Managing multiple projects, a barrage of emails, a phone in each hand, and looming design work is the normal description of an engineer. Regardless of the number of hours in a day, there is always more to be done and prioritize. Success is often measured on how busy an employee looks rather than the output. Combine that with the innate human ability to time-fill, or have a task take up the exact amount of time allowed, and employees are pressed each day to complete their jobs.
In the material handing industry, our projects improve throughput and speed of materials transferred into and out of facilities. We design systems to improve operations every day using advanced equipment to serve our customers. We rarely look inward to improve our operations, especially the operations that happen behind the desk. The engineer/project manager is the driving force behind the success of the project; increased efficiency in the office by the use of advanced techniques would echo with the core goal of our industry.
As a huge nerd and Industrial Engineer by training, I have been obsessed with tracking and improving my efficiency in the workplace. This started in college when the pull of academic, social, and professional aspects often competed with one another. I stumbled onto a series of tips and mental exercises to “hack” each and every hour to achieve greater focus and output. These tips are called life-hacks and numerous resources are available online as well as in print. These ideas have hit the mainstream with the book, The Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss, a New York Times Bestseller.
The philosophy of life-hacking is to tweak your actions in order to set your brain into overdrive to get the maximum output. This comes from the computing world, where settings on a piece of hardware would be altered to increase computing speed or power. Simple changes in the line of code could allow a user to generate more power without upgrading the hardware or wasting precious time. That same principle is applied to the brain and allows for the life-hacking adopter to produce more without working overtime.
Not all of these ideas are feasible, especially in the material handling industry when the hours are long, 3rd shift is an acceptable time to work, and the beck-and-call of customers never ceases. This list is a jump off point to get your wheels turning and help you choose a few life hacks to add to your every day. Select your favorite suggestions and let loose.
- STOP! those email alerts from popping up on your desktop. The distraction of the notification and the looming feeling of responding immediately disrupts your focus and scatters your intent. The end result is more time spent switching between tasks than completing tasks.
- Advanced option: Set a period of 15-20 minutes 5 times a day to tackle instant messages, emails, and text messages. Spread them out during the day and fire away.
- Wait and refocus. If you don’t have to respond to the email that just reached your inbox, wait 5-10 minutes before responding. This leads to a more formulated response, time to weigh the options, as well as keeping you on track to finish the task at hand. A fiery email can provoke a strong emotional reaction to respond hastily.
- Time yourself and make it a game. Get a timer or find one here (timer.onlineclock.net/) and set it for 20 minutes. Work on a task or tasks and then stop. Check the completed items off a list or cross them out. Then take action and get out of your chair and walk to the break room or restroom. You could even take a lap around the office; do something with your body. The combination of brain power and body will help you be sharper, faster, and more apt to remember important items on your list.
- Stand-up as much as you can. Schedule a stand-up meeting for 15 minutes with colleagues instead of an hour sit down meeting. In addition to the extra minutes saved with the shorter meeting, there will also be more concise action and energy from attendees. Adding some sort of physicality to your day exploits the brain to remember more accurately.
- Do a mad morning dash. Set the most dreaded or tedious task for first thing in the morning, and then time yourself. Try to beat the clock and get the task accomplished. The morning is the best time for cognitive level reasoning, focus, and is the least likely to be interrupted. Also, when the emails start coming out of your machine, this alerts others to the fact that you are open for business. The floodgates open up and the requests for information as well as fire-fighting start pouring in.
For more life-hacks and to continue on into advanced life-hacking status, check out these websites for tips and tricks from the experts.
Work Smarter, Not Harder Infographic – http://www.bestmastersdegrees.com/work-hacks/
Control Your Workday, LifeHacker.com – http://lifehacker.com/187074/geek-to-livecontrol-your-workday?tag=softwaretimemanagement