Ever notice how one day you can be really productive and a day later you’re just staring at the screen hoping some inspiration will come to you. We all have one of those days where it seems impossible to engage with our tasks. We just go from one distraction to the next.
There may be no absolute solution in order to be productive 100% of the time at work but there are certain things we can do to help keep our head in the game.
When we talk about productivity what do we really mean?
Basically, we want to complete our tasks in the most efficient amount of time, producing the most effective results. Just because you crossed off more items on your list doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being more productive.
Often we confuse doing more with being productive when really we are just making ourselves busier and putting ourselves under stress. If you’re being productive you should be able to effectively produce the work in the shortest possible time, leaving yourself with time for yourself.
This is an obvious one. We are all guilty of it multiple times a day. You may tell yourself that you’re just taking a little break checking your notifications. However, if you check your notifications at more than just a glance you come out being fully immersed in what you were working on. Even checking and replying to only a few WhatsApp messages can mean it will “take an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task,” according to a University of California Irvine study.
With many of us checking our phones a couple of times every hour this can have a severe impact on productivity. Switching off your phone may be the best solution, but many of us require our phone to work, so this is not the most practical optioin. We can turn off our notifications or limit them to the ones we need for work.
Any step that prevents us from checking other devices all the time will be a great benefit to our productivity. This includes social media or other apps that might interrupt us during the day.
Allocate Specific Times for Emails
Some jobs require you to be more attentive to emails as they come in, but for many of us we can be easily distracted from what we are doing when a new one comes in. Similar to notifications we need to limit being interrupted by mails when our attention is needed elsewhere.
Unless a task involves going back and forward on an email thread, I tend to allocate specific times during the day when I will deal with them. For the first hour of the day I will go through my inbox, before moving on to tasks. I will work until about half an hour before lunch when I will check back in on my inbox. After lunch I try to complete at least one task before checking back in.
Obviously, you can follow your own schedule. If you can, I think it’s important to have specific times for dealing with emails. Seeing emails about other projects or tasks will only distract you from the current one, dividing your attention and taking you longer to complete what you are working on. Remember, emails are not the same as messages and don’t need to be dealt with immediately.
When faced with that big undesirable task we have a tendency to push it out. It’s important that we face these tasks first as they have the greatest probability of biting us in the ass.
There’s strong reasoning behind completing these tasks first as once they are done they can set us up for the day, determining its success. Doing this task first should give you a sense of achievement and give you motivation for the rest of the day.
Multitasking and Meditation
It may appear that you are doing more on the face of it, as you juggle many things at once. In fact the opposite is true. Multitasking can deeply affect your productivity levels as you lose time switching between tasks.
When you jump between tasks your concentration on each one is continuously interrupted, meaning that you are not fully engaged with any task.
Multitasking can give the impression that more tasks can be accomplished as you’re doing multiple things at once. However, the opposite is true. This links in with prioritising tasks, determining the order of importance and allocating time to each, starting with the most important ones.
The reason I’ve mentioned meditation here is that I personally find it has helped me greatly in regards to applying myself to one task. Over the last three months I’ve really got onboard with this and use the Headspace app to do a meditation every morning. Meditation is all about being present, and over time teaches you to be fully involved with the task at hand. This is not just relevant to work but also one’s personal life.
Take Breaks and Move About
No one is capable of working non stop and we all need to ensure we are taking regular breaks throughout the day. This is essential for maintaining productivity at work. It’s important to be active so we don’t fall into a sedentary lifestyle which can place you at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Just standing up, stretching, and walking about for a minute can help your concentration levels and make you more productive.
When you do physical exercise you need to take a break to allow your muscles to recover. The same goes for your brain. When you work non stop you wear it out, so it’s important to add rest periods. This also helps your mental and emotional wellbeing, and can stimulate creativity.
There’s no need to go on a video call or have a meeting when a simple email or message will suffice. Meetings tend to take up more time than dealing with something over mail. Normally this time can be put to better use, like completing the tasks at hand.
Meetings can drag multiple people off their work and some may not even participate for the majority of it. It doesn’t mean you should bin them completely, but think about whether one is really justified. Unless an in depth discussion is required, generally you don’t need a meeting.
There are so many productivity tools out there that it can be difficult to decide which to use. They can be a great way to aid completing tasks as efficiently as possible, streamlining how you accomplish them.
I am a big fan of Monday.com. This great tool is definitely an improvement on gantt charts. It allows you to manage all the resources in the business from the top down, while allowing individuals in the business to manage their time and tasks. It integrates communication in the app so you can see the conversation threads relating to projects and tasks. This means it’s easy to see why changes were made, why something is stuck, etc.
It’s vital to have the right tools to support your business and help employees be at their most productive. You’re really only as good as the resources you have at your disposal, especially in the current climate.
We are all looking for better ways to do things to make our work life easier, so we are less pressured. If you think you need better tools to help at work I’ve list some of the ones I use below:
Slack for team chat and collaboration
Zoom for video conference software (too obvious)
Monday.com for task management, time tracking project oversight and collaboration
Zoho for a free online database
Hubspot CRM for free CRM software for small businesses
Declutter and Organise
If you have a disorganised desk it is likely affecting your focus. A desk with 10 used coffee mugs, bits of paper and other random junk will lower your concentration. This is why it is vital to keep your desk clean and tidy.
By being organised it will be easy to put your hand on what you need straightaway. A US study shows the average worker wastes up to one week a year searching for misplaced items. This includes the digital space too. How much time do you lose because a file isn’t where it should be or saved under the wrong name.
It’s good to have your own system of organisation, but it’s also important that your place of work has a system. Everyone needs to adhere to it too!
This is such a basic one, but many of us confuse having a million cups of tea or coffee with staying hydrated and keeping the focus up. Not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration, headaches, tiredness, and even weight gain.
I keep a bottle at my desk which encourages drinking some water every now and again. I also add some hymalayan salt to the water.
Salt water contains electrolytes that give you the required minerals to perform at your best and keep your energy levels up. Drinking plain water is good for flushing out toxins but in the process it may also dilute and eliminate some important minerals. Salt water helps in hydrating your body as well replenishing those minerals that may be lost.
Adapt and Update
Einstein once said:
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
Increasing productivity is achieved when looking at your current way of working. You need to identify where the flaws are in your current way of doing things, and look for ways to improve them.
When you find the elements hindering your processes it will leave you with less headaches, less time staying late and more time for yourself.
One Last Thing
This list is by no means exhaustive! You may have other tips on working productively and ways that it can be increased. Approaches to productivity can vary greatly depending on the industry you’re in or the environment of your workplace.
These are basic foundational rules for productivity and most will be present in businesses. If you are hoping to make changes and increase productivity it is important to start with one area. If you try to do too many of these at once it won’t work. It takes time to change habits and ways of working so your best to start in one area you know you can change successfully. After this changing other areas should be a little easier.