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Suggestions on how to be more productive, encourage productivity
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Results from Microsoft Office survey:

We may look like we're working hard and long, but we're not.

Worldwide respondents to a recent Microsoft Office survey say they feel unproductive for as much as a third of their workweek.

International top three time wasters, according to survey participants, were ineffective meetings, unclear objectives and lack of team communication.

In the United States, 42 percent cited procrastination, 39 percent picked lack of team communication and 35 percent chose ineffective meetings among the top time wasters, according to the survey.

Leisa Gill, marketing director at Leading Edge Alliance firm Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain, says ineffective use of time often leads to procrastination.

On her office bookshelf sits "Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating" by Brian Tracy. (And yes, she has read it.)

She says the author points out that people need to overcome the things that eat up their time to focus on the truly important projects.

Gill offers these tips:

  • Write everything down that you need to get done and prioritize them.
  • Understand and communicate the goals for achievement. For each department, the answer may be different. For each individual, the answer may be different.
  • Keep your prioritized to-do list in front of you on a regular basis. "You tend to jump off the page and deviate, but seeing the list is a good reminder," she explains.
  • Set deadlines for tasks. If you're given work to do, ask the person when she wants it completed. If no date is given, assign one yourself.
  • Think ahead and put big picture items on the list too.
  • Use technology to help you stop procrastinating and become more efficient. If you have an electronic calendar accessible by others (or even if you don't), block out time to work on a particular project and note it as "working on deadline." That way your co-workers (and you) won't schedule meetings during that time and you can focus on the particular work project.
  • Save your reading materials for when you know you are going to have down time. For example, when Gill knows that she is going to be traveling for business in a couple weeks, she creates a reading pile and takes it with her for the long waits in airports as well as the plane rides. The time goes by much more quickly and she gets all her reading completed.

Rita Keller, a director at Leading Edge Alliance firm Brady Ware, says ineffective meetings frequently top the time-wasting list.

She says the first step to an effective meeting is asking "Do we really need to meet?"

"With technology, we can "meet" other ways," she explains.

When meetings truly are necessary, always have an agenda, Keller says. "Without a plan sometimes nothing gets accomplished."

Realize the meeting is not over when it's over. Examine what you have done and make sure everyone knows what they are supposed to do once they leave the meeting, Keller says.

One important step is to determine what information discussed in the meeting will be communicated to others and how it will be disseminated. As Keller notes, always be aware of the grapevine and agree on what is to be said so everyone in the meeting stays on the same message.

Gill says she likes the book "Meetings Made Easy" by Frances Micale for improving workplace gatherings. "It's a fix-it guide," she says. "We get so caught up with having meetings. Someone will have a meeting for a meeting for a meeting," Gill explains. "Some days they have five meetings and ask themselves, 'How am I going to get any work done today?'"

Like Keller, Gill says ask if the meeting is really necessary and then go further. Question how long the meeting needs to be. Too often people block out an hour of their day for a meeting when it should only take a half hour, or sometimes just five minutes.

Putting specific time to everything is important, but only effective when you honor those time commitments. For example, if you're scheduled to speak five minutes at a meeting, stick to that time. "Stay effective with your time as well as others' time," Gill says.

For those who say they don't waste time but are overworked, one suggestion is to delegate. "Learn to do those things that only you can do and concentrate on that," Gill says. "Part of continually learning is learning what you're good at and accepting that when you delegate, the work won't be done exactly like you would have done it." e