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How We Stay Productive

Productivity is at the center of discussions around workforce improvement. Many of us grew up with the notion that “working hard” equals productivity. In recent years, that notion has been challenged. With the advent of wireless internet, work-from-home jobs, and advances in mobile technology, the idea of working hard is being edged out in favor of working smart. Almost every day, I come across a think piece, op-ed, or study that praises some new device or software that allows greater collaboration, faster output, and better results with less human error; in essence, to work smarter. It got me thinking: how do College Unbound’s staff stay productive? Here’s what they have to say:

Dennis Littky, President and Founder of College Unbound

I like to sit at my desk and look through my notes and folders and jot down ideas that come to my mind. The ideas start flowing - people I want to get in contact with, new projects I want to pursue, older projects I want to explore in greater detail, and questions I have about the work we are doing.  Then, once I have all my ideas in front of me, I create a list and prioritize what should be done this week and what should be done next week.

Adam Bush, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Provost

Calendars really help me think through the day, but of course, when I look at my calendar at the end of the day, there’s always 20 more things that I accomplished that aren’t on my calendar.

Tracy Money, Vice President of Strategy and Planning

I am best when I can control my schedule, allowing me time to reflect and to strategically place activities in time slots when I have the appropriate amount of energy. I need time before and after meetings to capture the key information and its impact, connect ideas, review my responsibilities, and map out next steps. My time with others is always more productive when it’s sandwiched between think time. And I know that my greatest creativity happens early in the day. That’s when ideas are popping and I scramble to capture them and get them in the pipeline!

Walter Fortson, Managing Director, College Unbound in Prisons

I don't think I have a particular thing I'm consciously aware of that keeps me productive, but I do tend to use a lot of Google’s apps. I use Calendar for reminders, Google’s Reminders app to create a prioritized task list, and a physical white-board at home as a combination of the two apps, and also to mark down bigger goals. I don’t really use any of these consistently, or am I dependent on.  

Jill van Leesten, CU Recruitment Director/ School Certifying Official

I like creating a to-do list, but sometimes they can be lengthy and overwhelming. I usually start my to-do lists before I go to sleep. If the list is too long, I take three or four items at a time, highlight them, and focus on completing only those items that day. sIn order to stay focused on a task, I like using the Pomodoro Technique, where you set a timer (usually for about 40 minutes), work on the task until you hear the timer go off, take a short break, and then reset the time to go again.

Jocelyn Keith, CU Director of Partnerships

I confess that I do not always follow my own best practices for being productive but I love writing things down. Sometimes I’ll do it in list format and sometimes I will just write out what I want to have done for the day. But I like to see what I need to get done.

Kaiya Letherer, Assistant Director/Lead Instructor for College Unbound in Prisons

Productivity is all about having balance. When I'm too stressed, too overworked, too anything my productivity levels drop. But when I'm making the time to eat well, take care of myself, and enjoy life outside of my work, my productivity levels go through the roof! Where I sometimes get stuck is prioritizing and organizing. Lists are also my friend (lately, I have gone a little “label crazy”). Folders are also very helpful to me because it compartmentalizes things in a way that’s easy to follow. Also, just allowing myself time on Monday mornings to get organized for the week is so helpful!

Erin Corbett, CU Solo II Advisor

I basically utilize the Google suite of programs to keep myself organized.  Most specifically, I keep my email open and receive alerts on my phone so that I can respond in a timely manner.  I also utilize Google’s Calendar so that appointment alerts come through and I don't forget important things. I use Google Docs to collaborate with folks and avoid sending important documents back and forth and I use Hangouts to communicate, in real time, with coworkers who are not in the office at the same time that I am. 

Wanda Brown, Case Manager, College Unbound in Prisons

Because of the nature of my job, I can sometimes feel very scattered. I am not always clear what is expected of me so I don’t always reach my target. To help with that, I set achievable weekly goals and try to not take on anything that would really divert my time away from achieving those goals.

Tara Hagopian, Executive Assistant to President Littky

I usually have about 15 things that I have to do at any given time, all floating around in my head. That’s why I’m a list person. I love writing to-do lists. I love even more when I can cross something off of my to-do list. I like to hand-write my lists because it’s important for me to see them written down and to prioritize what needs to be done and what I can hold off for another day. I always have things that I delay doing because they're not my favorite but I find that, if I do them first and cross them off, the rest of my day goes much better!

Christian Vialva, CU Communications Associate

I recently started reading Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late. I am in the beginning chapters of the book, but Friedman talks about how we should allow ourselves the quiet time to reflect on and process information or just to observe our environment and surroundings. My productivity is directly correlated to the amount of time I have to think my ideas through. In maintaining my linear productivity, making to-do lists and doing the most work-intensive task first works well for me. Unlike some of my colleagues, I prefer a digital to-do list (like Google Keep, Trello, or Asana).

More than a list, I have found that I am most productive when I can control my work environment, am given the space to be a recluse during work-intensive projects, and allowed to consider all options and ideas before expressing them outwardly.