notifications turned on. 

‘Instead, get empowered, use notifications selectively, and build habits that create a sense of freedom by cutting (or at least lengthening) the cord to your devices.’

Organising documents 

Further stats also show that we spend over five hours a week looking for the information we need – because so many documents are buried in emails or threads. 

‘As the business environment becomes faster paced, that way of working simply isn’t sustainable for many teams anymore,’ Joshua says.

‘There’s a real behaviour shift required to increase transparency and bring everyone into the loop on documents related to a task in the early stages.  

‘We all know the feeling of working in a word document, only to realise that someone else is working in a different version. 

He said that we should be encouraging bosses to use shared google documents: ‘They allow teams to work in the same document at the same time, eliminating any headaches caused by version control.’ 

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