While we all want to be efficient, we also want to be effective at work. Part of working smart is not giving into the frantic, fast-paced mindset that seems to have taken over. Not every email or task is an immediate priority. It’s not always necessary to check off every item on your to-do list. In fact, sometimes, we create more stress for ourselves and wind up getting less work done or start under-performing by trying to fit more into our schedules.

We are starting to understand that longer work hours do not equal increased productivity. Not everyone is on the same page about multi-tasking, busyness, and being fast-paced. All of us seem to fall into this trap. People ask me how I am or what’s going on in my life, and sadly, my default response is, “Busy.” I can’t always think of what exactly it is that I’ve done in the past 3 weeks. I do know I felt frantic, busy and overwhelmed for much of my time. Looking frantic or having  the ability to tell others that we are busy is not a badge of honor. It’s often bad for our health and can zap our mental abilities.

What are some steps that you can take to avoid the trap of simply being busy, and also increase productivity?

1. Block off time in your schedule.

You are not a victim of meetings. Block off the time to slow down and think or de-stress. You own your calendar. If you have an office, you can close your door. Sometimes, it seems like we like the constant interruptions or the continual emails. Schedule time to do your work, go through your emails, think through different initiatives or deliverables, etc.

2. Notice the people you work with.

The whole point of working is for people – not just for the sake of feeling accomplished or important. Recognizing the people you work with can increase job satisfaction and naturally slow the pace down.

3. Stop judging your coworkers or clients for moving at a slower pace.

We look for results on resumes, but ironically, we measure ongoing effectiveness in the workplace by busyness. Being judgmental of coworkers’ time uses can make you constantly worried about your own schedule and what others think of it. Assume that your coworkers own their schedule and do what’s best with it. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but the majority of coworkers are not slackers and should not be made to feel guilty for a few minutes of personal time during the day.

4. Practice remaining on a task for longer periods to increase productivity.

Continuously switching between tasks can take more time from the day due to the ramp up time for every switch made. This means if you’re working on a document, it is less effective to respond to incoming emails. Either logout of your email or adjust your notifications when you are trying to focus on a document. It will take you longer to answer emails and complete your document when you try to jump back and forth between the two tasks. In the end, switching back and forth just adds to mental stress.

5. Understand your own and your organization’s optimum uses of time throughout the day.

Knowing how to schedule your day to optimize productivity for you and your project team can be a game changer. If everyone works best in the morning, try to schedule less afternoon meetings. And maybe we should all just say no to the late afternoon meetings. With different commuting schedules, it breeds frustration when the early commuters continually schedule 8 a.m. meetings and the late commuters continually schedule 4 p.m. meetings.

6. Be decisive.

While no one wants to work with someone who waffles on decisions, quick decisions are not the answer either. Gather information and analyze. Give yourself time to make decisions. Decisive thinkers can be the game changers. Don’t be afraid to tell your coworkers that you will get back to them with a decision in an hour.

It’s trendy to talk about slowing down or being a minimalist in our personal lives, but it seems counter intuitive to talk about productivity and slowing down on the job. The irony is that slowing down does not mean you do less work, but it does mean you seek to do your work more efficiently in a more balanced way. Like anything, pick one or two things to try to apply, according to your job needs. Overhauling everything rarely leads to lasting change, but small changes along the way end up having the most affect.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.