Magazine article Management Today

How to Get Stuff Done

Magazine article Management Today

How to Get Stuff Done

Article excerpt

People at work face a huge array of distractions that get in the way of them finishing anything. But you needn't just sit there feeling overwhelmed, there are plenty of ways you can get on top of your workload, says Alexander Garrett.

Don't you ever wonder how people like Justin King and Sheryl Sandberg (see book review on page 27) get everything done? While some of us let out an exasperated sigh on a Sunday evening in anticipation of just how much we will be expected to achieve in the coming week, others seem to glide effortlessly through meetings, conference calls and email conversations - and still get their work done. Just picture the unenviable to-do list that new BBC director-general Tony Hall faces: the continuing Jimmy Savile fall-out, dealing with senior executives' payoffs, adjusting the broadcaster to an ever-shrinking income, and shaking up organisational culture. Where do you start?

Like every one of us, those at the very top of business will at times struggle to cope with a bombardment of information and distraction as they try to achieve goals that often seem shapeless and elusive Finishing tasks in the networked, data overloaded, communication-exploding

21st century workplace can seem nothing less than an existential challenge.

Speaking from California, the author of the bestselling Getting Things Done (Penguin), David Allen, says: 'There's always more work to do than you can do. When are you finished? When are you done? There's always more to write, more to think. There's always more to do. So it's about how you manage your own assessment of what you did out of all the options and what you didn't do.'

Feeling comfortable about what you are doing and what you're not doing is one thing, 'but most people haven't a clue about what they're not doing, they haven't managed an objective inventory of what that is', says Allen.

'The second thing is, if your job has anything to do with what the late, great Peter Drucker called knowledge work, then first you have to figure out what it is that you are supposed to be doing. If you're cranking widgets, then you turn up and there's a big pile of uncranked widgets to make it quite clear what your work is. But if you have to implement diversity in your workforce, then what do you have to do to make that happen? It's not self-evident.'

This is difficult enough. Now consider that typically office workers have something like 1,000 emails in their inbox at any one time with another 70 arriving each day. You've got IM switched on, texts popping up on your mobile, you're monitoring your Twitter feed and keeping tabs on a raft of other social media. Then you've got piles of stuff you should read, people to talk to, meetings to attend. How on earth is it possible to pull yourself free of the quicksand of demands and requests long enough to actually do some work? And that's supposing you can turn a blind eye to the non-work-related distraction that the internet poses. Research by Kansas State University found that 'between 60% and 80% of people's time on the internet at work has nothing to do with their job'. Professor Joseph Ugrin even came up with a name for it: cyberloafing.

Rosie Gray, whose company Mosaic Learning specialises in productivity training, says that increased workload is another factor that has left many people feeling their work has teetered out of control. She adds: 'In the past, you might have arrived at the office with three clear things to do. Now people are dealing with their emails before they even arrive, and by 10am their priorities might have completely changed.'

For what might seem a low-tech problem, there's no shortage of advice and self-help available; from Tom Peters' ebook Getting Stuff (That Matters) Done (New Word City) to Matthew Kimberley's less cerebral Get a Grip (Ad Lib).

What many offer is a system for keeping on top of your work that revolves around capturing and prioritising what has to be done. …

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