Drugs and Workplace Productivity

Productivity doesn’t just happen. It takes focus and sustained effort to accomplish work tasks. However, the amount of focus and effort varies, depending on the difficulty of the task.

The opposite is also true. That is, non-productivity does “just happen.” It is so easy to be non-productive – that’s why many of us can slide into a weekend of rest and relaxation without any effort!

But while at work, it is important to do our best to be as productive as possible. And in order to do that, it is equally important to respect our bodies and not use substances that can inhibit our work performance. Ever.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, drug abuse costs employers $81 billion annually.

As well, workers who report having three or more jobs in the previous five years are about twice as likely to be current or past year users of illegal drugs as those who had two or fewer jobs.

And, an astounding 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse in 2003 estimated that legal substances (tobacco and alcohol) account for 79.3% of the total cost of substance abuse, while illegal drugs account for 20.7% ($8.2 billion) of costs.

With the recent explosion of “medical marijuana” retailers, these numbers are estimated to increase. Employers now find themselves in a situation where they need to consider even more so the impacts of once-illicit drugs on their workforce. The impacts on work productivity are difficult to ignore.

I continue to be in awe and amazed at the silence of the medical community about the ill effects of cannabis (usually termed “marijuana”). In terms of the workplace, however, cannabis has an immediate and ongoing effect on productivity.

It has been documented that cannabis causes the following side effects (this is not a complete list):

  • Decreased focus
  • Decreased concentration
  • Decreased alertness
  • Decreased memory and thinking capabilities
  • Decreased motivation – as such, this affects the employee’s ability to relate to their colleagues, clients and customers
  • Increased risk of developing dependence
  • Increased risk of respiratory illness
  • Increased risk of mental illness
  • Diminished relationships – think about how this impacts teamwork in the workplace with added pressure being placed on non-users including poor collaboration on projects (as an example)
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased risk of injury of self or others (resulting in loss of time and potential workers’ compensation)
  • Decreased driving performance

Of note is that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada, with 10.6% of Canadians reporting past-year use in 2012. As well, Canadian youth have the highest rate of past-year marijuana use (28% in 2009-2010) compared to student in other developed countries.

While governments are starting to “give in” to the demand for legalizing marijuana, this legalization has put the onus on organizations to conduct their own workplace drug testing. In addition, organizations need to ensure adequate workforce training in identifying potential drug use.

Human resource departments are now even more critical to the organizations’ functions to ensure the business’s bottom line is not being impacted by drug use.

One of the ways in which HR can help is to build relationships with managers and employees. When you know someone, it’s much easier to identify changes in behaviour and productivity and to provide proper intervention.

In addition, implementing policies and procedures will help all workers be aware of the signs and symptoms of drug use. Much like personal issues or inter-staff and management issues, keeping substance use/abuse top-of-mind helps to identify the problem, so it can be addressed quickly.

 

Capitalizing on Strengths

Do you feel “stuck” in a job? Even before the workday is done, can you hardly wait to get out of the office? If so, you may be in the wrong job. 

Feeling stuck may be a sign that you are not using your strengths on the job. If you aren’t using your strengths, resentment builds and frustration ensues. Not only that, you are not being productive on the job – think “deadwood” and you’ll get the idea! Let me explain.  

Let’s say that you’re a decision-maker by nature. But you find yourself in a job where you neither contribute nor make organization-wide decisions. As a result, you second-guess the organization’s decisions and you start resenting its decision-makers. On top of this, you start to dislike your boss and co-workers because you see them as part of the problem.  

You might say that you can’t help it – you need to work somewhere. Fair enough – most of us end up in temporary jobs that are nothing more than a way to pay the bills. But for long-term career happiness and productivity, you need to understand your strengths.  

In addition to identifying our strengths, we need to understand how we work best. And how we work best depends on our personality.  

Our personality determines how we perform, no matter what it is that we do – from how we organize our breakfast in the morning to how we process our daily tasks to how we relate to people. Each of us has an inherent capability of how we manage our “to-do’s.” 

But consider this fact:  While our habits can be modified, few (if any) people can outright change either their strengths or habits. Instead, what we can do is identify our strengths and habits and then choose to improve both in a way that moves us further in our careers. 

Here are five ways that you can improve your strengths and use them to catapult your career to the next level. 

  1. Pay attention to feedback. What do others say about your strengths? What do they notice about you? Sometimes, we instinctively know what we’re good at, but for whatever reason, we become blind to our strengths. It may take several people to point out your strengths before you start to pay attention.
  2. Tune in to your performance. How do you produce your best work? Is it by working alone or in teams? Do you prefer to learn through reading, listening, or viewing? What time of day are you most productive and why at that time? By understanding “how” we work, we will be able to understand the unique characteristics of what comprises an ideal work day for us and when we are most productive.
  3. Notice what gives you energy. When working on a task, does it make you feel tired, bored, overwhelmed, interested, or is the work challenging? Does the task motivate you to work even harder to get the job done? Do you feel alive? If the work makes you feel so energized (even if you’re physically tired), then that’s the type of work you need to be doing.
  4. Do not comprise your values. The place where you work must reflect your own values. The organization’s policies should be in line with their practices. In other words, the organization should practice what it preaches. If your beliefs are in line with the organization’s culture, then you have a match made in heaven.
  5. Contribute like there’s no tomorrow. Based on your strengths, work on improving the organization’s systems, processes, methods, policies, and other practices. This will serve to not only make a positive difference to the organization, but also to help you feel a sense of accomplishment. If you can feel as if you have accomplished something, you know your strengths are serving you well.

Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Substitute “career” for the word “luck” and you can see how our strengths can be used to build happy and productive careers.

 

 

 

Best Time Efficiency Hacks for the Generations

How do you save time? This depends on who you speak to and their age. Each generation has an affinity for different efficiency tools and techniques.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, tend to opt for multi-tasking because they believe that doing more than one thing at a time saves time. Truth is it doesn’t. Multi-tasking is counterproductive and decreases efficiency. Perhaps Boomers’ nonconformist ways make them stick to their beliefs. In fact, Boomers labels of themselves range from “self-obsessed” to “stuck in their ways” (Jane Holroyd, Sidney Morning Herald).

To improve efficiency, Boomers are unlikely to put in the effort to change their habits at this stage – unless they can buy it and it’s easy to assemble.

Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1976, are often labeled as the “slacker” generation. They appear to be uncommitted, unfocused and disorganized. They tend to move between jobs frequently, preferring a balanced lifestyle over the financial comfort that their parents craved.

Gen Xers, you can improve your efficiency by:

  • Closing all applications on your computer other than the one that you’re working on. This will help you maintain focus.
  • Do work in small manageable chunks, rather than tackling the whole project at once. This will help you reduce overwhelm.
  • When something needs doing, do it right away. If you think about it for too long, you may procrastinate and not get the job done properly (or on time).
  • If a task is boring or frustrating, think of something else that you might be doing that may be worse. Then use that comparison to start working on the task at hand that now does not seem so bad!
  • Every hour, take a ten minute break to refresh. When you do, you will have more energy and focus to attend to the task.

Generation Y (also called “Millennials”), born between 1977 and 1994, are the largest cohort since the Baby Boomers. They are labeled as lazy, debt-ridden and programmed for instant gratification. They are portrayed as demanding and unrealistic in their career aspirations. They also tend to be Internet-addicted and lonely.

Millennials don’t mind working hard, but they want to be judged on their output and results, rather than the total number of hours they put in. Their time efficiency hack is leveraging technology to help them gain greater work-life balance. In other words, whatever can be automated to save time, should be!

Here are some efficiency hacks for millennials by millennials:

  • When not in a mental state to work, hit the gym or go running. Don’t forget to shower before returning to work!
  • Return phone calls while waiting for the bus, taxi, airplane, or ferry.
  • When you have an idea, chase it until you figure it out. If you don’t, the idea may drive you nuts and lead you to procrastinate and be overwhelmed.
  • Instead of a computer, use an e-reader for reading books – the lack of multitasking actually helps you maintain focus because you cannot switch between windows with a browser.
  • Make friends that can save you time – for instance, if your friends love to browse online for the best deals, get them to tell you when they find a great deal. Then, all you have to do is “click” to buy. The homework has already been done for you.
  • Allocate one hour each and every day to handle e-mail and other “to-do’s” that you need to clear off your list. This can be either at the beginning or end of the day. This is a must for saving time!

Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2012, grew up with the Internet. They are incredibly technology-savvy and can be labeled as the iPad generation. These kids are just entering the workforce and you can bet that whatever efficiency hack they use, it will involve technology.

Generation Alpha, those born from 2010 onward, will likely be the most formally educated generation in history. They began school earlier (think pre-school or daycare at the age of two or three) and will be studying longer. These children are from older, wealthier parents with fewer siblings and they are already being labeled as materialistic (Baby Boomer déjà vu?).

Regardless of which generation defines you, the best way to be efficient is to rest when you need to, get over overwhelm, don’t procrastinate, plan your days in advance, and use your “to-do” lists to monitor your progress toward your goals.

Overpowering Boredom

Many people experience boredom, but did you know that there are different types of boredom? And that each of us usually experiences a specific “type” of boredom consistent with our personalities?

According to 2006 research published in the journal of Motivation and Emotion, there are five different types of boredom (a follow-up study in 2013 identified a fifth type – apathetic). Here is a summary of each type:

  1. Indifferent – These individuals appear to be calm and withdrawn. Sometimes, they can appear to be very relaxed. Jessica Leber of Co.Exist also uses the term “cheerful fatigue” to describe this type of boredom.
  2. Calibrating – These individuals have wandering thoughts. They are willing to engage in almost any activity that will get them out of the boredom inducing activity. Calibrating boredom usually stems from engaging in repetitive tasks.
  3. Searching – These individuals experience negative feelings and unpleasant restlessness. They actively search for a way out by focusing on alternate activities.
  4. Reactant – This boredom is the most mind-numbing. Individuals experiencing this boredom may be highly aroused and hold a lot of negative emotions. They may also be restless and aggressive. Their way of escaping this boredom is to blame others for their situation and escape from them by thinking of places and situations where they would rather be than in their current surroundings.
  5. Apathetic – This boredom is similar to helplessness and may be a contributor to depression (according to researcher Thomas Goetz and his colleagues). “At least 36 percent of high school students in the survey reported it.” People with this type of boredom generally show little arousal and a lot of aversion.”

Boredom does not have to be, well, so boring. It can be turned into a powerhouse of productivity with just a few little tweaks to our day. Here are seven things you can do right now to turn your humdrum into a welcome main attraction:

  1. Take a break. Get rid of your world-weariness by removing yourself from your current environment and do something engaging – something that makes you happy. Use a “Happy App” to help you get into a better headspace that will, in turn, help you defeat your feelings of boredom.
  2. Listen to music. Or tune into your favourite radio station while at work. When experiencing a monotonous task, listen to the radio for uplift before returning to your task.
  3. Schedule your day to work in 25 minute spurts. Those who work 25 minutes, then do something else for five-to-ten minutes are more productive than those who do not divert their attention from their work. For instance, during your five-to-ten minute shift away from work, e-mail a friend, surf the Internet, plan your weekend, or call your mother-in-law!
  4. Get more involved in your work. While the work might be boring, think of a new way to approach the task. Perhaps reviewing your past activities at work and researching how to improve your job overall might be a way to re-do your job completely. In the process, it may even result in a raise and high praise for a job well done.
  5. Make a change. Evaluate your work environment. Maybe you need a new chair? Does your desk need rearranging or decluttering? Make yourself aware of things around you that you can improve. And improve it/them!
  6. Learn something new. There is nothing more monotonous than doing the same old thing in the same old way for days/weeks/months/years. Defeat tedium by expanding your mind. Read a good book (educational or not), ask your co-worker to teach you their job, take a night class, or go finish your Master’s Degree.
  7. Don’t stew. If you feel you have tried it all, but you just can’t get rid of your boredom, talk to your boss. Together, you can figure out how to improve your job, so that you and your organization will experience maximum productivity from your efforts.

In the end, don’t let monotony control you and your day. It’s much better to have multiple tasks to juggle than it is to suffer in joyless work.

In short, if your situation is suffocating your happiness, then change your situation! We all have the power to change our own circumstance.

Taming Insomnia to Improve Productivity

There are so many reasons to get a good night’s sleep: you feel better, you look better, you perform better, people like being around you … in short, sleep allows us to be our best self. And the benefits of quality sleep extend beyond feelings - ranging from reducing stress to improving productivity.

Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. When we lose even one hour of sleep, we experience fatigue the next day and our ability to function may be as effective as an individual whose blood alcohol level is .08.

Not sleeping enough also has other implications, including:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Reduced immunity
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems

What do you do, then, if insomnia prevents you from dropping off right away? A study by Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, published in Applied Psychology in May 2011, found that sleep interventions such as constructive worry, imagery distraction, or gratitude all provide effective relief from insomnia.

Here is how the techniques work. 

  1. Constructive worry. Set aside 15 minutes earlier in the day (before 8:00 p.m.) and write out worries and concerns that are likely to interfere with sleep and steps toward their resolution. Then, if worry creeps in at bedtime, remind yourself that you already devoted time to these concerns, and that you will do so again tomorrow when you are less tired and better able to think of good solutions.
  2. Imagery distraction. This involves closing your eyes and imagining a situation that is interesting and engaging, as well as pleasant and relaxing. For instance, imagine being on a holiday, a sunny beach, or a happy family occasion. This will calm your mind, allowing you to drift to sleep.
  3. Gratitude. This is another distraction technique. When one is under stress, it is common to be preoccupied with worries and concerns, and to ignore the positive experiences in one’s life. Shifting your attention to the things you are grateful for (i.e., all the positive events in your life) is a distraction from worry. Focusing on the positives lifts your mood and allows you to fall asleep more easily.

If you are sleep deprived, try one or all of the above techniques to help you get and stay sleep, so you can wake up feeling refreshed.

And remember to schedule enough time for sleep every day by making sleep a top priority on your “to-do list.”

Improving Work Performance

How’s your productivity? Does the mere mention of the word stir unease? And what about all those uber-organized work colleagues? How is it that they really seem to be on top of their work and, yet, here you are constantly struggling to keep up?

You may be surprised to learn that there’s no secret to improving work performance. It’s all about being organized. And the best part of all is that it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Improving work performance is about being productive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way to yield maximum output. It’s about planning and prioritizing to make that happen. And it’s also about protecting your time.

To help you be more productive and use your time effeciently, here are ten suggestions.

  1. Arrange your physical work environment. Organize your workspace so that everything you use has a “home.” After use, always return items to their home. This takes discipline and a lot of work at first, but becomes habit with practice.
  2. Arrange your electronic files. When electronic files are arranged in a hierarchy that enables cross-organizational sharing, there is less duplication of files, no silos of information, and retrieval time is improved dramatically. Use a functional subject-based classification system for optimum efficiency and productivity.
  3. Use appropriate tools. No amount of arranging or organizing is going to help you work at your best if your tools are out-of-date. Still using Windows 95? Or DOS? Invest in current technology, a nicer website, and appropriate resources to help you be more productive. Not making the investment will bog you down, create frustration, and lead to regularly “burning the midnight oil.”
  4. Check-in with your list. As you make commitments, write them down, and check-in with your list every day. Lists help us manage our time and free our minds of mental energy that we would otherwise spend on tracking our “to-do’s.” If you write down what you need to do instead of keeping it in your head, you’ll also experience less stress and better sleep.
  5. Do it now. At work or at home, if a task takes five minutes or less, then do it now. If it’s going to take longer, then write it on your list and schedule time to do the task. Organized people don’t procrastinate on tasks that they can easily complete within a few minutes.
  6. Uni-task. While multitasking may seem like you’re accomplishing more, you are in fact accomplishing less across more area. To be truly efficient, effective, and productive, focus on one task, giving it your full attention. Turn off email pop-ups and calendar reminders. Protect your time to gain productive results.
  7. Problem-solve; don’t blame. If you happen to get sidetracked or encounter a challenge that impacts your work, use a problem-solving approach. Author Hillary Rettig gives the following example about someone engaging in inner defeatist dialogue: “What’s wrong with you? This is easy! Anyone can do it! Why are you so lazy? And with all the money you just spent on classes! What a loser!” Instead, focus on a solution: “Oh, I’m underproductive. That’s interesting. Let’s see what’s going on and how I can fix it.”
  8. Work with your energy cycle. Instead of time management, work to suit your daily energy levels. If you have high energy in the morning, then schedule the most difficult or more creative work in the morning. Don’t try to accomplish critical tasks when your energy is at a lull.
  9. Know thyself. Organized people know their strengths and weaknesses and reflect a high sense of self-worth. Ask for help to complete work on time. Just because it’s in your job description does not mean you need to do it all yourself. Think of your time as a resource that has value. Perfectionists and high achievers may not be comfortable letting anyone else share the reins, but interpersonal support goes a long way in managing stress.
  10. De-stress. Most people operate in a state of chronic stress, but those who are able to focus and stay organized are able to manage stress. The most effective way to manage stress is to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. This can be a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you – just don’t sit at your computer all day.

Practicing the above suggestions takes motivation to get started. Once started, habit will keep you moving to become more organized and productive. You will also become a happier person, overall.

Managing Energy to Manage Time

Did you know that the higher your energy, the better your ability to manage your time? It’s true. Since there are no limits on our energy, we can use our energy within available time to produce more. The trick is in understanding our individual limitations on available energy. Let me explain.

Each of us reacts to both emotional and physical stimuli differently. Some things energize us, where other things de-energize. For example, my energy soars when I identify the cause of a problem that inhibits efficiency. Then I get really creative in identifying solutions. On the flip side, my energy depletes when I work on mundane and repetitive tasks. Others might find the opposite effect.

When your energy soars, it’s like your battery recharges—a sudden burst of energy makes you feel more alive, more capable, and certainly better able to cope with whatever is thrown your way. The interesting thing about this “recharged” feeling is that it enables you to do more in less time. And the way we can sustain this feeling is by taking care of ourselves to ensure that our energy levels are at their optimum.

Here’s how to recharge and sustain energy levels for maximum productivity.

  1. Exercise regularly. Every day, schedule time for at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise. Go for a walk, run, lift weights, do whatever is necessary to wake up your body.
  2. Determine your personal energy cycle. For three days, keep a log of your energy levels. For every hour (from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed), rate your energy level from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest). Review your log at the end of three days and identify your peak energy levels.
  3. Use your peak energy levels to work on the most important, most challenging, and most focused work. When we do this, our productivity increases dramatically.
  4. Create your ideal day. Use your peak energy levels to work on long-range and interim goals, choosing tasks that will achieve your goals. Schedule and work on low-energy tasks during your non-peak energy times.
  5. Manage yourself every day to achieve both your career and personal goals. There is no magic and no quick solution for this. You will get out of your day what you put into your day.

In addition to the above, make time for fun activities that will boost your energy. How about lunch with your BFF? Or playing a game of Scrabble or Words with Friends? Or maybe a coffee with your boss to discuss your career strategy is the perfect energizer?

Whatever you do, use your energy wisely and boost it when you can. When you do, your mood will be lighter and you will get everything done more effectively and efficiently. In fact, it will feel as if you have more hours in your day. That’s the result of managing ourselves to boost our energy.

The Key to Productivity

Do you remember the last time you were faced with a task that you didn’t particularly enjoy? Do you remember what you did? If you completed the task, it’s because you started working on it and didn’t stop until the job was done.

“Starting” is the key to productivity.

When you have difficulty starting, the task waits. If the wait is excessive, you may end up working under pressure to finish the job. This is not a good way to work, since working under pressure creates more stress for you and for those around you.

It also increases chances for mistakes, since the tight timeline leaves little room to correct things that may go wrong. In fact, when you work under pressure like this, you almost always produce an inferior product.

There are many reasons why people have difficulty getting started with tasks, but here are some considerations to help you push yourself to start.

  • If you are resisting starting on that project because you feel your outcome may not be what you expect, remember that risk is inherent in everything we do. And even if you do fail in achieving your outcome, you will have come away with a valuable learning experience.
  • Is overwhelm your enemy? Break up the overwhelming task into small manageable tasks. Then start working on the small pieces, one at a time, until completion. By breaking the task into small parts, it helps alleviate overwhelm.
  • “Paralysis by analysis” applies to those who need to have everything be perfect all the time and because of that, may never get started. To help you overcome this perfectionist approach, just start! Just starting will create the momentum needed to follow-through on the task.
  • When boredom creeps into your work, you will avoid doing it. This only creates more work because we tend to work on our “waiting” pile when our energy is lowest. To overcome boredom, just start on the task. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can return to more interesting work.
  • Do you enjoy working under pressure? If so, you probably put things off until the last minute. This creates more stress not only for you, but for others, as well. And this also increases the chances for mistakes, leaving no time for their correction. In fact, working under pressure almost always results in an inferior product. Give yourself lots of time for the task and start working on it on time, not at the last minute.

Use good time management techniques such as the above to push yourself to be more productive. And when you do, you will notice a considerable gain in free time in your days. That’s definitely something worth starting, isn’t it?

Not all Priorities are Created Equal

Many clients ask me how I manage to juggle so many competing priorities—they seem to think that I’m always multi-tasking. My response is that not all priorities are the same and you can only work on one priority at any given time. Let me explain.

If you feel as if you have many priorities that all need to get done at the same time, you know that it is impossible to do them all simultaneously; let alone do them all well. So what is the solution?

The solution is to prioritize your tasks based on their long-term importance and short-term urgency. The goal is to focus first on those tasks that are important. Then evaluate the “urgent” tasks to determine the true nature of their urgency. You may be surprised at how few urgent tasks are truly urgent. And some may have little importance, as well!

Writing down your tasks allows you to see them in front of you and provides you an opportunity to evaluate them. Also, by writing things down, you get them out of your head—this eases the burden of “mental clutter.”

Here’s a simple “priority matrix.” This matrix was originally introduced by Dr. Alec Mackenzie in his book, The Time Trap.

Here is how to use the matrix:

  • List 10 tasks you need to do tomorrow.
  • For each task, assign a rating for Long-Range Importance and
    Short-Range Urgency, as follows:

1 = high importance or urgency

2 = medium importance or urgency

3 = low importance or urgency

  • Add up each row’s Long-Range Importance and Short-Range
    Urgency to get a “Total.”
  • Using the number in the Total column, rank your tasks under “Priority.”
  • The category with the LOWEST TOTAL is your #1 Priority and
    it should be done FIRST.

 Here is an example of the completed matrix:

What is evident in the matrix is that there are several priorities with the same rank (e.g., five tasks show up with the priority 2). When this occurs, take the competing priorities and re-prioritize them against each other until you end up with a list of priorities that can be handled one at a time. If this cannot occur, then speak with your executive and let them determine which priorities come first. Alternatively, delegate, so that the work can get completed in a timely manner.

Prioritizing your work comes down to your ability to plan your day and stick to your plan! Consider that for every hour you spend in planning, you will save three hours in execution. You can see that it pays to prioritize and work on your number one priority each day.

The Little Things ARE Important

When we focus on getting things done, we typically focus on allotting time for the important and time-consuming tasks. If it’s very important and it’s going to take a long time, we must get it done first, right? Yes and no.

In prioritizing, it is easy to forget to take care of work that can be done in a minute or two; regardless of its importance. When we consistently defer doing the little things, they can become big things. And big things can be a lot harder to manage.

When we end up facing a mountain of big things, we can become overwhelmed. Overwhelm may lead to procrastination which may lead to more little things piling up and becoming big things. It becomes a vicious cycle—little work becomes big work that leads to overwhelm that leads to procrastination. This can lead to stress that eventually leads to poor health and in extreme cases, death.

Take e-mail as an example. How many opened e-mails do you have right now in your e-mail inbox? Any number above zero is too many. Why? Because as soon as you open an e-mail, an action is required that will allow you to remove it from you inbox.

If you open an e-mail and leave it in your inbox (whether or not you acted on it), the accumulating open e-mails in your inbox become electronic clutter that contribute to mental clutter. And mental clutter contributes to overwhelm. For e-mail management, follow the B-F-A-T rule.

For any task that can be done within a couple of minutes, do it immediately. If you do, you will decrease your workload almost instantaneously. You will also decrease your mental clutter. The goal is to start working on tasks that can get done quickly and then follow through to completion.

In other words—if you start, don’t stop until it’s done.

Any tasks that keep nagging at you such as the bill that needs to be paid, the appointment that needs to be made, the paper on your desk that needs to be filed—all of these things can take less than a few minutes, but as soon as you get them done, you are saving yourself from carrying them in your head as a “need to do.”

If you have thought about something more than once, but have not taken action to complete it, this is an item that must be taken care of right away; especially if you can get it done in a few minutes.

In addition to taking care of the little things immediately, do not write the little things on your “to do” list. If it takes you longer to write down what you need to do than it does to actually do it, then start doing it and don’t stop until you’re done.

A little known side-effect of doing quick tasks right away is that the action of not stopping something that you start can translate to developing good habits. For instance, if you know you need to go for a workout (the thought keeps nagging you), putting on your runners (starting) will take less than a minute. Once you’ve got them on, follow through on the task (don’t stop).

Whether at work or at home, turn nagging thoughts into actions and start working on all the little things to completion. When you do, the inertia of your actions will result in good habits that can last a lifetime.

All you need is to get started.