Perspectives

5 healthy work habits that help Googlers stay productive

Editor’s note: Laura Mae Martin is an Executive Productivity Adviser at Google. She helps some of Google’s top executives stay organized and productive using G Suite apps.

Since I can remember, I have always looked for the fastest way to get things done. My friends and family find it comedic. I create assembly lines when we bake cookies. I arrange for all of my doctor’s appointments to happen on the same day. I compile gift ideas for the holidays throughout the year and shop all at once.

This is how I approach work, too. I’m constantly grouping tasks.

A few years ago, I hosted a one-on-one training for a top Google executive where I explained how to organize his inbox in Gmail. After the training wrapped, he complimented the session and I replied “thanks, I’ve gotten pretty good at email.” He paused for a second and said, “that’s like if an artist says ‘I’m really good with pencils.’”

From that point on, I have viewed technology’s role at work differently. This executive helped me see that my skill wasn’t necessarily in being a Gmail whiz, but rather, that I used technology to mirror the positive habits I had already built in my life. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are a few of my own habits that help me stay productive.

Fix your email first.

You probably start your day in email, so try to tackle that first. If you fix your inbox, you’re more likely to control your meeting schedule.

Filters and auto-archiving in Gmail can make achieving “inbox zero” possible, but if that seems like a stretch, there are also built-in machine learning features in Gmail that can help, like nudging that reminds you to reply to overdue emails.

Divide your day in half.

I tell colleagues to think about their day in two parts: “first it’s about me, then it’s about you.”

  • First, it’s about me: Once you’ve cleaned out your inbox, it’s a good idea to create your to-do list for the day. It makes sense to focus on tasks that are important to you in the morning, so I suggest you list items that you can accomplish without having to depend on others. Then do them!

  • Then it’s about you: In the second half of your day, shift your focus to other people and what they need to do. If you’re waiting on a coworker to weigh in on a project or to review a proposal, check in with them the second half of your day. This increases the chance that your request will be answered, or your issue resolved, by the following morning when you come into work.

Go on a “meeting diet.”

Now that you have a clear grasp on your priorities for the day, you can start to think about the number of meetings that you need (or don’t need) to attend. I encourage Googlers to be protective of their time and to consider going on a “meeting diet.”

This doesn’t mean cutting meetings out of your life completely. It just means having them in moderation. When you see a calendar invite come through, ask yourself if you will contribute or gain something meaningful out of that meeting. If the answer is no, then ask for an email update instead.

Once you decide a meeting is necessary, try to schedule it based on more than just your availability (and make sure an agenda is included!). Think about your anticipated energy level, the preparation you’ll need to do in advance, or whether the meeting falls within your Biological Prime Time (BPT). BPT is a set of hours where each of us is naturally more focused, so it’s best to avoid scheduling meetings during this time since it’s when you’re most likely to get things done. My BPT is between 7-9am.

Stop creating long-term and short-term lists.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you look at a long list of things you need to accomplish. Remember, you’re never going to get fully caught up on your work. The point of having a job is to have work to do.

Instead, write down three things that you can accomplish in the day. For work days that are meeting-heavy, create a “snack-sized” list of to-dos and include smaller tasks that can realistically be done in between conference calls. I use Google Keep to create my daily list and I pin that list at the top of my Gmail companion bar so I can reference it throughout the day.

Eliminate distractions before they happen.

Many of us have gotten into the habit of blocking time on our calendars to accomplish tasks, but blocking time and using that time wisely are two different things. Time management is an important skill to cultivate, however, it’s more important to work on “focus management.”

Do yourself a favor and eliminate potential distractions during the time you set aside for yourself to work. Mute your inbox during that time period, snooze meeting invites, open one tab only. These minor actions can have a big impact on your ability to focus.

Always plan as “future you.”

Everything has a trade off. When you take on a new project or commit to attend a meeting, you’re indirectly saying no to something else that you could be doing. Stay cognizant of what you might be sacrificing by saying yes.

And as best you can, always plan as “future you.” Let’s say someone wants to schedule a meeting at 8am the day after you return from vacation. You might RSVP “yes” now because that’s something you don’t have to worry about until later, but are you being realistic? Before you pick up a new project, check and see if “future you” or “current you” is the one that’s saying yes.

You don’t have to read the latest studies or apply scientific methods to be a productivity pro (although that can definitely help). My top advice is simply to develop habits that help you get from point A to point B faster, and to use technology to facilitate them.