Do you dream of a job that entails zero hassles? That doesn’t cause you any anxiety? Then forget about a position in leadership or management. Hassle and anxiety shouldn’t define our jobs, but they certainly come with the territory. All day we deal with people and systems. Both inherently have flaws. Our own flaws further complicate the process.
While you’ll never eliminate hassle and anxiety, there are surefire ways to reduce both. In the modern office we all have the tools we need to streamline processes and regain our days. With these simple tech tricks, managers can not only become more effective, but ease some of the hassles and anxieties that plague our jobs.
#1. Load up IFTTT with recipes
If you haven’t started using IFTTT — If This, Then That — then it’s time you started. With integration into dozens of apps and services, IFTTT has become a powerful automation tool.
Think of the mundane tasks you perform many times per week, or even day. The time you spend on them adds up. Even worse: those mundane tasks are distractions that cripple your productivity.
Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
Use the power of automation to your advantage and cut those pesky distractions. To get started, check out these IFTTT recipe lists:
- 10 IFTTT recipes to make you more productive at work (PC World)
- The 101 Best IFTTT Recipes (PC Mag)
- The Big List of IFTTT Recipes: 34 Hacks for Hardcore Social Media Productivity (Buffer)
Before long you’ll have a huge list of recipes not only for work, but for your personal life. Goodbye distraction and hassle. Hello deep, focused, meaningful work.
#2. Take advantage of off-peak email hours
Ask managers what about their jobs causes them the most stress. I bet you’ll get this answer most of the time: off-hours email. Work emails go to our phones. When we get new emails, our phone blinks and maybe even makes a sound. It’s hard to ignore that, even if you’re at home unwinding. Getting the wrong email at the wrong time can seriously mess with your head.
Let’s get one thing straight: no job has the right to stress you out once you’re done for the day. If they do that, it is because you let them. We all deserve peace and quiet. We deserve a chance to relax, unwind, and get a good night’s sleep. Yet a stressful work email can wipe out an entire night’s sleep, rendering us useless for at least the next day in the office.
The solution is to stop checking work email after a certain hour. This is simple if you get mail through an Exchange server, particularly Microsoft ActiveSync. Just go into your settings and look for the syncing option. (On my Android it’s under Sync, Send & Receive.) You’ll see options for:
- Peak time sync
- Peak time
- Off-peak sync
Set your peak times, and then set your off-peak sync to manual. That way you can set boundaries and not receive any email notifications during certain hours. So long, stress-inducing email that comes in just before bedtime.
#3. Track invoices seamlessly
Invoices are a hassle, and managers deal with them from both ends. We receive invoices from freelancers and other contractors. Many of us send invoices to vendors. It’s no secret which is the bigger hassle. At least we have control over received invoices. Good managers process invoices properly and promptly.
Sent invoices, though? Good luck. You can only hope the manager receiving your invoices has in place a system like yours. What are the chances of that?
Do you still create your invoices in Microsoft Word? If so, it’s time to ditch that practice. (If you insist, then at least convert them to PDFs; no one wants to receive an invoice in .docx format.) The problem with Word invoices is the lack of tracking capability. You’re on your own to keep track of when you sent the invoice, when you need to follow up, and when you need to take stronger action.
If you have access to your company’s accounting software, well, chances are this isn’t a problem for you. Unfortunately, not every manager has this kind of access. It sounds absurd, but that’s business life sometimes. So what’s the solution?
Find an app that not only keeps track of your invoices, but keeps on top of you about them. Invoice templates like Free Invoice Creator from FreshBooks can save you some time and hassle. It lets you know when a client has seen your invoice, so you know when to follow up. It also reminds you every so often. Yes, it does pitch you on FreshBooks services from time to time, but there is a free tier there. If you work for a small business, maybe you can even take advantage.
#4. Scrap to-do lists for workflow management
Are to-do lists ruining the planet? No, probably not. But they might be hurting your productivity. Sound counterintuitive? Give that The Next Web article a close read. It lays out psychological factors that make to-do lists less productive than we think.
In my own experience, a to-do lists is merely a list of things that will never get done. If I place an item on a to-do list and get it done that day, all is hunky dory. But if I don’t do it that first day, forget about it. It’s going to sit on that list until I get fed up and just delete it. Reading about others’ experiences, this doesn’t seem too uncommon.
If you don’t use to-do lists, how can you stay on top of important tasks? The answer lies in workflow management. Think Getting Things Done, but without the complex system. The best tool I’ve found for this is Workflowy. It’s essentially a deep-dive outlining tool. You can create infinite levels in each nest, making it a great project management tool. That way you can outline everything that needs doing on every project. You won’t have a to-do list at that point. You’ll have what is, in GTD parlance, a next-actions list.
#5. Organize your email
You’ve heard people refer to inbox-zero as though it were a unicorn. How could anyone clear out all of their emails? Surely they can’t keep it that way for long.
Oh yes you can. It just takes a little bit of organization. Spend a weekend on it, and feel the email anxiety leaving your body. Seriously, if you feel email takes over your life, a simple inbox cleanse will do you worlds of good.
Here are a few, simple rules. Many of them come from Priacta, which promotes a program called Total Relaxed Organization. No one system works for everyone, so these tips will be in the form of guidelines.
- Main inbox is for relevant items only – The biggest mistake people make with email is leaving everything in the main inbox. Get it out of there. If it isn’t directly relevant to you, it shouldn’t stare you in the face or clutter your life.
- Make use of archiving – Not everyone is on Gmail, and that’s fine. If you are, archive your emails. Gmail search is a powerful tool you can use to find an email no matter how old. Outlook users can simulate archiving by filing email into folders. Both methods get the email out of the main inbox and into a relevant storage container.
- Create a folder hierarchy first – Before you put one more email into a folder, take some time to think about how you’d like to structure your email. Are you someone who works well with broad categories, or do you need hyper-specific folders? The only way to know is to sit down and figure out how you want things filed.
Here’s a way to map out folders while remaining productive. Take your last 100 emails. Look through each one and decide where you’d be most likely to find it. Would it work best if you created a folder for each individual sender? If you grouped senders into different buckets? What about email pertaining to accounts or projects? These are all considerations when mapping out your hierarchy. Just do it before you start filing.
- To-Reply and Awaiting-Reply: Your most important folders – No matter how you setup your folder hierarchy, creating these two folders will make your life easier. A To-Reply folder reminds you that you have people who are waiting on you, so don’t leave them hanging for too long. Awaiting-Reply lets you know that you are indeed waiting on other people to act. With this folder you’ll know when to follow up. Once you reply, or once you receive your reply, you can file these in appropriate folders.
- File your sent items – Often you’re looking for something you said, rather than something another person said. Organizing your sent items can be just as useful as organizing your inbox.
- Use filters and rules – Most modern email clients let you set up rules for incoming email. Take full advantage. Maybe you’re on an email list and only want to check it at certain times. Automatically file those items as soon as they arrive. Check them at your convenience. That way they don’t distract you.
I could go on for days. The point is to make email work for you. Too many managers are slaves to the inbox. It doesn’t have to be this way. Combine this tip with the off-peak one, and you’ll feel liberated.
#6. Create Twitter lists to monitor employees
If you don’t follow your subordinates on Twitter, it’s time to start. No, it’s not so you know where they’re partying this weekend. It’s because what they can can reflect on your company. That was the big takeaway from the recent NPR memo about employee Twitter accounts.
Yes, employees are careful to say, right in their bios, that their opinions do not reflect those of their employers. Just because they say that, doesn’t mean it’s true. If their followers associate them with your company, then their tweets are representative.
Think about it this way: if they tweet something sexist, or racist, or in any way offensive, who has to deal with it? You might think Jane and John are great people, incapable of having such horrible thoughts and opinions. But the truth is that the internet is full of outrage. Say something the wrong way, and an angry mob might be on your trail.
As a manager, you can stay on top of potential issues by following your subordinates. Stash them in a (private) list, and focus on that list during the day. That way you can ask them to delete a potentially dangerous tweet before it circulates.
Look, I know this tip will not sit well with everyone. Your employees have freedoms, right? Sure, they can say what they want. But their words and actions have consequences. If they harm the reputation of your company, they shouldn’t go unpunished. If you can nip a potential issue in the bud, all the better.
(Also, should they be using personal social media during work hours, anyway?)
#7. Get the most out of your reading material
If you don’t read about your industry in blogs and industry websites, you’re falling behind. While the web is littered with junk, it is also full of information that you can use. Finding it might be a problem, but there are a few ways to handle that.
- Follow the right people on Twitter. Take note of who and what they retweet. Follow those whom they retweet often.
- Find a few industry blogs and put them in a feed reader like Feedly.
- Follow the links in those blogs to find new material.
- Use content discovery apps such as Flipboard.
- Find email newsletters from thought leaders in your industry and subscribe.
It shouldn’t take long to build up a huge reading list. Now you might start feeling more anxious: how are you supposed to get through all that reading? That’s the easy part. If it’s important to you, you’ll find time. That might be in the morning before work. It might be after work. If you’re on public transportation you have a great opportunity to read. Maybe you sneak in a (relevant) article or two at work.
The difficult part is making sure you get something out of your reading material. Here’s my method. I submit that it might work for you.
Save to Pocket. No matter which browser you use, no matter your device, you can save any article to Pocket. In there you can store every article you intend to read. When you go in to read it, you get a nicely formatted version. Or you can read the web version, if that’s what works for you.
Now you have all of your reading material in one place. This is how I treat all incoming content, even if I intend to read it immediately. It goes to Pocket, and I read it there.
Clip to Evernote. Find a useful tip in an article? Want to make use of it? Clip the article to Evernote, which integrates directly with Pocket. The entire article text will go to your Evernote, along with any notes you make. (And yes, you can put it in a specific notebook and tag it.)
I suggest moving all new clipped articles to a single notebook. Then, when you have a free moment, go through your clippings and notes and find the actionable items. Figure out how to implement them.
Bonus: Ryan Holiday’s system. Author Ryan Holiday has a well-documented system for note-taking. Read it through and adopt it for yourself. After I find actionable items in my Evernote, I file the notes in a relevant notebook, but I also make a notecard. I then file that notecard. Research shows that you learn better when writing rather than typing, so making that extra effort will pay off.
Managers and leaders will find it impossible to remove all hassles and lift all anxiety. It’s part of the job. We deal with people, and people are imperfect. But just because we have to deal with hassle and anxiety doens’t mean it has to consume us. Start by taking action on one of these tips. I think you’ll find that each one is easy to implement, and will instantly make your life just a little bit easier.
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