Be honest: how many times have you wished there were more hours in a day?
You’re not alone.
Like many of us, you simply can’t get on top of your workload, no matter how hard you try to find shortcuts, master efficiencies, or, at the expense of your sanity, sleep less every night.
Or perhaps your boss is turning into Bill Lumbergh — the suspender-wearing, coffee-sipping boss from Office Space – who expects employees to work on weekends to catch up: “Ya…I'm gonna need you to go ahead and come in tomorrow...”
But at the risk of dropping a cliché like “work smarter, not harder,” it is true you can get more done in less time – with some help from technology.
The following are a few examples (including personal favorites) that might be able to shave some time off your work day.
According to Adobe Systems, the average worker spends more than 30 hours a week checking email. Yes, that’s 6.3 hours a day checking email – and this doesn’t even include reading or replying to email.
While there are entire books on how to best manage your email, a few tips:
· Quickly scan through your inbox to see whom the emails are from, what the subject line is, and glance through the first bit of the message to get the gist of it. If it requires a reply, do so while you’re there instead of coming back to re-read the email again later (many of us read the same email multiple times before dealing with it). If you need more time to draft a reply, flag it with a bold color, and return to it.
· Make sure your emails are synchronized on your multiple devices, so you don’t need to re-read the same emails on another machine. A cloud service, like Gmail, lets you access emails on multiple devices, depending on what’s in your hand.
· Many email clients let you prioritize emails with various filters, therefore more important mail is seen first, while less important messages can be redirected to another folder to browse at your leisure. And if you’re still seeing spam in 2017, you need to change email clients or bump up your filter to catch more unwanted junk mail.
· Never use your main work email for personal emails or things like newsletters, contests, and other non-work-related feeds, as it will take time out of your day to read and reply to. Click “unsubscribe” if it’s been four years since you read an emailed recipe blast from the Food Network.
· Don’t write an essay in your emails. Less is more. You’ll likely get the same in return.
· Personally, I use Outlook as my main mail client as I like having tens of thousands of emails in my Deleted folder I could quickly search through, based on keywords, to find something I’m looking for.
· Many have dropped email for real-time communication tools — like Slack, Spark, Skype, Teams, Google Hangouts, or Chatter — that support group chats, collaboration, private messaging, media sharing, and more.
Use voice-activated personal assistants, dictation
Whether you use Google Assistant (Android), Cortana (Microsoft), or Siri (Apple) – or simply tap the little microphone button on your smartphone’s virtual keyboard – using your voice could help you regain some time (especially if you’re a lousy typer).
You can talk fast, but be clear and use punctuation. Be sure to check and correct messages before they go out.
I find I can crank through email replies while walking down the street, which means I won’t have to deal with them later.
Embrace the cloud
While it’s good to have important files safely backed-up offline — such as on external hard drives, SSDs, or USB flash drives — trust the cloud for its speed, convenience, and reliability.
Even personal cloud services like OneDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox can save time off your workday as you can access all your files from virtually anywhere, on any device, instead of taking the time to manually copy documents over to portable media, or having to call or email someone to send you a file you need.
The cloud also lets you collaborate with others on documents in real time. On a related note, because of wireless ubiquity – even on airplanes – many are running software in the cloud to save time and money.
App it up
To say there are many apps to help boost your productivity would be a grave understatement. The trick is to find one that suits your needs. A few suggestions for iOS and Android:
· As the name suggests, Post-It Plus lets you post digital Post-It notes on your screens to remind you to do something at a specific time. You can color-code them, group them into themes, and use your camera to capture something as a Post-It note, too.
· TeuxDeux is a powerful yet easy-to-use to-do list app (with desktop support) that lets you easily create tasks and lists, set schedules, repeat as necessary, and much more. There’s voice support, color and formatting options, and editing tools. While worth checking out, there’s no Android version (boo) and it’s not free ($2.99/month).
· Called the “best time-management app we’ve ever tested” from PC Magazine, RescueTime runs in the background on your computer and mobile devices and tracks all time spent on applications and websites, to give you a clear and accurate picture of where you sent your time.
· Microsoft’s Office Lens turns your smartphone into a flatbed scanner. Snap a pic of a document, whiteboard, receipt or business card, and it’ll be immediately digitized onto your device. Printed and handwritten text is automatically and accurately recognized using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tech.
· Whether you need a more effective way to stay organized or simply want to jot down ideas wherever life takes you, Evernote lets you create, view, organize, search and share your ideas – whether it’s typed or handwritten notes, voice recordings, websites, photos, or videos. All of it can be synched across multiple devices.
A few other assorted musings:
· It can be hard to fight procrastination, so eliminate distractions – whether that’s avoiding social media or uninstalling puzzle games on your devices. Instead, reward yourself with something after work, to serve as extra motivation to get through the day.
· Set goals for yourself, such as making of list of what you want to accomplish that day and be sure to cross them all off before you call it. Some productivity experts believe we need to see a concrete list of tasks that need to be done instead of simply seeing how much we can do blindly.
· Many studies have concluded taking short breaks will increase productivity. Make sure they’re timed breaks, though, such as 15-minute walk around the building to clear your head every two hours, for instance.
· People ask me why a to-do list or note-taking app is better than pen and paper, and so I remind them one reason (among many) is you can schedule reminders of things you need to do — by time, or even by place – so you’re always on your game. Whether it’s a small audible alarm or vibration on your phone or smartwatch, I stay on top of my ideas, things to do, and appointments to keep.
· We all know one of the biggest time-suckers is being dragged into meetings completely unrelated to your work. While you might multitask to get your work done on your lap while you fake being interested in the bigger conversation in the room, if it’s seriously cutting into your own workload, tell your boss you don’t think you’re needed and would rather focus on your priorities. Advocate for yourself.
· On a related note, see if you can delegate. Yes, I’m talking to you, control freaks. If there’s something you can have someone else handle for you, take advantage of it. Don’t be a martyr.
Marc Saltzman is a tech writer and author of Siri For Dummies and Apple Watch For Dummies. Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. E-mail him at email@example.com.