This would be my top 10:
1. Read e-mails the same time everyday (just before I go to bed, just before class). But check skim e-mail inbox regularly. This gives me a natural “time out” in working on e-mails but allows me to address emergencies as they come up.
2. Have different e-mail accounts for different needs. I have a school one I look at only when there are assignments coming up (which this semester is about 3 times a week each week). I have a “spam” e-mail, those sites that ask for an address so they can send me updates or newsletters. I also tend to use these for blogs and listservs I am “iffy” about. I check this once a week. Finally, I have my main e-mail which I look at on my homepage and can skim to prioritize reading.
3. Set daily goals for long term or medium term projects. I work better using deadlines.
4. Wait to speak with people or go online until after I have met the goal for the day. That’s my carrot or reward.
5. Set regular office hours at home. My kids know that when they are home on a regular school day, I have changed my “mom” hat. However, if they have a half day, or day off, I am “in the office”. Of course, this works because they are now teenagers.
6. Use on line organizers so I can access information from any of the 3 or more computers I may be using. Although it took a while for me to start using it, delicious is now the most valuable resource for my work.
7. Maintain contacts with the outside world. I find many people feel this is a waste of time. However, I am much more productive after I have communicated with colleagues, as I get motivated with new ideas.
8. Find at least 1/2 an hour a day of quiet time to think. Even if it means going into the bathroom to keep away from others!
9. Related to #5, when you have a day off from work, make it a day off from work. I learned this from my father, who was a steel industry executive who worked 60-70 hours a week. His days off meant no contact with work and mentally catching himself from “worrying” about work. For him to do this, we often vacationed a physical distance from home and work, often with no phones (before cell phones).
10. Concentrate on what you have already accomplished and don’t worry about everything that still needs to be done. As child, I would panic and worry about what I needed to do, often paralyzing myself with worry. My mother would just take my hand, sit me down and say, “just start working. There is no use wasting time worrying about what you need to do. You’ll get done what you can get done and the rest will be there for you to finish tomorrow.” I always think of that when I begin to get overwhelmed. (I do the same for my kids).
Interestingly enough, I am not being very productive (and not really following my own advice) today. In fact, while writing this post (before accomplishing the goal of transcribing interviews today), I have been interrupted at least 3 times with phone calls with prerecorded messages from candidates to remind me to vote in the primary elections. It is primary day in NY state and we have 3 hotly contested seats open, including the one vacated by our congress representative and the former speaker of the senate for New York state. I would suggest ignoring phone calls, however, I know for myself that letting the answering machine pick up the phone, in fact, distracts me as I cannot help but wonder who had just called! Therefore, for me, it is important I answer all calls or I can't concentrate on my work.