Boost workplace productivity by expanding your definition of a task

A wise person once advised me that if I wanted my son to clear his place after a meal, I needed to change the definition of “meal” so that it included not only eating, but clearing the table and washing the dishes.

If you say “After you’re finished with dinner, please clear your place,” this makes the second action happen at some indefinite time in the future. It separates the necessary clean-up from the task.

If, instead, you speak and act with the idea that the clean-up is part of the task, it will eventually become automatic. “We’re almost done with dinner…”

Here are a few situations where you can apply this at work:

From “making a purchase” to “making and tracking a purchase”

  • Redefine making a purchase to include tracking the expense. You’re not “finished” until you’ve saved the receipt where it needs to be saved. (I keep a folder on my desktop for the current month’s receipts). Yes, the task will take longer. But you’ll get the time back when you file your expense report.

From “answering emails” to “handling emails”

  • Redefine answering emails to include filing the original email. As you respond to an email, also file the email in its appropriate place – a project or person folder in your email system, or the trash. You can set up QuickSteps in Outlook to help with this – for example, to “reply and delete” an email. 

From “deleting emails” to “deleting the nuisance”

  • Redefine deleting unwanted marketing emails to include unsubscribing from them. Many retailers send out DAILY marketing emails. Even if they’re ending up in your “Promos” tab in Gmail, they’re taking up storage space, and eventually your free email system will prompt you to buy more storage. If you don’t want to get these emails, take a moment to unsubscribe from them as you delete them. Not only will you save (or postpone) the headache of running out of storage space – you will also lower your carbon footprint. That’s right – emails do use electricity even if it’s not on your electric bill. Try doing this both at home and on the job!

You won’t be perfect, but things will improve

Expanding the definition of a task is not always easy. If you often feel rushed, you will be tempted to skip the last steps. It requires a shift in mind-set. It’s related to the idea of taking the time to do things right.

Not only will you get back the time later (filing your expense report will take minutes instead of hours), but you will also boost the productivity of your entire work team. Imagine the impact on your accounting team if they don’t have to chase you for receipts. Or the impact on your manager if you’re able to answer her question right away because her emails to you are always filed in the right place.

Where can you apply this principle? Let me know in the comments.

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