Top 10 Productivity Tips
Productivity isn’t about producing as much as possible, but rather about getting the best results with the most efficient use of the resources. And if we were to oversimplify things, we’d say that productivity is all about buckling down and getting the job done.
1. Work around your energy cycle
Back in the past, people were bound to plan their activities depending on the sun and daylight. But after being able to artificially produce light (through fire and, later on, electricity) the option to work whenever they felt like it took shape. They were no longer dependent on the sun to rise in order to carry out their tasks. That’s how the morning person vs night owl dichotomy was born. And it’s been dividing people ever since.
For morning people, staying up late to work is unimaginable – night time is for sleeping, that’s how the Universe intended it. For night owls, getting up at 5 am is simply impossible – that’s an hour that shouldn’t even exist. However, there’s only one right way to proceed here – find out how you’re built energy-wise and embrace it. To constrain a night owl to start working at 8 am means to torment that person, to make requests to a morning person at 6 pm is the same.
Whether you’re super active in the morning or you can pull yourself together more easily in the afternoon or evening, embrace your style and work in accordance to your body, not against it. Set aside time for the most challenging and demanding tasks when you know you’re at the peak of your agility and attention. Scatter small, low priority tasks during times of lethargy and dullness. Before you know it, you’ll be working more efficiently, and in sync with your body.
2. Schedule everything
Scheduling does one simple, but crucial thing – it puts in writing all of your tasks, along with the estimated time for doing them, and their actual start time. You’re actually getting a timetable of your day. Moreover, you can go beyond just work tasks and organize your entire day. It might come in handy for a scheduling tool (e.g. a calendar) to remind you that you have to pick up the dry cleaning, or that you have a doctor’s appointment.
By marking your activities in the calendar you actually kill two birds with one stone – you have a clear picture of what you have to do, when you have to do it, and how much time you have booked, and secondly, if you’re sharing the calendar (which you should) with others, they will be able to check when is it safe to interrupt you or give you new requests or assignments. No more impromptu meetings – just send them to your schedule and have them pick a time when you’re available.
3. Stick to your schedule
Or try your best to. What is important to emphasize here is the fact that not being able to stick to a predetermined agenda is absolutely normal and quite regular. After all, one is an estimation, the other is actually going through the motions. When drifting occurs (and it will), remember not to berate yourself; simply find out what are the disruptive factors and learn from the experience. In life, be it personal or work-related, learning never stops.
Having this in mind, do whatever is in your power to comply with what you have projected for a work day. Avoid those disruptive factors you’ve identified, create an environment that supports your working style, and, most importantly, stand your ground. Take full responsibility of what’s on your order of business and only make compromises on rare occasions.
4. Don’t bite more than you can chew
One of the reasons people can end up feeling overwhelmed at work is when their workload feels extremely heavy. In fact, more often than not, this is a situation resembling the boiling frog fable. You might not be aware of the fact that you’re in danger until it’s a bit too late. A scheduling congestion doesn’t usually happen all of a sudden – it’s a gradual process that brings people slowly but surely on the brink of a mental breakdown.
This is another reason scheduling is so important. Fragmenting your tasks into bits and pieces and scheduling them throughout a certain period of time should give you a steady and, most importantly, healthy work flow. And even if you feel inclined to cram multiple activities in the same time slot, don’t do it. As the title of this section says, don’t bite more than you can chew. Always give yourself extra buffer time for each task, and breaks between different activities. You might need to roam between office spaces, or to set up additional tech equipment. You might just need a breather and a small chat by the watercooler. Whatever it is, breaks and buffer time must be present in your calendar.
5. Say no
Speaking of biting more than you can chew, overloading your schedule can easily start with this: people asking you to do stuff for them. Not to mention that, for the most part, their requests are urgent. It’s easy to empathise with colleagues and to get caught up in their demands. But it’s just not good or constructive for anyone. You’ll end up with an exhausting day at work and they’ll build this belief that they can disturb you at any time.
One more harmful thing that they’ll take from your behaviour is that you’ll always have their back and help them out precisely when they’re asking. Having learned that, they will no doubt keep soliciting you, because they know it works. Being their safety net is not helpful for either of you. For the benefit of yourself and your colleagues, say no to their demands.
6. Ask for help when getting stuck
The biggest mistake one could do when getting stuck in a certain task is rack their brains for hours and hours trying to solve it on their own, instead of asking for help. By doing that, precious time is being lost, while a simple ask for help would get the obstacles out of the way in minutes. As the saying goes: “there is no I in team”. Being productive is about getting the job done, not about getting the job done on your own. Valuable, productive work that powers successful companies is done in teams, free from egos and withholding of information. When encountering a problem, share it. It might be that there are others who have run into it and everyone can learn something from solving it.
7. Software is your best friend
We live in a digital era. We have an app for everything. Apps have integrations for everything. Not making use of them isn’t a loss, it’s a downright shame. Try one, two, ten. If one doesn’t work, get to the next one. Take advantage of trials, and demos, and best deals. Connect and sync apps to one another, learn their shortcuts, dig for customizations. Make software work for you. That’s why it was built, to support you in your work and endeavours. Reject clunky, intricate software that take too much time to operate. Find your best friend and build a constructive, productive relationship.
This one seems pretty self-explanatory, right? Keep away from what’s keeping away from work. But how do you do that? How can you dodge the bullets of distraction?
First of all, find out what exactly is it that’s distracting you. You cannot fight an enemy that you’re not acquainted to. It could be your inclination to answer everyone’s requests, it might be the fact that you haven’t given yourself any breaks lately (both literally and figuratively speaking), or there’s nothing motivating enough to keep you from drifting. You might be spending too much time on social media or surfing the web planning your next holiday. Buckle down and start searching.
Don’t panic, this (soul) searching is not difficult – start by doing a time audit to see exactly how your work day looks like at present. Once you do this, the issues, along with their solutions, will present themselves.
9. Reward yourself
Since we’ve mentioned not being motivated enough to stop drifting away from work, it’s only fitting to dedicate a subsection to the importance of motivation. An efficient method of getting and keeping yourself motivated is by offering rewards. From gummy bears that you can enjoy when you’ve reached a certain point in the report that you have to get through, to company retreats or work success parties, incentives help push through the dull or laborious moments of a task. Decide what’s the incentive that motivates you and then offer yourself precisely that.
10. Use music
There are people who can work to the sound of heavy metal. There are others that require complete and utter silence to be able to be productive. And then there’s the middle – people that could do with some musical background, as long as it doesn’t have any lyrics. (Some can handle lyrics if they are in another language than the one they’re working in.)
The effects that music has on the brain have been studied for a long time. Music can improve visual attention, help us exercise, boost creativity. To be fair, if it’s the wrong choice, it can also distract us. Some argue that the most beneficial type of music at the workplace is video games soundtracks. These are designed to set a motivating mood, while occasionally inserting bits that convey a sense of achievement.
Another recent type of sound (not necessarily classified as music) that is supposed to increase motivation, concentration, confidence, and so on, are the binaural beats. Basically, what’s happening is that you give each of your ears a different frequency tone, letting the brain put it together and perceive it as one. Small and pilot studies (e.g. this, this, or this) have tried to show the exact effects they have, but so far, this is only a developing subject. Whether they work or not, that’s for you to decide.