In managing all aspects of the people experience at an organization, HR professionals (like yourself) have their hands full. It can be a struggle to accomplish all of the responsibilities and projects on your plate within the confines of a nine-to-five day.
While we don't have a magic wand to make your to-do list shorter, we do have some science-backed tips and hacks to help you get through the day's tasks faster—and with less stress—than ever before.
So let’s stop procrastinating and just get started on this list of 19 productivity hacks for HR professionals, shall we?
Our first productivity tip?
1. Create a daily plan
When you arrive at work each morning, set aside 15 minutes to make a plan for the day ahead—but be strategic about it. Try to think about your overall goal, and then break down how you’re going to accomplish that step by step.
Once you’ve thought about your goal, list out the tasks you need to complete today in order to reach it. What obstacles do you foresee? What resources do you need? Make a simple and strategic plan for how you’re going to succeed today, and then get started.
2. Do your most challenging tasks first
You may look at your to-do list and think, “I’ll just do these quick tasks first to give me some momentum and a sense of accomplishment, and then I’ll tackle those big audacious ones.” That’s all well and good, but that doesn't leave much time or energy to get the most challenging tasks done, so they often bleed over into the next day.
If you need to break down your challenging tasks into smaller pieces and spread those out over a few days, that’s fine too. But starting your day by completing your hardest task—or the one you like the least—will make you feel more accomplished than completing 10 easy ones.
Perhaps there’s a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off, or you’re staring down hours of boring data entry. Whatever it is, just do it. Turn off that annoying part of your brain that’s telling you to put it off, and run head-first into the challenge.
3. Set priorities
Not only should you complete your most challenging tasks first, you should also make sure you’re getting the most important tasks done early in the day, too.
After you’ve made your day's simple and strategic to-do list, put numbers beside each task, with one being the most important, and 10 being something you could leave to the next day with no trouble. Try to accomplish as many tasks in the “one” category as you can, and don’t be hard on yourself up if you don’t get to some of those less important things.
4. Don’t multitask
Bad news multitaskers: you’re not doing your brain any favours. Research from Stanford University shows that our brains simply are not wired to focus on more than one string of information at a time.
Additionally, multitasking isn’t just hindering your ability to complete the tasks at hand—it could also affect your IQ in the long term.
“A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night,” writes Travis Bradberry in Forbes. Yikes!
Do yourself a favour and stop multitasking. Close all those tabs on your internet browser and focus on one task at a time -- your brain will thank you for it.
5. Batch similar tasks together
As you work your way through your to-do list, let the selective focus of your brain be your guide. It can be hard to switch between verbal, written, and data-analysis tasks, so try to bucket those into chunks throughout your day. Get all your phone calls out of the way, then start on your emails, and then give yourself time to switch over to data-brain to finish those administrative duties.
Switching back and forth all day can waste time as you wait for your brain to adjust to the task at hand. Try to keep that switching to a minimum whenever possible.
6. Meditate daily
“Meditating daily will strengthen your willpower muscle. Your urges won’t disappear, but you will be better equipped to manage them,” says Peter Bregman in Harvard Business Review.
Meditation not only helps you stay more efficient and focused, it also helps you make conversations more productive. “For example, when you want to blurt something out in a meeting but know you’d be better off listening," Bregman says.
As HR professionals, you’re often faced with challenging management situations that make you feel frustrated, and that frustration can carry over and reduce your focus on other tasks. Meditation helps you maintain control of your mind and your day, so why not give it a try?
7. Set a work sprint
Studies show that humans are most productive in 52-minute sprints followed by 17-minute breaks. Rather than trying to stay focused for as long as you possibly can, set a timer on your phone or computer for 52 minutes, and see how much you can get done in that time.
You may find yourself getting distracted every ten minutes or so, especially if the task is challenging or not something you enjoy. That’s okay. It will take you a while to train your brain to stay focused for almost an hour at a time. Let the distractions come, learn to recognize when they’re happening, and then gently direct your mind back to the task at hand.
Then, when your 52 minutes is up, pat yourself on the back. Don’t fall prey to the urge to use your 17-minute break to do more work now that you have momentum. Stand up, have a drink of water, eat a snack, and clear your mind. Then dive back in for another sprint.
8. Know your deadlines
Sometimes, a tight deadline is all we need to get motivated—even if it's a self-imposed deadline.
For HR professionals especially, deadlines can be serious business. Missing them could cause compliance issues and open up liabilities for your company, like if you forget to add an employee to your benefits plan on their 91st day of employment, for example. So make sure that you know what those deadlines are.
Additionally, knowing your deadlines can help you prioritize. If a colleague comes to you for a favour or your boss adds something to your plate, knowing your deadlines can give you leverage to say "no" when you need to and ensure you're not putting too much on your plate all at once.
Which brings us to our next point...
9. Learn to say “no”
As an HR professional, you know it’s important to be a “yes” person—someone who readily embraces new challenges and is always willing to help out a colleague.
However, sometimes you can spend so much time taking on new tasks as they get thrown at you that it can feel like your day gets away from you. At the end of the day, even though you've done a-million-and-one things, it's hard to feel productive when you're still staring down the same to-do list you started the day with.
Knowing your priorities—and your deadlines—will help you say no when you need to. Helping others is important, but not at the expense of your own work.
10. Eliminate distractions
We know we’re not good at multitasking, but sometimes we do it even if we don’t mean to. We’re in the middle of a meeting and we feel our phone buzz in our pocket. While reviewing resumes, email and Slack notifications pop up on our desktop nonstop. These distractions affect our brains—and our productivity—more than we might think.
Looking to complete a tough task? Go find a quiet space, close out of your email application, and turn off your phone. Whatever requests are coming in can wait until you're finished the task at hand. Work in an open office? Try sound-reducing headphones. You can even make a little sign for your desk that says "Do Not Disturb" so that colleagues know you're in the middle of something important.
For productivity hacks 11 through to 19, read 19 Productivity Hacks for HR Professionals (Part 2/2).