Operational excellence is the application of knowledge and wisdom for increased effectiveness and efficiency. When routinely applied, they become powerful habits for productivity, mindfulness, and focus. In the workplace, psychologists and human resource professionals help employees strive for excellence to improve job satisfaction and increase productivity. Here is a list of 18 operational excellence habits that you can implement this week.
If you can finish a task within two minutes, do it. Don’t put it on your calendar or schedule it for later. The “two-minute rule” was popularized by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done. You’ll be surprised at how much more productive this will make you, and how much easier you’ll breathe after all of your simple or easy tasks are off your plate. If you have tasks that require similar resources — or a multitude of small tasks that take more than two minutes — batch them together to save time and effort.
Have you ever felt that you were forgetting something? Or that you had something to do but you couldn’t remember exactly what it was? While you are busy working, commuting, eating, or sleeping, part of your brain is constantly trying to manage your calendar and perform the functions of a secretary. It decreases focus, and it can make recreation time less relaxing because our brains are always attempting to remind us when and where we need to remember the next thing.
Use your calendar to clear your mind. By performing a “brain dump” and recording everything you have to remember, you can turn off the internal hamster wheel and rely strategically on your calendar to get things done. Instead of working on things twice, process emails and phone calls immediately. Act, delegate, or delete each message to prevent it from taking up mental resources over time, and place reminders on your calendar for important events or errands.
The Pareto principle states that approximately 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. Originally developed by the celebrated economist, Vilfredo Pareto, its application shows that some of our actions should be prioritized over others. Focus on the 20% of tasks that are most closely related to your key results to work smarter, not harder.
Willpower is a limited resource, so work on your most important tasks in the morning. If there was one, simple trick for accomplishing more, focusing on your high-impact projects first thing in the morning would be it. Focus on the tasks that are most important, when your willpower, determination, and creativity are at their peak.
Create weekly goals and schedule action steps on your calendar. When creating your to do list for the day, ask yourself, “What three tasks would I need to complete to feel like I had a productive day.” Those tasks might include working out, finishing an important project at work, or successfully implementing a new habit or piece of productivity advice.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a decorated World War II commander and celebrated leader, and the Eisenhower Matrix or important-urgent matrix breaks down tasks into four quadrants for prioritization. Urgent and important tasks need to be done first. Important but non-urgent tasks need to be scheduled. Urgent but unimportant tasks can be delegated, and tasks that are neither urgent nor important don’t need to be done.
In the book “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a flow state is described by a singular focus and engagement with the task at hand. In reality, multitasking doesn’t exist. The brain can only focus on one task at a time, and switching back and forth between them quickly is what we call “multitasking”. Unfortunately, this causes a loss of productivity. The brain has a small amount of “lag” as it switches between tasks, and it’s been proven to increase the amount of time and errors involved.
Schedule time where you won’t engage with social media, check your phone, or look at your email inbox. Close your office door, silence any alarms, timers, or notifications, and focus on the task at hand. You might find that tasks take less time than expected, and you can complete them immediately instead of spacing out the workload over days at a time.
Break every project into a set of smaller, achievable goals on your calendar. Schedule the milestones so the project is completed within the necessary timeframe, and keep a list so you can always see what needs to be done. This “next actions list” provides a clear directive with a definite outcome and is much more action-oriented than a traditional to-do list.
With smartphones, tablets, and beautiful desktop computers, it’s no surprise that we’re always connected by email. In fact, one survey found that people spend an average of 7.4 hours per weekday attached to their inbox. Checking your email strategically can prevent multitasking, establish professional boundaries, and keep the important but non-urgent tasks from distracting you.
If a specific workflow or process is routinely used in your business, optimizing it once can save countless hours down the road. A clear system for collaboration and approval can prevent long email exchanges and missed deadlines.
Operational excellence is about more than the individual. Group meetings and collaborations should be focused for maximum efficiency. Make sure every meeting has a clear agenda and objective. What outcome will signal that the meeting was a success? What is the next action we need to take to complete our goals? Establish a clear plan and timeframe, and stay focused to keep meetings short and productive.
A weekly review is one of the best ways to grow in excellence. Consider a weekly review of all professional and personal goals, and reflect on your accomplishments and time spent. Perfect the most time-consuming processes, and plan out your next week by prioritizing the tasks with the most impact.
Sleep is one of the first things we sacrifice for work, but it hurts every other aspect of productivity. Without enough rest, sleep deprivation affects memory, intelligence, and overall wellness — and it’s estimated to cost $411 billion in lost productivity. In fact, sleep improves nearly every aspect of your life. Consider adopting a “sleep ritual”, where you turn of screens, silence your electronics, and wind down for the night. Create a schedule and commit to an adequate amount of rest.
When it comes to operational excellence, optimized nutrition is a no-brainer. But with the amount of diet and exercise advice available, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Your body needs calories for energy, but certain foods can cause a spike (and subsequent crash) in your blood sugar and energy levels. Using the glycemic index can help you choose energy sources that will sustain you, and staying satiated with protein and healthy fats can even help you lose weight!
Even if our work depends on our minds, our minds depend on our bodies. Whereas most productivity advice focuses on using your energy more efficiently, exercise is one of the few activities that we can do to increase the overall amount of energy our bodies have available. Exercise can help with chronic fatigue and can give your body a healthy way to reduce stress.
Scientists have proven that our hormone and energy levels fluctuate throughout the day, and using these daily biological peaks can improve productivity. Use your biological prime time to finish your most important tasks early in the morning, and save smaller items for the time after lunch when your body naturally wants to rest.
Operational excellence isn’t always about doing more. Sometimes it’s just as important to focus on what NOT to do. Set time limits or deadlines to prevent tasks from taking longer than they need to, and keep a “Don’t Do” list somewhere you can see it. Add habits such as “multitasking” or “mindlessly scrolling social media” to it, and use your weekly review to eliminate your biggest time wasters.
Finally, don’t worry. Nearly everyone procrastinates. Procrastination occurs when your brain is lacking in motivation or energy, and cognitive functions of your prefrontal cortex are struggling against the limbic system of your brain. Fire up your prefrontal cortex with mental thought exercises. List the opportunity cost of procrastination, or find the reasons why you’re procrastinating and attempt to resolve them. You can create a list of things to do that are easy and don’t take too much time so that if you ARE going to procrastinate, you procrastinate effectively.