Pointless meetings, endless interruptions, and an anxiety-inducing news cycle are no longer part of your job description.

By Erin Zammett Ruddy
September 17, 2020
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Productivity Pitfall #1

“I feel like the meetings I host aren’t always effective.”

The Fix

Do a meeting audit.

The Expert

Rebecca Sutherns, PhD, is the founder of Sage Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in collaborative strategic planning.

First, think about the meeting’s purpose and whether it’s even necessary. What are the minimum requirements for the discussion—could it be a one-on-one phone call? An email? The main reasons to hold a meeting (or Zoom conference) are to reduce blind spots and increase everyone’s buy-in, so plan to meet if those goals are top of mind.

Then assess your guest list. Too many people are invited to meetings they don’t need to attend, and we’ve all been at meetings where people say, “Oh, I can’t make a decision on that. I have to ask so-and-so.” Check that the invite list is complete (and that “so-and-so” is there).

Also, change up the locations of face-to-face meetings. People often think more creatively when they’re in varied spaces, so try hosting your weekly meeting in different spots.

For a more productive gathering, plan how the meeting will run. Put together a bulleted agenda with actionable items, like “Brainstorm about this idea,” or “Make a decision on x.” If you can manage the details and focus of the meeting well, people will be more engaged. Visuals also help people stay interested and retain information; consider putting together a quick presentation to keep the meeting flowing.

Finally, what gets written down is what lives on after the meeting, so make sure documentation happens. Follow up right afterward with an email that lays out next steps and states who will do what by when. Define what “done” looks like for each to-do item so everyone has similar expectations.

Productivity Pitfall #2

“I want to stay up to date on the news, but sometimes I find myself spiraling.”

The Fix

Curate your news intake.

The Expert

Jenna Lee is a journalist, writer, and producer. She is the founder of Leep Media and SmartHer News and a former co-anchor of Happening Now on Fox News.

Whether you’re working from home or the office, staying informed throughout the day can feel like a full-time job, especially during an election year that coincides with a pandemic. Being thoughtful about where you go for news is critical to ensuring you’re getting information you can trust.

Start by signing up for the daily email briefing sent out each morning by your favorite news source (try AP Morning Wire from the Associated Press for a sampling of what’s happening all over the world). Or listen to a daily radio briefing or podcast on your commute or lunch break.

If you feel overwhelmed trying to stay on top of everything, focus on just three topics, like how the economy is doing, where our soldiers are, and maybe health innovations—that last one is a great way to include optimism in your news diet.

Also, consider following photo-journalists on social media. They can add interesting perspectives because they’re actually in the regions they’re reporting on.

Productivity Pitfall #3

“I feel like I’m always interrupted, both in the office and when working from home.”

The Fix

Protect your time by setting expectations up front.

The Expert

Deborah Grayson Riegel is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and consultant who teaches leadership communication.

Get ahead of interruptions by asking to be left alone. For even better results, specify why. Say something like “I’m on deadline to get this sales presentation to a client.” One fundamental way we build trust with others is by explaining our decisions, even if the person doesn’t agree with them.

Don’t be reluctant to ask for the time you need: Research shows that once concentration is broken, it takes about 23 minutes to regain a flow. Your request shouldn’t be aggressive or passive; it should be assertive. After you ask coworkers or family members for a certain amount of alone time, close your door, put on headphones, turn off notifications, and disconnect from all outside sources—you can even put an auto response on your email and text messages. This signals to others and yourself that you’re focused on something important.

If you still get interrupted, try saying this: “I’m in the middle of something. You can have five minutes of my time now, but please know that I’m distracted and you won’t have my full attention. Or you can have my full attention at x o’clock. Which do you prefer?” If they choose five minutes now, you have to honor it.

Excerpted from The Little Book of Life Skills: Deal With Dinner, Manage Your Email, Make a Graceful Exit, and 152 Other Expert Tricks ($20, amazon.com; $19, bookshop.org) by Erin Zammett Ruddy. Copyright © 2020. Available from Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group Inc.

This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Real Simple.