If you google “Tips for Productivity” you’ll find 187 million results. I think we can agree this is a pretty hot topic. And why shouldn’t it be? Everyone wants to get the most out of their day – there’s nothing worse than leaving work with the feeling of “what have I even achieved today?”
For me, having worked in a lot of admin jobs, being the ‘go-to’ person in the office has always been important to me – I like to make myself available and happy to assist with whatever’s needed. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to make myself always available. Happy to drop what I’m doing to help on something else which, let’s face it, means I’m doing lots of things inefficiently and probably at a lower quality. As well as not working efficiently, I quite often lack a sense of actual accomplishment, I spend so much time jumping from task to task, doing little things that I rarely have the time to dedicate to larger projects that I would enjoy being part of.
Which is why I find myself thinking about productivity. For some reason, it isn’t something I’ve ever put much thought into – almost all the jobs I’ve had I’ve found myself shuffling my priorities list constantly, trying to work on the most important/urgent task. Working like this, I’ve realised means that I’m actually living in a state where EVERY task, at some point becomes urgent and important. For example, I won’t book flights today, it’s a small & easy task that isn’t a priority, it can wait. 3 weeks later, it is an urgent & important task that has become more difficult (less options) and more stressful (time pressure).
So, I’ve put together a few key points and tactics that I think will help me be more effective and productive. The below is not a complete list (see other 187 million results) but these are a few things have have clicked with me and I’m in the process of putting into my day to day.
First things first.
Seems obvious but if you have a good to-do list (in some kind of order around deadlines & energy required) the logical step is to do the first thing on your list. But we don’t! I think I can safely say if you aren’t actioning your most important task, there’s probably a reason why. Identify the issue and find a way to overcome it. If the job is big and complicated with a lot of unknowns, break it into smaller tasks, identify one small step – one thing that will keep the task moving! If your first task is something that requires a lot of thought and effort, find yourself a quiet place, away from distractions and just get it done! Making excuses is never going to get the job off your list. Facing tasks like this at the beginning of the day will set the ball rolling for the rest of your day, motivating you to eagerly complete the other things on your list!
Know thyself. And thy environment.
Knowing the way you work and common problems that cause you issues is key to having a more productive day. What time of day do you work better? Are you the kind of person who is distracted easily? Learning to anticipate yourself means being prepared for your own blockers, both internal and external.
This also means knowing your time-thieves! (which is my new favourite phrase). We all have time-thieves; any activities (or people) that slow you down, things that distract you, bad habits – those moments where you say “where did that two hours go?” Basically anything that gets in the way of you getting things done. Identify what is draining your productivity, anticipate where these issues will pop up and prepare yourself with a way around them.
Think you’re multitasking? You’re not.
“I’m great at multitasking!” said every person in every job interview ever. Including me. And for so long I though multitasking was such an important skill to have. But the smart people have done the research and the results are not good for me and my multitasking pals. Basically we just think we’re multitasking – in actual fact our brains are frantically switching between tasks, causing more stress and, in the end taking more time to do less work at a lower quality. Not good. For me, this is a big issue, I manage multiple inboxes and calendars and spend a lot of time bouncing back and forth between the task I’m on and checking the calendar or inbox to be across anything new that’s coming in. It’s a bad habit that I definitely need to kick. It just means my brain isn’t giving any real focus to any task at all. Applying yourself to one task at a time means you’ll do it quicker with fewer mistakes and less rework. Which brings me to my next point…
Switch off the distractions.
Distractions are everywhere – new research confirms that all the notifications invading our lives are actually rewiring the way our brains work! Basically it’s becoming more and more difficult to focus on one thing at a time.
If you’re dedicated to eliminating the evil habit of multitasking, you need to shut the distractions out. Turn off email alerts, put some headphones on, log out of chats – unless your job involves life-or-death situations then everyone will manage for the few hours you’re offline.
If you’re the kind of person who is distracted by anything on the screen, close all tabs and programs that are not relevant to the specific task you’re working on. You’ll be surprised how much more work you’ll get done by simply not having all those extra tabs looking at you. Optimise your environment for productivity!
Plan plan plan.
Seems pretty obvious but planning your day and time-boxing tasks can be super helpful in being more productive. Set time aside at the end of the day to plan for the next.
Laying out a set times not only encourages you to dedicate your time to one specific task, it gives you a deadline, something to work towards. If you’ve set aside an hour to do something, you’re more likely to focus on that goal and smash the job out faster. And if you don’t get it done, it gives you a good idea of your estimating skills, and next time you’ll be better at allowing the right amount of time. The more you work in this way, the better you’ll get at it.
Experiment with the way you schedule your tasks too. My day is filled with random, miscellaneous tasks that pop up throughout the work day, recently I’ve begun using a separate list for these tasks. I dump all the incoming things into the list and each day I have a set time allocated to clear the list. By batching together similar tasks (in time and effort) I can finish them in one go. Knowing the time is set aside helps me to focus during the day as well, I know all tasks have an assigned time so I’m less likely to react immediately as things come in.
Basically – schedule the time – kill the distractions – put your head down and just get it done!
Like I said, there are a thousand more tips out there – I think the key is to find some that work for you, make them a part of your every-day and get yourself into the right routines. The more you work in this way, the more obvious the benefits will become. Implement some changes, stick to them for a week or so and you’ll never go back to your old ways!