The new year is always a great time to start afresh, reevaluate the way you do things and set yourself up for success at work. That’s especially true when you work in the NFP sector, where (given the seriousness of what can go wrong) process and paperwork can be a particular burden.
But by February, a whopping 80 percent of resolutions will have failed. So what are you likely doing wrong – and, more importantly, how can you actually achieve your work goals this year?
Dermot Crowley is the founder and director of Sydney-based training organisation Adapt Productivity, as well as the author of Smart Work: Organise your way to renewed focus and calm and Smart Teams: Work better together.
As one of the country’s top productivity experts, Crowley knows a thing or two about how to beat the odds to achieve your new year’s resolutions at work.
Why resolutions don’t stick
According to Crowley, new year’s resolution commonly fail due to one thing: the inability to turn your good intentions into consistent behaviours.
“If we’re going to actually achieve different results or make the changes we want, we need to develop a muscle around those changes,” Crowley explains.
“That usually requires time or energy to be focused on it – and it needs to be done consistently.”
It’s often said that 21 days is long enough to embed a new habit – though new research refutes that as far too short – but Crowley insists you can get the ball rolling on behavioural change in just four weeks.
“If I’m trying to help someone get their inbox down to zero on a regular basis, what I’ll say is get your inbox down to zero once a week for the next four weeks and you will probably have built the habit by that stage if you do that,” Crowley says.
Interestingly, Crowley also says your workplace itself could be a hindrance to achieving your goals and resolutions.
“Workplaces often create lots of little frictions that drag people’s productivity down all the time,” Crowley says.
“But what we should be doing is creating a culture that enables flow, so when we work together it shouldn’t be something that results in a lack of productivity for individuals.”
How to nail your resolutions
Feeling a little unsure of how to achieve your new year’s resolutions at work? Crowley offers some practical advice for achieving four common ones:
1. Keep your inbox clear
According to Crowley, overflowing inboxes are one of the most common sources of stress in the workplace.
“I’m often dealing with people who are getting up to 400 emails a day – and nobody needs to get that much email to do their job effectively,” Crowley says.
What’s more, most of these emails are just ‘noise’ – needless correspondence that competes for attention against those emails actually necessary to do your job.
“The problem is that the emails that require action will get lost, which means things tend to get left until the last minute far too often,” he says.
The answer? Crowley is a proponent of the email holy grail: the zero-message inbox. He claims it’s a critical habit to form if you want to work more effectively and productively – and it’s something anyone can achieve.
“The key is to treat your inbox not as a filing system or an action system – it’s actually just a postbox for your work or information to come in to,” Crowley says.
So how exactly can you achieve a zero-message inbox – and keep it that way? Crowley suggests taking some time as often as possible – but at least once a week – to clear it out.
This could mean scheduling ten to 15 minutes every Monday morning to file away older messages, delete unnecessary emails – be ruthless here! – and redirect emails from lists and newsletters you don’t read to subfolders.
Other tips for improved email hygiene include responding to and filing emails immediately after you read them – you might otherwise forget to reply – and keeping responses as short as possible. And if you don’t think an email warrants a reply, don’t send one!
2. Spend less time in meetings
How many times have you found yourself in a meeting that could have been an email – or worse, one that has nothing to do with you at all?
Spending all day jumping from meeting to meeting can also put a serious dent in your productivity. Crowley suggests three key strategies to spend less time in meetings in 2019 and beyond:
Have fewer meetings
“We often end up attending meetings we really don’t need to be at, or meetings are called and they’re not really necessary,” Crowley says.
So how can you decide which meetings are important, and which you can comfortably skip?
As a general rule, meetings have a place if they’re focused on making a decision. If not – or if you’re not part of the decision-making team – you can more confidently give them the axe.
If you’re unsure, insist that the person who called the meeting provides you with an agenda in advance. This way, you’ll gain clearer idea of what’s to come and the role you’ll play – or not.
Have shorter meetings
Meetings often unnecessarily drag on for far too long – something for which Crowley has a simple yet frustrating explanation.
“The average meeting length is an hour and that is usually because our calendars have one-hour time slots,” he says.
“We need to think carefully about how much time is actually needed for the meeting and to schedule them for the shortest possible time to achieve the outcome.”
Beyond just scheduling less time for each meeting, hit number one tip to ensure meetings stay succinct and on track? Set a clear purpose and agenda, the latter of which should be made available to attendees ahead of time.
Other potential time-savers include:
- using a timer for each agenda item to make sure they don’t take longer than neccessary;
- holding standing or walking meetings;
- providing attendees with any relevant reading materials ahead of time; and
- checking facilities in advance to ensure everything from the projector to the chairs are there and in working order.
Invite fewer people to meetings
“We really need to be purposeful about who needs to be in each meeting to achieve the outcome,” Crowley says.
“Sometimes there’s a culture of, ‘Let’s invite everyone so everyone’s in the loop’. But the problem is we just end up spending way too much time in meetings and we don’t have enough time to get other stuff done.”
To avoid this, only the people with a role to play in decision-making should be in attendance – everyone else can be looped in after the fact.
3. Manage your own time better
Better time management skills are a common work goal – particularly in the NFP sector, where staff and volunteers can be stretched to the limit and required to wear multiple hats.
The secret? Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate.
“If you really want to manage your time effectively, you should have one system that shows you all of your meetings and all of your tasks in the one place,” Crowley says.
That’s because many people fragment their work, keeping track of their meetings in one place – usually the calendar – while keeping tasks separate.
“When it comes to the things you need to do, they’re usually buried in lots of different places like your inbox, a to-do list or in your head,” Crowley says.
He suggests using tools like the task list function in Microsoft Outlook, which allows you to see your tasks alongside your meetings.
If you’re a Google user, utilise Google Tasks in conjunction with Google Calendar, or adopt a completely different platform altogether like Monday or Asana (which the EthicalJobs.com.au team uses and loves!).
Once you’ve consolidated the actionable parts of your work, prioritise your workload by identifying urgent tasks versus important ones – as well as those that meet both criteria. What needs immediate attention, and what can wait? What can you delegate or scrap altogether?
Next, order the tasks on your list by estimated effort. You might want to get stuck into your lengthiest task first to get a chunk of it out of the way, or nail some quick wins with some smaller tasks.
4. Keep stress levels in check
This is due to various controllable factors – like time management – but is also influenced by the nature of the NFP sector itself, where the stakes are often high and resources are stretched to the limit.
To start, Crowley recommends nixing stress by regularly devoting some time to planning, both short-term and further into the future.
“On a daily basis I would spend ten minutes putting a daily plan in place and getting really focused on what you need to do that day,” he says.
“On a weekly basis, I would spend around 45 minutes planning my week – look back at last week, tidy up any loose ends, look forward to next week, and even scan several weeks ahead to think about what’s coming down the track.
“I would also think about the big picture and what are some of the next actions I need to be driving into my schedule over the next couple of weeks to drive the really important stuff forward.”
And if you’re still feeling stressed out? Ensure you take the time to embed powerful self-care rituals into your day: consider going for a walk at lunchtime to clear your head; meditating each morning before work; biking to work to release some tension and improve your mental health; or taking regular micro-breaks throughout the day to stretch and recharge.
It’s true that new year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. But with a little preparation and planning, 2019 could well be the year you finally nail your big goals at work.