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EHS Managers: How to Become More Productive

Do your days fly by before your make a dent in your to-do list? We have some productivity tips and tactics just for busy EHS managers.

By Dylan DeZeeuw

Bzzzz. Ding. Knock knock. Ring. Before you can look at or consider your to-do list for the day, you’ve been interrupted by all sorts of different things: A phone call from a supplier about the latest and greatest Internet of Things (IOT) gizmo, a knock on the door from an employee about her TRI report, a text message from the kids, a few news update notifications from the EPA, and an email about a monthly SPCC inspection.

Next thing you know you’ve spent half of the morning giving time to one or more of those interruptions–none of them urgent. Every single day you are wasting more time than you should be, and as a busy EHS manager, you don’t have it to waste. In fact, you need to maximize productivity at work. One study found that, on average, it takes roughly 23 minutes to get back to a task every time you’re interrupted.

We’re all guilty of this at some point, but if you commit to ignoring and reducing distractions, you will get more done with less time. So how do we do it? Our top productivity tips…

Turn Off Notifications

As we increasingly live in our phones and computers, notifications from apps begin to overpopulate our screens. Yes, we are talking about everything from news updates to emails to social media activity. While it is nice to receive certain reminders, the majority are not time sensitive or important. Rather, they serve as intermittent time stealers.

One example: You are reviewing an annual stormwater report when a news story catches your eye. After taking five minutes to read through the article, you go back to the report on your computer and see an email has come in. The email is a question from one of the facilities you manage. It is not urgent and can be answered later this week, but you have the urge to take care of it now. It will only take a minute or two, right? Wrong. You find out there is a bit more to the question. After brief research, fact checking, and data gathering, you finish 30 minutes later. Now it’s time to get back to the initial task … what were you doing again?

The time it takes to resolve interruptions and get back to the original task adds up quickly. Whether you turn off all unimportant notifications or mute them, it will go a long way towards keeping you focused on the original task at hand.

Establish Routines

Turning off email notifications completely is not practical for most people. Everyone receives emails with varied ranges of time sensitivity. Instead of attempting to block them out completely, try to turn off notifications where you are able and establish an email checking routine. This will limit the number of email distractions without compromising your ability to respond in a timely manner. Establish a constant email checking routine (e.g. every 2 hours) or vary it based on completion of tasks (e.g. “I will check email after I finish this task.” or “I will check emails after I am about halfway through this task.”).

Isolate Yourself

Isolate yourself when you are working on one task that will take a few hours or even a day to complete. Consider it a meeting with your necessary tasks. Commit to “meeting” with that Title V air emissions report that has been sitting on your desk or in your inbox, and do not blow it off. Close your door or take the work to an isolated room or area. Treating a task as a meeting forces you to eliminate distractions, as you would for a real meeting, and it makes you more likely to follow-through on completing the objective in its entirety. Obviously, we cannot always do this. But if done correctly for larger tasks, you will be one step closer to increased productivity.

Facilitate Efficient Communication with Staff

Isolation is effective, because it lets your staff know you’re busy and shouldn’t be bothered. This is an example of efficient communication. Often, managers allow employees to come in unannounced to provide an update or ask about an unimportant issue. While this is a great way to promote frequent communication, it’s an even better way to increase distractions and decrease productivity.

Talk with your staff to create more efficient ways of communicating. Here is one good tactic, set a protocol for the best way of communicating non-urgent updates. For example, rather than being bothered by an email about the completion of a corrective action, use a system or some type of mechanism to track the status of assigned tasks. The employee can check a box indicating the task was completed and leave comments or attachments for record-keeping or further explanation. This will eliminate a source of unnecessary interruptions and improve documentation. Finding a way that works best for both parties results in an efficient communication system that improves communication and reduces wasted time.

Reclaim Your Time

Ultimately, you must experiment to find out what works best for you. The social media addict, the “Yes person,” and the multi-tasker all have different causes for their diminished productivity. So, naturally, improving productivity will require different solutions.

Try different methods, try multiple combinations, and really try. It’s easy enough to say something isn’t working after a few days or a week and revert to your old ways. Stick to a routine for a substantial period before throwing in the towel. If it starts to work, you’ll notice. When it does work, you’ll get substantially more work done. When you get more work done, you will succeed and create more time to spend with friends and family, work on other projects, or simply relax. I think we can all agree that time is something to be relished. So why waste it on distractions?

Time to check yourself: Did you check your email or phone while reading this article?