We all go through periods when we just aren’t that efficient at work. Maybe there’s something personal going on that’s distracting you, maybe it’s been a beautiful summer week and you want to be out in the sun, maybe you have a cold and just don’t feel good but also don’t feel bad enough to stay home. (And a sidenote: please, don’t be one of those superheros who goes to work sick as a dog, hacking and sneezing and wheezing all around the office, succeeding only in making yourself even sicker and infecting everyone in a 20-yard radius. Please.)
How to recapture your usual efficiency and focus? Spend less time in the office.
Not dramatically less, but an hour or two. (Note that this isn’t a long-term strategy to increase efficiency — that’s another topic altogether — but rather one designed to help you get over the hump of whatever has got you off your regular game.)
Why does this work? This tactic will:
Remove the PLM mindset. (PLM, of course, stands for Poor Little Me.) Over the years, I’ve known lots of people who essentially fritter away Friday lunchtime or afternoon because they know they need to work over the weekend and they’re having a serious pity party. Don’t believe me? Repeat the following using your best Eeyore voice: “I may as well take a 2-hour lunch, since I have to be here all day Saturday anyway.” Sound familiar? I thought so. Instead of taking a long lunch or surfing away a couple of hours, decide to leave at a set time that’s a little earlier than you might otherwise, and stick to it. No pity party needed, because you’re leaving early today. That’ll make you more effective throughout the day. Why? That leads to the second benefit.
Plug into getting-ready-for-vacation mentality. Have you ever noticed how much you can accomplish on Friday when you know you’ll be away from the office for the next week? You have something to look forward to, and you have a set time when you’ll catch your plane, meet family or friends, or whatever. Deciding to leave the office an hour or two earlier than usual can help you shift into this mindset. Suppose you normally leave at 7, but instead you decide to leave at 5. How will you shift your day so you can leave early? Will you bring lunch to your desk? Eliminate those little breaks that add up to wasted time? Ask your secretary to hold non-critical calls? And what will you do with your “found time”? Maybe go to a movie, slide into the restaurant that’s too crowded by the time you can usually get there, or just go home, put on sweats, order in Chinese, and relax. That’s worth a manufactured in-office crunch on occasion.
Keep you from sitting in the office when you’re being inefficient so you can recover. If you’re too tired or you have a hideous headache or whatever, perhaps trying to focus isn’t what you need or what will help you get your energy back. Of course, if you’re on a deadline, you can’t afford this luxury. But, for those ordinary times, cutting one day short may allow you to return to the office and do what you need to do the next day.
I assume it’s obvious why I advocate this technique only for rare occasions, but let me belabor the point. You don’t want to be the person who never goes to lunch and never has time to chat. You don’t want to be the person who’s always leaving early. And you probably don’t want to have to cram everything possible into every day — if you do want to do that, you probably don’t have an efficiency problem anyway.
But on occasion, cutting your time in the office can lead to a much-needed burst of efficiency. Use it wisely.