Wondering how to be more productive at work? Here are 13 actionable tips that will help you use your time wisely and efficiently.
We all know how it feels to be absolutely unproductive. We may stare at the wall for hours, doing nothing, and then reproach ourselves and work late nights to catch up. Or, on the contrary, we can act like hovering helicopters – moving fast, but staying in the same place.
In any case, a lack of productivity means poor results, growing workload, and frustration.
The good news is that productivity is a beast you can control, and not just with coffee and energy drinks. It depends on various factors, and by carefully considering them, you get an opportunity to work faster and improve your performance.
Here's some tips for you on how to be more productive and not get yourself in a vicious circle of workload paralysis, fatigue, and missed deadlines.
We’re taught to treat time as our most valuable resource – and that makes sense because time is not renewable. But there is one more resource that we rarely think of, which can be of even more value. It’s our personal energy level.
Do you ever feel that waking up at six is more like rising from the dead? Do you suffer from morning grumpiness? Is caffeine the only cure that helps you start functioning? If this is your story, do not feel bad. Chances are that it’s not your fault but the incompatibility of your work schedule and your biological prime time - maybe you're just not a morning person.
Everything in nature exists in cycles, and our body's energy is not an exception. Throughout the day, we experience peaks and dips in energy levels, which determine how productive we are going to be.
To calculate your biological prime time, record your energy levels during the day, every hour, for at least three weeks. Exclude alcohol, coffee, and anti-depressants, and, if possible, go to bed and wake up without a clock.
Understanding your personal scheme will help you plan your day accordingly, scheduling the most difficult and important tasks for when you’re most productive, and simple, routine ones for when your energy is low.
We all have only 24 hours a day, and it cannot be changed. What can be, however, is how you use your 24 hours.
You might be overwhelmed with the amount of work to do and not even know where to start. But once you organize your thoughts, this monster does not look as horrifying. Writing a to-do list on a piece of paper (or in an electronic device,) you visualize them and give yourself a structure to follow, improving your own productivity.
To plan your day effectively, you could use the following techniques:
First things first - this is the rule you should follow if you want to see real progress. Sometimes we only create an illusion of work, doing things that are work-related but not as impactful. No doubt, small tasks like sending emails and printing out copies of documents are also important, but by procrastinating with the important tasks, you will not move a single step further.
As Gary Keller says in his book “The One Thing,” the idea that everything is equally important is a huge misconception. Productive people prioritize tasks, cutting off distractions.
So make a list of high-priority tasks that need to be done first. If any of these tasks are uncomfortable, just "eat the frog" - do them in the very beginning. This way, you will make sure to complete the tasks and get rid of the heavy feeling of dealing with them.
Distractions are the bane of our existence. Technological progress has opened numerous doors in front of us, but we are not that good at handling the variety of choices. Trying to embrace the opportunities, we struggle to go deep and fail to get to the core of things.
We’re surrounded by temptation. Instant messengers, social networks, and online shopping continuously keep us distracted. But only by resisting the temptation can we achieve “deep work” – the state of “distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive abilities to their limit,” as defined by Cal Newport, who coined the term. Deep work can make you productive and lead you to brilliant ideas and breakthroughs.
So how can you start working more deeply?
Multitasking is widely considered a superpower but in fact, it’s totally the opposite. When you multitask, you make your brain spend energy on rapidly switching from one activity to another, instead of using that resource on solving a problem.
People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. – Cal Newport
In contrast to this, monotasking (working on one thing at a time) will help you achieve much more.
A great method to start practicing monotasking is the Pomodoro technique – working in blocks of 25 minutes. By giving yourself a time limit, you will create a sense of urgency that would motivate you to stay focused.
Time is a tricky phenomenon. Sometimes it goes slowly, as if you got stuck in a different reality. But sometimes, it feels like sand in the hourglass that goes down way too fast. Time is objective… but our sense of it is not. And that’s why we often lose track of it.
For this time management strategy, you divide your day into blocks, specifying what you will be doing during each block. This way, you make sure to pay attention to each task of yours. At the same time, you get rid of the tension caused by the necessity to decide what to do at a particular point – you’ve got a plan to follow.
This technique is similar to time blocking: you also have to divide your day into chunks. The difference, however, is that you're supposed to complete tasks within a given time limit. This makes this technique even more productive.
Taking care of mental health is an essential habit of productive people. Stress and anxiety can supress your ability to function as usual. And blind overworking, when you exhaust yourself, can lead to toxic productivity - a behavior that makes you work more and more, till you reach a point of being emotionally and physically drained.
Do anything that can let you reach an emotional balance. Sometimes it can be as simple as a piece of chocolate and a short walk to help you clear up your mind.
You could meditate to develop concentration. You could write “morning pages,” putting every thought of yours on paper uncensored, to let out inner the monologue. Or you could find time to do things that make you happy, like reading or meeting with friends.
Your lifestyle has a direct influence on your productivity. So revise your habits, and if you see a negative pattern, change it.
You simply cannot work non-stop and keep the same productivity level. Just like our phones, we need to be recharged. Research shows that taking short breaks can boost your performance, reducing or preventing stress and reducing the need for a long recovery at the end of the day. No breaks, on the contrary, lead to workload paralysis.
But speaking of breaks, we do not mean scrolling your phone. It may be distracting, but it still loads your brain with tons of unnecessary information, instead of letting it recharge. Instead, practice healthy alternatives – have some coffee, chat with colleagues, go for a walk, or simply gaze through the window.
Unfortunately, getting lost in our work, we often forget about taking regular breaks. But there is a way out – you can plan them:
You may not notice it, but the things that surround you have an enormous effect on your subconscious mind. A cluttered desk, a small cubicle, or the absence of daylight will not inspire you to do your best. Even more, they can negatively impact your productivity.
In their book “Peopleware,” Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister mention that some companies claim “You can never get anything done here between 9 and 5.” While overtime can be a necessity sometimes, having to look for opportunities to get your work done is horrible. And this happens because of poor workplace policies – incessant and overwhelming noise, tight space, and lack of privacy.
The worker who tries and tries to get into flow and is interrupted each time is not a happy person… Instead of deep mindfulness that he craves, he is continually channeled into the promiscuous changing of direction. – Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister, Peopleware
You may not be able to change the company policies, but you can try to make your own workplace more comfortable, this way improving productivity:
In a movie “Dead Poets Society,” there is an episode where the teacher asks his students to climb onto their desks, teaching them to look at things from a different perspective. This is a powerful lesson - by adding a little change to your daily routine, you can unblock your mind.
Novelty provokes more novelty. To get some new ideas, change your scenery:
Many of us are victims of perfectionism. We can blame our feeling of responsibility, which makes anything less than perfect unacceptable. We can also blame our fear of being ridiculed or punished. However, perfection is a myth, and perfectionism is a serious issue that doesn’t let us move forward, causing procrastination and frustration.
There is a 70-percent solution, developed by the Marine Corps, according to which 70 percent of resources, information, and confidence about success is enough to make a decision. This works for the military, and it will work for everyday life. We do not live in a perfect world, so we cannot be perfect ourselves.
It’s possible to beat perfectionism, though. First of all, give yourself a time limit to work on a task – this will save you from overwork. Then, ask for a second opinion to get unbiased advice and see whether your project or task needs improvement at all.
And finally, ask yourself why it’s so important for you that things are perfect. Maybe, there is an inner trigger or trauma that makes you be mean to yourself.
Unfortunately, we can inadvertently steal time from ourselves. We take on too many projects. We are the only person on a team who continuously agrees to work on a day off. We gain a good reputation, but we destroy our own productivity because we cannot handle it all.
Think if you are careful with your choices. Maybe you should give yourself a little more time before making a decision to get more work.
There are days when you feel powerful, crossing out the tasks on your to-do lists like a boss. Do you think it’s a mere coincidence? Most probably, the stars aligned – you got enough sleep, planned your day, and shifted the most difficult and important tasks to your prime-time.
But you don’t have to wait for the perfect circumstances. Using the productivity tips we discussed above, or those mentioned in some of the popular productivity books, you can create the circumstances yourself – by developing productivity habits.
An essential soft skill for all those who work on projects, stakeholder management can be the difference between plain sailing and severely stormy weather.
A project status report gives you an opportunity to communicate the progress of your project, identify any problems being faced by your team, and let everyone know if you're on track to meet your deadlines.